I found information on Baldwin’s great flu epidemic in the Baldwin Bulletin. I had heard much about it, knowing that it was somewhere around 1919, but found out it was in 1919 and 1920. It was a trying and lonely time for the people; many graves in the Baldwin Cemetery bear the names of victims of the flu.
In 1919, when the flu first hit, many of the doctors and nurses were off at war. There were no medications to cure the flu or pneumonia that many times followed. Each year there were a few deaths from pneumonia, but the flu caused many more deadly cases.
How exactly did it affect Baldwin? I had heard that churches did not meet for a period of time. Under all the church announcements in the Baldwin Bulletin, there was the same information: No meetings until further notice. Whenever people met with others, they increased their chances of bringing the flu home with them.
In the High School Commencement write up of 1919, it read that students were graduating although school had been closed to them for three months of the school year due to the flu.
When it opened again, parents and children were notified that there was still a chance to catch up on work in time for regular graduation date, but the students would have to attend school as often as possible. They would be adding 55 minutes time to each school day, running it from 8:40 to noon and 1:00 to 4:20.
Rules adopted by the Board of Health Dec. 11 were printed in the paper. If a family member had the flu in their home, the doctor had to notify the Board of Health officers in the area within 24 hours, or if no doctor was called, the head of the household had to do the notifying.
The Board of Health would put up a 2” high red placard stating that the inmates of that house had the flu and no one but the doctor, nurse or health officer were to enter or exit from the door until the Board of Health gave the word.
The only one allowed to leave was someone going to work for gainful employment. That person was allowed to leave only if he did not have the flu or was over it for 10 days. He could not go to any public meeting place such as church, school, the theater, bowling alley or billiard halls, saloons or mingle in crowds.
If someone had the flu, they were not allowed to leave until the temperature of the last flu case had returned to normal for four days and they could not return to work or school until after 10 days the fever was gone.
At that time, they had to air out the house, wash with soap and water all the woodwork in the house, and boil and air out all bedding. Keep in mind that this meant opening the doors and windows during the coldest months of the Wisconsin winter as the flu was from November to January.
In 1920, an article form the State Health Department appeared saying they did not wish to alarm people, but the likelihood of a flu outbreak as bad if not worse than that of the year before was very high.
The headlines read, “State Warns of Influenze Peril.” People were told to avoid crowds and if they themselves came down with a cold or bad cough, to go to bed. A condition similar to the “flu” called “la grippe” was said to be of similar nature and if either condition came up, to treat them with the utmost caution.
The government was supposed to appropriate an amount to be used for experimentation to find a cure, but it was felt that a cure was many years down the road.
The Baldwin Bulletin pointed out that fear itself weakens the system of any person and they should try not to worry in order to lessen stress.
In January 1920, there were only 25 to 30 students in the High School attendance on an average day. Their enrollment was 76.
In February 1920, all public meetings were called off. The annual Baldwin Co-op Creamery Association meeting was postponed indefinitely because of the flu epidemic. The fireman’s masquerade ball was canceled.
Roberts, Hammond and Emerald all had meeting and functions closed due to flu.
Farmers were told to keep their roads open as the doctor had to get through at a moment notice and it could be their home that he was headed for.
Here is just one of the stories that went on during the flu in this area.
Mrs. Henry Vossekuil from Woodville was taking care of her husband who had the flu, and at the same time, she worried sick about her brother Henry Vrieze, from Baldwin who also had pneumonia. She dared not leave husband Henry’s side to go see brother Henry.
As her brother and her husband slowly began to recover, she got sick and died. Neither her husband nor brother were able to attend her funeral. Meantime, during the sickness of Mrs. Vossekuil, her sister-in-law, Mrs. Vrieze, was also sick. She died not knowing that Mrs. Vossekuil had died.
The husbands that they had tended to so wonderfully lived on, while both woman’s bodies succumbed to the pneumonia. Those were very dark days for so many in our little town and surrounding areas.
This article was reprinted from the Oct. 30, 1991 issue of the Bulletin.