April 2: The Deadly Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 Hits Connecticut


On this day in 1919, the medical paper “Complications of Influenza” was read to a desperately worried Hartford County Medical Society, who had been fighting a devastating global flu pandemic that had first reared its ugly head in Connecticut nearly twelve months before.

This particular strain of flu, commonly referred to as “Spanish influenza,” was unlike any ever seen before, ultimately killing over 600,000 Americans and up to 100 million people across the globe.  Since Connecticut was home to a number of busy port cities and experienced heavy interstate commercial traffic, it was especially susceptible to an influx of people who carried the disease from overseas.  Once the flu was confirmed in Connecticut in the spring of 1918, it spread at an alarming rate owing to the state’s higher-than-average population density.  In October 1918, the flu was so widespread that several Connecticut cities closed schools and other public gathering places to try and prevent the disease from spreading.  Factories throughout the state shuttered their doors for days at a time in order to prevent their entire workforce from becoming sick, and in Hartford, the Board of Aldermen voted to convert the Hartford Golf Club’s clubhouse into a temporary hospital where patients infected with the flu could recover in quarantine.

Unlike modern strains of the flu, the virus behind the global 1918 pandemic targeted healthy adults, not just children and the infirm.  With no cure or vaccine available, the virus claimed the lives of over 8,500 Connecticut residents — and caused thousands more to virtually imprison themselves in their homes out of fear of catching the deadly disease.  Thankfully — although the Hartford County Medical Society didn’t know it at the time — the global pandemic had already peaked and was winding down by the time they gathered to discuss “Complications of Influenza” in April 1919.  The deadliest epidemic in Connecticut history was finally coming to a close.

Government-sponsored public health announcements, like this one published in the Connecticut newspaper Illustrated Current News in October 1918, urged residents to take extra steps to prevent the spread of influenza.

Further Reading:

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

Ralph D. Ancari, “Ninety Days that Sickened Connecticut,Connecticut Explored

Hayley Gross, “1918: A War’s Ending, A Pandemic’s Beginning,” Museum of the City

Influenza 1918,” PBS Feature Documentary