Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, March 20, 2020

An Epidemic From 100 Years Ago

A goal with this blog is to review the history of Sherburne County and try to create some perspective on the events in the past.  With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world, it seemed a good time to review a pandemic from 100 years ago:

In rural Minnesota, during the late 1800s, death by disease seemed accepted as part of life.  Families experienced high mortality rates on infants and the aged.  Individuals living past five years old promised a better chance of experiencing old age.  This all changed with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 to 1920.  For almost two years, waves of influenza circled the world, infecting an estimated 500 million people and killing anywhere between 17 and 50 million.  On the local level, the disease took hold, yet in actual numbers, the death rate seems quite small.  The county leaders took quick action to prevent the spread of influenza and this way prevented a higher death toll. 

Samples of news coverage by the Star News in 1919
In 1918, the population of Sherburne County amounted to approximately 9,000 individuals.  As the flu epidemic spread, in the autumn season, schools closed.  County officials urged churches and entertainment businesses to lock their doors.  The closures occurred sporadically as the epidemic subsided and later reappeared.  As the flu continued into 1919 and 1920, officially, the county noted twelve deaths.  In one instance tragedy struck three members of the Amos West family.

Mrs. Amos West, the Star News reported, gave birth to twins.  In her weakened condition, the influenza took over.  She died shortly afterwards.  One of the babies also died. Within two days, Mr. Amos West also died.  Four orphans remained of the family.  Extended family from Wisconsin adopted the four surviving children.

Although the official death toll for the county remains at twelve, very often folks stricken by influenza seemed to recover, only to die of other afflictions later in the year.  The newspaper reported a significant rise in pneumonia, and death from pneumonia, following the influenza epidemic. 
A second wave of Influenza predicted in the fall of 1919

Equally disconcerting, the influenza infected and killed as many young and middle-age adults.  Survival of infancy no longer promised life to old age.

Fear of the Influenza Epidemic for those two years significantly impacted the economy and character of small communities like Sherburne County.  Action by county leaders should be applauded.  They set a path to reduce the tragedy of the epidemic for the two-year crisis.

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