October 14: Hartford Shuts Down Over Influenza Fears


Today in 1918, as a deadly and highly contagious strain of influenza spread throughout Connecticut, Hartford city leaders considered drastic action in order to minimize further public exposure.  To many Americans, the global Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 – 1919 was arguably just as — if not more — terrifying than the First World War, which was raging in Europe at the time.  In the United States, with no cure or vaccine available, Spanish Influenza claimed the lives of over 600,000 people (8,500 of them from Connecticut), marking it as the worst epidemic in the country’s history.  (In comparison, the total American military deaths from World War I numbered less than 120,000 men — over half of which also died from disease.)

While the first Connecticut cases of the Spanish Flu occurred in April of 1918, the disease peaked months later, in October that same year.  Hospitals across the state were operating at or past capacity, doctors and medical resources were stretched to the breaking point, and a coffin shortage reported in Waterbury.  In Hartford, on October 11, 1918, alderman J. Humphrey Greene expressed frustration with an apparent lack of preventative measures taken by city public health commissioners, and proposed the following resolution before his fellow aldermen:

Whereas, the city of Hartford, as well as the rest of this country, is afflicted with an epidemic of Influenza; and

Whereas, the board of Aldermen of the city of Hartford views with alarm the apparent lack of precautionary measures taken by the board of health commissioners of the city of Hartford to prevent the spread of this disease within city limits,

Resolved, That the board of aldermen of the city of Hartford do hereby suggest the board of health commissioners of said city to order the closing of all theaters, schools and other places of public gathering until such time as, in their judgment, all danger of the spread of such disease be passed.

Greene’s resolution was just one example of how cities across the United States proposed — and in many cases, implemented — radical measures in hopes of containing the Spanish Flu, including shutting down public institutions, limiting factory and business hours, and fining citizens who refused to wear protective face masks.   That same evening, the Hartford board of aldermen authorized the conversion of the Hartford Golf Club into a temporary hospital for flu patients.  A global pandemic sparked an epidemic of fear across the state, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Ralph D. Arcari, “Ninety Days that Sickened Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored

Tasha Caswell, “Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut,” connecticuthistory.org

Christopher Klein, “Why October 1918 Was America’s Deadliest Month Ever,” history.com

Influenza 1918,” PBS Feature Documentary