Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Deadlier than War

Little Birdie Dawson died on 26 October 1918 at the age of 14 years, 2 months and 17 days of epidemic influenza, which claimed the lives of between 30 and 100 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919. She was really just a blip in the statistics and died after being treated by a physician at home for two days. She was also my second cousin once removed.

Before the pandemic came to Virginia, people were focused on the war across the Atlantic. Young men and women were leaving to serve as soldiers and nurses and citizens at home made sacrifices for the war effort and bought Liberty bonds.

And then influenza came to Virginia. There were two main outbreaks in 1918 -- the fall outbreak between September and October and the second outbreak, in December. It attacked the most productive members of society, those between 20 and 40 years of age, tested all levels of government and a the medical community weakened by the war effort.

Women wearing masks to protect them from influenza; courtesy of Helena
as She Was, an open history resource

The first outbreak began in Virginia in Army camps set up to train recruits to fight in Europe. One 13 September a newly arrived soldier had an "acute respiratory infection." Three days later there were over 500 influenza cases at the camp. In total, 48,000 soldiers died in Camp Lee, about 130 east of Bedford County where Birdie lived. It didn't take long before the flu spread to the civilian population and Birdie was dead little more than a month after that first case at Camp Lee. She was one of 84 people who died in Bedford of Spanish influenza that year.

Birdie Loren Dawson was born on 8 August 1904 in Bedford County to Whiston Robert Dawson and Ada Deliah Burks. She was their eldest child. Her father was the grandson of my two times great grandfather Powhatan Perrow Jennings.

No comments:

Post a Comment