Question: Did the the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 hit Boise very hard?
Answer: The epidemic known then as “The Spanish Flu” did find its way to Boise, most likely through military personnel and contact with those infected on trains. Towards the end of First World War in 1918 Boise High graduate Fred Arthur Gracey was drafted into the army. That summer, Boise men ages 19-37 had been notified of their potential call to military action . Fred Gracey had only been married a little more than a year when he found himself on his way to the University of Idaho in Moscow Idaho to specialize in auto mechanics. In October, after a short time in training, he was stationed at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, Washington. He was at the camp only a number of days when he suddenly fell ill and died; just one of thousands of servicemen who caught and spread the influenza virus throughout American naval ports, military camps, and eventually through the civilian population. That year alone millions of people died in the United States and Europe.
The epidemic itself took more lives than the war, and still it has yet to catch the interest of very many historians. The few historical accounts that do exist rely on raw data collected through the records of various government institutions that had to deal directly with the outbreak. The data is problematic however, because numbers from the whole state of Idaho were omitted from the U.S. Census on Morality Statistics, along with numbers of 17 other states, and yet the census is the more accurate source for big-picture statistics and demographics. An accurate number of cases is further complicated with the additional knowledge that the flu existed in many degrees, many of which were never officially reported, and also by the fact that in many cases the actual cause of death is indicated as being pneumonia, or some other respiratory complication. It is hard to gauge the impact the influenza epidemic had on daily life through these kinds of statistics.
National efforts at curbing the spread of the flu began early in the fall. In September government officials dispatched with the previous draft call in an effort to keep the sickness from spreading to a healthy population of young men . In the Idaho Daily Statesman historical collection we can see a clear progression of the disease and each day shows how the City of Boise responded in this time of crisis.
In the beginning of October officials were aware of the potential risks of taking no action.
“The Immediate question is, should we treat the peril as an epidemic before it has reached that stage, and before we have failed to check the disease by the rigorous treatment of individual cases by isolation and quarantine?”
-The Idaho Daily Statesman October 12, 1918 issue 68 p. 4
In the following weeks the state board of health closed “places of assemblage except public and private schools” [“State Board Opens Fight On Influenza” issue 65 p. 1]. Professionals who worked in public occupations (such as barbers, schoolteachers, and nurses) were urged to wear medical masks in order to deter contagion. Any location that tended to bring people together was to be avoided if possible. By October 13 local girls had “Quit College” to avoid infection and formed what they called the “Farmarette Club” which proved to be essential in helping local farms with the fall harvest, where they were sure to get plenty of clean air and exercise .
October 26 Mayor S.H. Hays issued an order, after having been urged on by the state board of health, requiring quarantine for those who contracted the illness, and for immigrants and travelers. 
By the end of October there had been 58 cases of influenza and 9 deaths reported in Boise in total but over 3000 cases had been reported in the state when officials began restricting travel . At this point the local hospitals were putting out requests for additional nurses, and vacant homes were being considered for extra hospital space.
The newspapers also help convey the speed at which this devastating illness swept through town, and then quickly went away. By November 3 the paper reports that “Influenza Seems to Be Controlled”. While the flue itself continued to have an impact on local families, transportation, and medical conditions and practices, it did have a decidedly less deadly presence after its peak in October-September of 1918. Nonetheless local philanthropist and schoolteacher Cynthia Mann was an unfortunate victim to influenza as late as 1920, proving that it had not been completely eradicated.
Scientists have been interested in the biology of the epidemic, and public health boards have considered the impact such a disease would have on public institutions. The presence of the influenza epidemic is a thread that weaves undoubtedly through our history, as it touched the lives of millions who were alive at that time. And yet it has never become a topic for eager historians, the Boise Public Archives and Research Library has records of several state newspapers, of which would provide Idaho with some local insight to this historic period in American and world history.
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1. Idaho Daily Statesman “Ada Issues Call to Class 1 Men” July 20, 1918 p. 3 issue 309 and 10/17/1918 p. 5 issue 14
2. “Idaho Men Released From October 7 Call Because of Epidemic” issue 56 p. 5
3. “Girls Quit College Because of Contagion and Help on Farms” October 13, 1918 issue 12 p. 5
4. “Influenza Gains in Local Battle” issue 80 p. 7 and issue 14 p.5
5. October 27 “Health Officials…” issue 80 p. 4 and October 28, issue 81 p. 3 and October 30, “Stricter Rules May be Needed to Curb Influenza” issue 83 p. 7