Sunday, September 25, 2011

N.C. Doctors and Nurses Heroes During the Spanish Flu Pandemic, 1919

From Transactions: Medical Society of the State of North Carolina, 1919, published by the Medical Society of the State of N.C. and online at

Between October 1, 1918 and March 1, 1919, the State of North Carolina lost 13,793 of its citizens from influenza. Deaths, distributed by months, were as follows: October, 6,561; November, 2,083; December, 1,920; January, 2,266; February, 873. Assuming that the fatality from the disease was around one and one-half per cent, the State has had within the five months period mentioned about 1,000,000 cases of influenza.

The rapidity of the onset and development of the epidemic, together with the absence of a considerable percentage of the medical profession that were engaged in military service, created an administrative problem, local and state and national, of great difficulty. The difficulties of the problem were increased owing to the highly contagious nature of the disease, and its striking down during the first week or two weeks of its prevalence many of the overworked doctors and nurses who remained for civilian service. Perhaps no community in North Carolina, and certainly no state in the Union, received anything like adequate medical or nursing care.

In the beginning of the epidemic the American Red Cross and the United States Public Health Service organized for the purpose of creating a reserve supply of doctors and nurses and of distributing the reserve through state boards of health to stricken communities. The Public Health Service and the American Red Cross felt in the beginning of the epidemic that in this way all calls could be met. In less than a week both of these great agencies, swamped with appeals from all parts of the country for doctors and nurses, threw up their hands in despair and admitted their inability to supply the urgent appeals for help. The North Carolina State Board of Health, through the assistance of the Public Health Service and the American Red Cross and through the volunteering of North Carolina doctors and nurses, was able to supply 64 communities with 70 emergency doctors and 61 emergency nurses. The following 35 members of our state profession, at a sacrifice of ease, convenience, and remuneration, accepted service under the direction of the State Board of Health during the epidemic for detail to those communities where they were most needed:
H.S. Allyn, Greensboro
J.E. Anthony, Kings Mountain
Aydlette, Greensboro
W.P. Beall, Greensboro
A.C. Bethune, Winston-Salem
D.R. Bryson, Bryson City
W.B. Bullock, Oxford
Burnette, Wilmington
J.E. Cathell, Linwood
J.W.V. Cordice, Greensboro
R.C. Ellis, Shelby
J.E. Duncan, North Wilkesboro
W.E. Evans, Rowland
J.N. Flippen, Winston-Salem
J.R. Gamble, Lincolnton
R.H. Garren, Monroe
William Harper, Albemarle
W.C. Herring, Charlotte
A.L. Hyatt, Kinston
J.F. Jonas, Marion
J.W. Jones, Boone
N.O. Lubchenko, Charlotte
J.A. McClellan, Maxton
C.W. Moseley, Greensboro
R.J. Nelson, Robersonville
George Oates, Grover
H.A. Parris, Wilmington
M. Roberson, Durham
B.B. Smith, Bridgeton
E.L. Stamey, Greensboro
E.L. Swann, Semora
T.D. Tyson, Pleasant Garden
L.J. Walker, Charlotte
A.R. Wilson, Greensboro
D.R. Wolff, Greensboro

This is a small group of volunteers, but a most creditable number when it is remembered that the epidemic rapidly involved the entire state so that comparatively few physicians could leave their own stricken communities for service in others. In combating the epidemic, all of the physicians of the state were overworked, their vitality dangerously drawn upon, and probably more than half of the profession contracted the disease. Of those contracting the disease, 16 died. The following is a list of physicians whose deaths from influenza or its complications have been officially recorded with the state:
Willis Alston Jr., Warren County
V.L. Andrews, Montgomery County
B.W. Cox, Wayne County
Wyatt P. Exum, Robeson County
J.S. Harrison, Nash County
John Rogers Hester, Wake County
Edward Warren Jones, Beaufort County
Edgar W. Lassiter, Northampton County
John Herbert Matthews, Moore County
Joseph Martin Matthews, Moore County
D.H. Perry, Wake County
Arnold Stovall, New Hanover County
Julian Rush Sutton, Buncombe County
Albert Johnson Terrell, Buncombe County
Benjamin J. Willingham, New Hanover County
T.H. Wilson, Wilson County

These men, back in their early years, in the instinctive germs of their characters, were inspired by a lofty altruism that had its roots entangled with the chorda tendinae of the heart of the suffering world. Such a beginning and such an initial course they followed as is pictured in Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality”

Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
                Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
                He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
                And by the vision splendid
                Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Characters that are fundamentally right, though they may have their vestures soiled and disarranged and worn and rent in the turmoil of daily struggle, under a stern test, in a great crisis, emerge ultimately triumphant.

Crises cause a reversion to type. In crises the little personal effects and the superficial things are cast aside as the soldier lays aside unnecessary accoutrements when the fight is on—the real man, the man as he was in the beginning and is in his deeper being, comes to the surface. In crises the light of common day yields again to the “vision splendid” of the early days, and the little fears and animosities of ordinary times go into eclipse. In crises men go back to first principles and to the God of their youthful dreams and aspirations.

So it was last winter with these 16 whose names I have called. Then let this be our remembrance of them as they appeared in the last act: with all the splotches of this worldly game, with all the grime, and grease, and dust of their humanity washed away in noble sacrifice, their diviner natures unobscured, their feet firmly set on the old road of their early choosing, passing out of mortal sight over the westward hills, through the hazy horizon of mortality, and into the country beyond the sunset.

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