The year one thousand nine hundred and eighteen was a bad one for New Hampshire–and everyone else in the world. Almost 1/5th of the entire world’s population died that year.
Kimberly Powell of About.com: Genealogy has done an excellent job in presenting a succinct description of that terrible year, and explaining how the great number of deaths affected our personal genealogy. She writes, “If you have ancestors who died or disappeared from your family tree between 1918 and 1919, then they may have been victims of the deadly flu pandemic.”
What was different about this flu was that most of its victims were young and healthy and between the ages of 20-40. Remedies such as Hale’s Honey of Horehound and Tar, Wistar’s Balsam Wild Cherry, Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, or even home-made chicken soup had little impact on the ultimate outcome of this flu.
Not only did it kill millions, it left many orphans and widows with no means of support. The closing of public events, such as the theaters, put actors, playwrights, musicians and others out of work. It affected every family in some negative way–either emotional or financial.
Of all the New England States, “New Hampshire suffered the least“–only about 3,000 Granite Staters died between March 1918 to spring 1919 from the flu. The United States Navy, who was setting up hospitals specifically to deal with the problem, ran one in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In September of 1918 it was officially recognized as appearing in Dover New Hampshire, where its first victim was 27 years old. Five days later schools were closed and public meetings were canceled. In Manchester NH, at one point “there were 41 deaths in 41 hours.”
In 2006 a Pandemic Planning Summit was held where the “Great Pandemic of 1918” was reviewed by each state. Susan Kitchen of Family Oral History posted “Letters from the Attic: 1918 Flue Epidemic Edition.”
The graphic above is an advertisement from the Amherst NH “Farmer’s Cabinet,” published 12-26-1876; Volume: 75; Issue: 25; Page: 4.
[Editor’s Note: this story is related to my series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for that listing].
[article updated February 15, 2013 and 24 May 2017]