Page One

Berkeley and the 1918 Influenza (Second Installment)

Steven Finacom,Copyright by the author
Sunday March 22, 2020 - 05:46:00 PM

We can learn a great deal about ourselves and the present by remembering the past. Here’s the second installment of my chronological account of what happened in Berkeley during the 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” epidemic. The stories are largely drawn from the pages of the Berkeley Daily Gazette, Berkeley’s hometown paper.

We’re now in the second week of October, 1918. My coverage starts with news related to the “Great War”, both internationally and locally, continues with influenza-related stories, and concludes with other local news from the time.

War news

The Great War was in its closing chapters. In occupied France, north of Rheims, German forces were withdrawing and reportedly burning villages and towns behind the whole front from Lille to Rheims. This is believed to presage a retirement in several sectors the United Press reported October 7. German supply depots were also apparently being destroyed during the retreat.

A German proposal to discuss peace terms was reported rejected by the Allied governments. United States Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo told the press America “will fight until victory is clinched.”

(There’s a Berkeley connection to McAdoo. On the cornerstone of Berkeley’s main Post Office you’ll find his name, since he was Treasury Secretary when the building was constructed. He had married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter in 1914, and would later be elected a Senator from California. Although McAdoo was a firm Progressive, if you look at pictures of him as a young man he somewhat eerily resembles today’s Jared Kuchner, another government official who married the daughter of a future president.)

Berkeleyeans seemed to be in accord with the Washington sentiment. October 7, 1918, 7,000 locals gathered in the Greek Theater for a mass meeting and “unanimously” stood up when asked if they supported a telegram to President Wilson declaring for no peace except on unconditional surrender and the crushing of the German army. 

The meeting was organized by the local “Friends of France” and the “American League of California”, and was addressed by the chaplain of a French army division that had suffered tens of thousands of casualties in the war so far. 

October 14, the papers reported President Wilson had sent an official note to the German government telling it “autocracy must go before peace can be had”; translation, the era of German Kaisers needed to end for there to be peace. The same day the U.S. Senate voted to demand German “unconditional surrender”. 

A huge explosion destroyed a plant where artillery shells were loaded in Morgan, New Jersey, on October 4, 1918. At least 94 workers were believed to have died. The United Press reported October 7, that rain has quenched the fire in the Gillespie plant ruins and the intermittent explosions have ceasedrebuilding operations are scheduled to begin as soon as possible. (Historical accounts today say it’s believed the explosion was accidental and about 100 people were killed, and hundreds injured. Some 12 million pounds of explosives blew up, throwing debris for more than a mile in all directions; buried, unexploded, shells have been discovered nearby for decades, most recently in 2007. Windows were broken more than 20 miles away. The enormous plant was destroyed, and another 300 buildings damaged.) 

On the Local Homefront 

Berkeley’s Boy Scouts were out in force, helping to canvass neighborhoods and get Berkeleyeans to pledge donations to Berkeley’s Fourth Liberty Bond drive. The “Mobilized Women’s Army” was at work as well. 14,004 Berkeleyeans had pledged bond purchases, to date. Apparently fearing Berkeley might not meet its quota, organizers condemned “Austrian and German peace propaganda” that had recently been in the news and urged locals to continue contributing to the war effort. 

On Monday, October 7, the Bond drive had two days to run and Berkeley was slightly behind the city of Alameda in meeting its bond goals: Alameda had raised 90%, Berkeley 88%.

Berkeley’ s bond drive Chairman William P. Morrish told the Gazette, If the Kaiser had waged an honorable war, he might be entitled to some consideration for an honorable peace, but as that was his last consideration, let it now be our last consideration. Berkeley and all of Alameda county can show the Hohenzollern family that we are ready to put up all we have to wipe them from the face of the earth and that no peace will be an honorable peace until this is accomplished. 

Alameda won the county contest October 8 when it “went over the top” and met its quota and Berkeley was still short $180,000 in pledges of its $2,351,700 goal. 

Organizers blamed Berkeley’s wealthiest citizens for not subscribing enough and threatened to publish the names of “bond slackers” unless they contributed immediately. Morrish told the Gazette,if the rich had subscribed here as the workingman, businessman, and laborer have done, no city in the state would have beaten us to the honor flag. 

The next day, October 9, Berkeley met its quota by noon and added $50,000 above that; $96,000 was subscribed that morning, alone. (The quota was based on a Federal Reserve report on the amount of bank deposits recorded in each city, not on population or other measures of prosperity. That’s quite possibly one of the reasons Mr. Morrish was upset since Berkeley’s bank statistics would have shown that there was sufficient money held locally to fund the bonds. And here’s an interesting note. Adjacent Albany was not given a bond quota by the Federal government because it didn’t have any banks. So Berkeley’s bond committee poached Albany pockets, assigning the neighbors their own quota—which they faithfully met—but calling it part of Berkeley’s share.) 

There was a big celebration when the local bond goal was reached and surpassed. Most everybody in Berkeley came downtown last night to help host our honor flag Morrish told the Gazette on October 10. Berkeley is willing to lend all she has to Uncle Sam. 

Several thousand Berkeleyeans gathered around the municipal flagpolePromptly at eight oclock the silvery voice of Lydia Sturtevant rang out in the clear night with the strains of The Star Spangled Banner’…” 

Bond Committeemen (and one Committeewoman) joined by Mayor Samuel Irving and Leonard Lathrop, “champion salesman of the Boy Scouts”, all grasped the halyards and the four barred flag that shows how Berkeley responds to the appeal of the government was slowly hoisted to the mast headwith a dozen spotlights playing on it (it) stood bold against the night sky an emblem of patriotism and civic pride. 

The evening gathering had been proceeded by an afternoon parade led by fire trucks which “with siren, horn, and bell acquainted everyone with the fact that Berkeley had done her usual good work in the Liberty Loan drive.” 

Despite meeting the bond quota, Morrish threatened once again that day to reveal the names of the well-to-do who hadn’t already given, or given enough. If there are a few slackers here who have not given what they can afford a little more publicity will smoke them out and the assessment committee is about ready to announce their names in the public press, he said. 

In September, 1918, the Berkeley Red Cross had been busy helping to raise the Liberty Loan contributions burt also active in other ways. “The local chapter report showed 404 hospital garments out, 544 returned and 594 on hand”. Red Cross volunteers also produced and shipped 4,900 surgical dressings. 

The need for women who can do home nursing is so imperative at this time that the Berkeley Red Cross chapter has arranged for two more classes for those who can take the work, the Gazette reported October 12. The tuition fee will be $5 for the course of 15 lessons; text-book, 50 cents. Women have been urged to enroll immediately for these courses. So at least someone local was taking the influenza threat seriously. 

October 10, it was reported that the Theta Delta Chi fraternity house would be converted to an Officer’s Club “…in order that the army officers stationed at the university may have the opportunity of living in the same building.” 

Berkeley High girls pledged October 7 no flowers, no gloves, no silk stockings, simple shoes and gowns of the simplest of white materials for their graduation exercises on January 1, 1919. (In that era Berkeley High graduated classes twice a year, not just in the spring.) The announcement came after a meeting of teachers, students, and mothers at the school, where Principal Fannie McLean talked on the necessity of simplicity and economy…” The girl of the class cheerfully consented to dispense with the usual expensive frills which accompany the commencement wardrobe as their bit in the war time economy. 

A “strong war film”, “The Prussian Cur”, drew large crowds at the Berkeley Theater October 6. Going back through the years, a brief Gazette review said, the action of this stupendous historical drama follows from its very inception the German scheme of conquest that now threatens to enslave mankind. It shows America cultivating the arts of peace while the German rulers thought only of warthe Prussian hordes are loosed like beasts upon their victims. 

(The Berkeley Theater was on Shattuck, between Channing and Haste; there’s a senior housing apartment building there today.) 

Other, lighter themed films, played to “crowded houses” elsewhere in Berkeley and the East Bay, including the UC Theater. However, a few miles north of Berkeley in Vallejo, on October 8 all public amusement places, including theaters and dance halls, were closed today by voluntary action of the managers as a protectionary measure against Spanish influenza. 

All the towns whistling a new tune; a sort of trickling-sweet-like-molasses sort of tune that sticks to the memory like syrup to the fingers and leaves a haunting sweetness that one cant shake the Gazette noted on the entertainment page on October 9. It was a tune called When He Comes Back to Me, from The Girl on the Magazine, a short play that had reached the East Bay on the vaudeville circuit. (Today, we’d probably call a piece of music like this a “viral” hit or an ear worm.) 

Ten more UC faculty had been called into national service the UC Regents were told at their meeting October 9, 1918. Several new faculty were hired. They included Harold Witter Bynner as an instructor in English. (Bynner was a Harvard alumnus and his Berkeley tenure has an interesting footnote. He appears to be the first gay member of the UC faculty who can be identified by historical research. He lived in the Carlton Hotel at Durant and Telegraph and taught poetry.) 

The pastor of Albany’s Marin Avenue Methodist Church was enlisting in the Army, the Gazette reported October 9, and departed with a bang. The grand exit for the Rev. M.J. Williams, age 48, was scheduled for October 13, with “a big patriotic meeting and farewell service” that would start with a half hour of “patriotic music” including singing by church members, Albany Boy Scouts, and servicemen. 

October 9, the Gazette reported that Mrs. Robert F. Forbes of 2526 Bancroft Way now had all four of her sons in military service. Two were already with the army in France, and a third was at a base in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Social life was active at UC Berkeley during the second week of October, 1918. President and Mrs. Wheeler would host all freshmen at a reception at Hearst Hall, the Newman Club (Roman Catholic) would meet, The Sacramento Chamber of Commerce Quartet would perform at the regular, free, Sunday “half hour of music” in the Greek Theater, and various lectures open to the general public would take place. 


The influenza epidemic made it to the front page of the Gazette on October 8, 1918. “Country Swept by Epidemic of Spanish Influenza” the article was headlined. Flu outbreaks were reported in military camps, Washington D.C. among civilian government workers, Tacoma, and Ohio were an estimated 25,000 sick were spread through “every community in the state”. 

October 7, seven hundred cases of the influenza were reported in Arizona. All schools, theaters and public gathering places in Phoenix were ordered closed today. Winslow, a town of 2,500, reported one-fifth of its population had been stricken. The shortage of nurses is critical and the local high school had become a flu ward. 

October 11, the Gazette carried a United Press story on the front page reporting 211,000 cases of the flu nationwide in Army camps alone, with 7,432 deaths to date. One week ago only 17 of the 42 larger camps were infected. There are not 33 such camps reporting more than 500 cases each for the week. The epidemic was spreading rapidly westward

October 11 also brought the month’s first mention of the flu on the Berkeley campus. A small page 11 article reported that the University Physician, Dr. Robert Legge, had issued an order banning dancing in all of the University buildingsas a measure of prevention of Spanish influenza. 

There are now more than thirty cases of the influenza on the campus and precautions are being taken to prevent an epidemic. All meetings possible are held in the open. (Except, as you’ll read below, a “mass meeting” the day before that drew hundreds to Harmon Gymnasium to participate in the new University Community Chorus.) 

I might note that the next day the Gazette ran an advertisement for a “Patriotic Entertainment and Dance” at Berkeley’s Masonic Temple that same evening. Berkeley’s Mayor “and other distinguished guests will be present”, and “all Masons and their families are cordially invited.” The Masonic Temple (which still stands) was at Bancroft and Shattuck, just a few blocks southwest of the campus. 

Berkeley Related Deaths from the Flu 

(Since many flu-related deaths of Berkeley residents or Berkeleyeans living elsewhere were individually reported in the pages of the Gazette during the 1918-19 influenza epidemic, Ive decided to transcribe their brief obituaries when I find them. The date at the end of each entry is the date the item ran in the Gazette.) 

Bruce Howard, university student in the class of 1919 who has been serving the he chemical laboratory of the ordenance department, died yesterday of pneumonia, int her hospital at Edgewood Camp, Baltimore, according to a telegram received by his sister, Mrs. Duncan McDuffie. Mrs. McDuffie left this morning for the east to attend the funeral services. Mrs. John L Howard, mother of the young man, left here six months ago for New York, and was in the east with her son. Bruce Howard has been engaged in research work with mustard gas in the chemical laboratories in the eastern camp. He was prominent in university affairs last year, being managing editor of the Daily Californian and one of the editors of Blue and Gold.Howard was twenty-five years of age, and was the son of the late John L. and Mrs. Howard, one of the best known families of the bay cities. His brother, Lieutenant Sidley Howard is serving in France in the aviation section. Howard is survived by his mother, one sisterand four brothers…” (October 7, 1918) 

Millard F. La Grange of this city, son of the late Millard F. La Grance who was in the office of the East Bay Water company for many years, died of pneumonia at Base Hospital, Tours, France, September 17, according to a telegram received yesterday by his sister, Lucille La Grange. La Grande enlisted while in Oregon temporarily, in May, 1917, with the Oregon Engineers, and landed in France in August the same year. He was twenty-eight years of ageHe is survived by his sister, Miss Lucile La Grange, a teacher in the McKinley school, and by one brother who lives at Inverness. (October 7, 1918) 

Gail W. Barry of this city, died at Camp Lewis of pneumonia Saturday while his mother, Mrs. Anna Little Barry, well known art lecturer, was enroute north to be with him during his illness. The young man had been all for a number of weeks, and was recovering nicely, but suffered a relapse a few days before his deathBarry was twenty-eight years of age, and was employed with the Pacific Gas and Electric company before his enlistment five months ago. He is survived by his parents, Mrs. E.S. Barry and one brother Edward L. Barry, manager of the Canton Insurance company. (October 7, 1918) 

Dr. George Cranville Eldredge, pastor of St. Johns Presbyterian Church, one of the most prominent men in church circles in the bay cities and most highly respected in the community, died last evening at his home, 2731 Benvenue avenue, following a weeks illness from pneumonia. Dr. Eldredge was in charge of the mid-week service at his church on Wednesday evening of last week, and was scheduled to preside at the services Sunday for the first time since his return from the front, where he was engaged in YMCA work, but was stricken with his fatal illness…”

He had been overseas preaching to servicemen, giving his time and strength in aiding them in every possible way. He had become sick, returned to California, spent several weeks recuperating at Inverness, then gone for a month to the Sierras and returned about ten days ago, much improved. He was 47 and had been pastor at St. John’s for ten years. His funeral was held at the church on October 11. University President Benjamin Ide Wheeler was among those who gave the paper a testimonial in his honor. (October 10, 1918). 

Lieutenant William Dwight Hatch, U.S.N.R.F., formerly of this city died in Cardiff, Wales, October 5, of pneumonia, according to news received today by his mother, Mrs. Z.P. Hatch of 3155 Eton Avenue. Lieutenant Hatch enlisted more than a year ago and had been in active service since last May. He had recently been sent to Wales, to ply in the service between that country and Italy. Before his enlistment, Hatch was well known in marine circles in the bay cities, being one of the Hatch brothers of the Montecello (sic) Steamship company of Vallejo. Lieutenant Hatch was thirty years of age and was educated in Oakland. He was the son of the late Captain Z.p. Hatch, also well known in marine circles. Lieutenant Hatch is survived by his widow, Mrs. Anna Hatch, three months old son, who are in Stockton at present, by his mother, Mrs. Z.P. Hatch and by two brothers and two sisters (including) Mrs. A.W.Webb of this city. (October 12, 1918). 

October 7, the funeral service was held for Mrs. Clark Burnham, whose death from pneumonia was reported in the previous essay. 

Other news and notes  

  • October 12, 1918, Berkeley’s police officers threatened to resign, en masse, if their wages were not raised. A patrolman was reported as making $110 a month, and their demand was for $125. Only Police Chief August Vollmer was said not to have prepared a letter of resignation. The Council met with him privately and “it is said the Council agreed tentatively to a raise.” ($125 in 1918, adjusted for inflation would be equivalent to a salary of about $2,140 a month today, or a little under $26,000 a year).
  • October 8, the City Attorney announced that Berkeley would be split into three districts for the purpose of assessing municipal garbage rates. West of Sacramento Street, rates “will be the same as formerly”. From Sacramento east to Piedmont on th south and Euclid, rates would rise 10%. They would go up 15% in the areas to the furthest east including the Claremont and “nearly all of Northbrae”. No reason was given in the newspaper article but one can surmise the rates were based on hauling distance to West Berkeley dumps, or possibly elevation.
  • October 10, the Berkeley City Council decided that only one goat will be allowed to be kept by any one family within the city limits. This was the same restriction imposed on the ownership of cows in Berkeley. The police have been flooded recently with complaints from people who happen to live close to a goat-pen, the Gazette reported. The paper’s re-write man waxed philosophical: Hereafter a goat in Berkeley will be designated as a cow. Across the line in Albany, or in Emeryville, or Oakland, a goat will still be a goat. But not so in Berkeley.
  • But wait..hold your horses! (or cows, or goats). October 12 the Gazette reported that “local photographer E.H. Belle-Ourdrey” had protested the Council action saying there is no necessity for such an ordinance if goat pens were maintained in a sanitary condition. City Commissioner E.T. Harms observedIt seems to me we should legislate against the small, rather than the goat.The article added that the Council would reconsider the measure and meanwhile was seeking a specialist to advise on how to keep goat pens clean. (This item made be laugh. First, the Council takes a precipitous action. Then there’s a public protest. The Council responds by hiring a consultant.)
  • October 11, the Council voted to ban fortune tellers and clairvoyantsfrom the city. An October 12 news story gave some possible context. Apparently a “gypsy fortune teller” had been operating a “booth” at University and Shattuck. A man who consulted with her claimed she had stolen $30 from him. The police brought her in “and she refunded the money but insisted that she was not guilty.” One suspects an underlying bias against gypsies which appears elsewhere in the news of the era. But in light of the influenza epidemic headed for Berkeley at the time, I’m tempted to say (facetiously, of course) that this was an unwise move since it would have been good for the community to know what was coming.
  • October 10, the Gazette noted the publication of S.D. Waterman’s history of the Berkeley Public Schools, going back to 1878. It “will be of great value to those interested in the growth of the city schools” the paper remarked. That’s true. Many local historians have consulted Waterman’s account for details on the origins of various school campuses in Berkeley.
  • The “mass meeting” on October 10, 1918 to create a “University of California Community Chorus” was dubbed a “great success” in the paper the next day. The group, under the direction of Arthur Farwell, started off with a big crowd and great enthusiasm at Harmon gymnasium last night when a patriotic song mass meeting was held as the initial step in this new movement. The people filled the hall from the side stage, from which the leader worked to the entrance doors opposite.

    Attendees sang “America” and a number of patriotic and other well known American songs, and the introduction of some new ones. Attendees divided into soprano, alto, tenor and bass divisions but there was not trying of voices; everyone went to the section in which he knew he thought or wanted to sing. A news story later in the Oct. 11 Gazette said Farwell was head of the music department at UC. He was the speaker at a San Francisco luncheon of the Alliance of Artists, presided over by Berkeley’s Bernard Maybeck.
  • October 7, the Gazette reported a botanical curiosity. It was the beginning of fall and a cherry tree was in full bloom at 2222 East Thirteenth Street in Oakland.The tree bore a crop of fruit earlier in the season and is the only tree in the garden row in bloom.