How did Bryn Mawr respond to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918?

Have you wondered how The Bryn Mawr School responded to the pandemic in 1918? The pandemic swept into Baltimore in September of 1918. At the time, the country had been engaged in World War I for a year and a half. Many early outbreaks of the flu took place at military bases, and in the Baltimore area, early cases surfaced at Fort Meade. At first, the Baltimore Health Commissioner saw no reason for concern.

The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 20, 1918

By early October, though, the flu had spread to the civilian population in the city. On October 8, the school board closed the public schools, and the health commissioner soon closed local businesses. Bryn Mawr closed at that time, but not surprisingly, the education of its students continued. Teachers carried lessons and books back and forth from students’ homes.

The Bryn Mawr School, corner of Cathedral and Preston Streets

Schools reopened in early November, and on November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed to end the war. Such a dramatic time!

The pandemic had taken a serious toll on the city. By the end of the year, more than 4,000 Baltimoreans had died, and by the time the last waves had subsided, five young Bryn Mawr alumnae had died.

The 1919 Bryn Mawrtyr, p. 40

According to newspaper accounts, Agnes Gordon Whiting Wise died of influenza after nursing her husband and two-year-old daughter through the illness. Louise Tunstall Smith ’14 died of influenza while training to be an army nurse at New York’s Bellevue Hospital.

Louise Tunstall Smith ’14

The 1919 Bryn Mawrtyr gives a glimpse into the lives of students and alumnae of the time. It was a time when women were taking an active part in the war effort. The yearbook lists dozens of alumnae working for the armed services, the Red Cross, the Intelligence Service, the YWCA, and the local munitions industry.

The 1919 Bryn Mawrtyr, p. 41

The 1919 Bryn Mawrtyr is actually dedicated to a beloved alumna faculty member, Carmen Santos ’13, who left during the school year to volunteer with the Red Cross. (She returned to serve on the faculty as Mrs. Randoph, retiring in 1969.)

The 1919 Bryn Mawrtyr, p. 2-3

The spirit with which Bryn Mawr alumae supported the country’s war effort was matched by the spirit of women across the United States. The significant contributions made by women did much to bolster the cause for Women’s Suffrage, which was another dramatic change that was soon to come.


The 1914 and 1919 Bryn Mawrtyrs

Bierne, Rosamond Randall. Let’s Pick the Daisies: The History of the Bryn Mawr School. The Bryn Mawr School, 1970.

Di Cataldo, Elizabeth Nye. Ex Solo Ad Solem: A History of the Bryn Mawr School.  The Bryn Mawr School, 2011.

The Influenza Encyclopedia. n.d. University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine. Accessed May 28, 2020.

“Made Good War Record: Colonial Dames in Baltimore Have Done Great Service.” 1918. The Sun, Nov. 28, 1918. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

“Miss Louise Tunstall Smith.” 1918. The Sun, Oct. 13, 1918. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

“No Spanish Influenza Here.” 1918. The Sun, Sept. 20, 1918. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

One thought on “How did Bryn Mawr respond to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918?

  1. This was a very interesting piece. The Mrs Randolph you mentioned will be recognized by many current alumnae. Hard for me, Class of ‘72, to wrap my head around the fact that our Mrs Randolph lived through the influenza.

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