The Brookhouse Home for Women has endured both the Covid 19 crisis and the Spanish flu of 1918. Our city and our women were strong and resilient then as they are now.
The Spanish flu of 1918 to 1920 spread in successive waves from early cases late in 1917 through the epidemic’s recurrence in 1920. The month of October 1918 was the deadliest.
The worst epidemic in modern history
The disease is also known as the “forgotten pandemic” because it was eclipsed by the historic impact and build up to the Great War. Yet the spread of the pandemic occurred very close to home because it was related to the movement of troops during the start of US involvement in WWI.
The military installations at the Charlestown Navy Yard at Boston harbor and Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass saw the rapid and lethal spread of the Spanish flu followed by its movement to cities like Salem.
The Spanish Flu hits Salem
The Federal Governments role was largely symbolic during the pandemic even though President Woodrow Wilson did get the flu in the first phase of the flu in early 1918. In mid to late September of 1918, there were 6,000 cases in Salem and the numbers were growing.
Newspapers at the time reported that there were churches losing up to 31 parishioners in a few short weeks in September 1918 while in December 1918, it was reported that 75 percent of the Salem Children’s Home were ill with the Spanish flu. Several soldiers and officers from Salem were caught in the early days of the pandemic in Charlestown Navy Yard and Fort Devens. Lt. Gordon Greenough, Wallace C. Upton and Pvt. George C. Trask were en route to the Great War but succumbed to the flu before leaving Massachusetts.
Salem Historian Donna Seger writes that in the grim days of 1918 “the youth of the victims, the children they left behind, the coincidence and impact of war, etc., … and all of this only four years after the Great Salem Fire meant that the second decade of the twentieth century was really a killer for Salem, but it rose to the challenge.”
It is clear that Salem rallied as a community and took care of its own citizens with its hospital work, food drives and social distancing practices. No doubt the Brookhouse Home for Women endured this difficult time with a great deal of fortitude and a positive attitude just as we have today.
As Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said recently in the Salem News, “We’ve been through some very tough circumstances in the past, whether it’s the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 or the Great Salem Fire of 1914.”
The Brookhouse Home has been a beacon of hope and comfort for senior women since 1861. We will get through this!