The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic prompted Janice Bates Patterson to collect stories from 100 years ago — a look at the effect the Spanish influenza had her Augusta family’s life.
The similarities between how society reacted to Spanish Flu and COVID-19 are striking. According to the Kansas Historical Society, state government officials hoped that closing schools, public gatherings, theaters, and church services while limiting the number of people in a store at a time would limit the Spanish Flu outbreak and prevent more people from becoming sick. However, there was not a unified approach to those efforts.
Many of the same tactics were employed this year to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Curiously, the 1920 Census was disrupted by the widespread influenza situation, just as is occurring in 2020,” Bates Patterson wrote. “ The official census date had been established as 1 January 1920 that year, in the belief that this date would result in a more accurate count than the previous June 1 dates. Later the Census Bureau reported that the war in Europe plus the flu epidemic were factors that attributed to the lowest rate of population growth from decade to decade in the nation’s history.”
The Spanish flu began claiming lives in America in 1918 at Fort Riley, and swept across the country in repetitive waves. It struck the Augusta area in the winter of 1920.
“Records show that Augusta, in Butler County was especially hard-hit in February 1920,” Bates Patterson said. “This pandemic was widely referenced in the Augusta Daily Gazette as flu, usually in quotation marks.”
The effects of the Spanish Flu, and efforts to prevent its spread, hit much closer to home for Bates Patterson’s ancestors — causing multiple deaths within the family.
“Some pieces I’ve always known, others were found in the newspapers of the day,” Bates Patterson said.
Her grandmother, Maude L. (Beaver) Bates, died of influenza and pneumonia on Feb. 27 1920, leaving five children and a husband behind.
According to Bates Patterson, Maude’s extended family was already stretched thin by because her younger sister, Hazel (Beaver) Tinkler, had died of the flu just a couple of weeks earlier. Hazel and husband Carl had three very young children at that time. Within just a matter of days, Carl Tinkler had another blow – his brother Everett died of the flu too. Everett was survived by his wife Wilma and baby daughter Barbara.
Isaac and Mary Beaver, the parents of Maude and Hazel, had other children living nearby in rural Augusta, most of who had young children themselves. The surviving husbands both had parents and siblings in the area too, so it is possible to imagine that the children of Hazel and Maude were parceled out among various families for awhile. Hazel’s infant daughter Julia was raised by neighbors Permilia and Charles Gelwicks.
“One can only imagine the scrambled days and nights as these families coped with the circumstances—without electricity, running water, and indoor toilets,” Bates Patterson said. “The daily mail containing a loprical newspaper would have been the major information source.”
Bates Patterson’s grandfather, Will Bates, hired a young single woman, Edith Boggs, to tend to his children and to the housekeeping. He would marry Boggs in August of 1921.
“She was a kind and gentle grandmother to me who was always called Mom by my dad,” Bates Patterson said.
Carl Tinkler also remarried in 1921. According to Bates Patterson’s research, tThe 1925 Kansas Census showed Eunice (Bryant) Tinkler as a teacher. Carl’s 7-year-old twin sons, a cousin and Eunice’s sister comprised their household.
As life marched on, the family tragedies continued. In the summer of 1920 Henry Bates died while visiting relatives in Michigan.
“My dad, Harvey, had accompanied his grandparents on this trip, and so, at age 11, had to return to Kansas by train with his grieving grandmother and his grandfather’s body for burial in Augusta,” Bates Patterson said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, it is estimated that about 500 million people — or one-third of the world’s population of the time — became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.
Selected reports on the flu, Augusta Daily Gazette, Feb. 3, 1920-March 25, 1920
Feb. 3, 1920 – TWENTY-NINE CASES OF FLU YESTERDAY.
Dr. F.A. Garvin, county health commissioner reported 67 cases of Spanish influenza in Butler County.
Augusta hardest hit, 28 new cases.
Doctors are reporting cases daily.
This strain of influenza may not be as severe as last year’s.
Feb. 17, 1920 – LITTLE CHANGE
Of the 61 new cases of Spanish influenza reported for the last 24-hour period, none were from Augusta.
Eldorado, 22; Douglas, 16; Browntown, 9; Whitewater, 3; De Graff, 1, Rose Hill 10.
Feb. 25, 1920 – ANTI-FLU SERUM FREE
Free vaccinations are available to residents.
Few residents turned up last Friday so another session is offered.
Next series of vaccinations will be given next Friday, 1:30-3:30 pm, at the Courthouse in ElDorado
Dr. Garvin stated that although no positive serum has been found, this vaccination may lessen the severity of those contracting pneumonia and influenza.
Feb. 27, 1920 – FLU SITUATION IMPROVING
Steady improvement in influenza situation in ElDorado, fewest new cases since epidemic began in January.
Butler County Board of Health announced county had reached 1,600 cases of flu and 60 cases of pneumonia.
There have been about 20 deaths traced directly to flu and pneumonia.
March 25, 1920 –FLU EPIDEMIC SERIOUS
State registrar of vital statistics reported nearly three times as many deaths in Kansas in February 1920 as in February 1919
October and December 1918 had had influenza death tolls exceeding February 1920.
Total pneumonia and influenza deaths for February 1920 in Kansas (minus reports from 5 small counties) were 1,572.
In February 1919, 613 such ; in January 1918, 915 influenza deaths. . Registrar stated that it was a “real epidemic” even though communities handled the situation so as not to cause unnecessary alarm.