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WN@TL: “UW and Madison and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918”
November 7, 2018 @ 7:00 pm - 8:15 pm
Speaker: Steve Oreck – UW Madison History Department
In the summer of 1918 the misnamed “Spanish Flu” arrived in the United States, coming from Europe on a returning US vessel. Once established in the Boston area this strain of flu spread throughout the United States, literally like a speeding locomotive. The most lethal strain if influenza to have been documented, it would kill an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans. By the late summer, just in time for the beginning of the university semester, the virus had reached Madison, a city and university in the throws of the “Great War.”
The fall semester saw a very different UW. The university was part of the SATC (Student Army Training Corps) system. All physically fit male students (almost all of them) were members of the SATC, in the Army as privates, in uniform, marching to/from class in formation, and sleeping in dorms and other facilities converted to barracks. Additionally, living in and studying in newly constructed buildings were vocational students destined for various military technical ratings. The attitude of the “SATC system” was that the purpose of the universities involved with the SATC was to turn out officers for the US military. America was also in the midst of a war fever, and Wisconsin was a flash point for some of the internal conflicts. It was in this unusual and highly charged environment that the “Spanish lady” arrived.