Jump to Navigation

Influenza Sign

Influenza  quarantine sign

During World War I, a new enemy appeared on the battlefield--Spanish Influenza. The deadly disease affected millions in nearly every part of the world, including Bushong, Kansas, where one doctor used this quarantine sign to counter the virus' spread. Oddly enough, Bushong lay only 50 miles from Camp Funston, where many experts now believe the global pandemic originated.

"This has been a very long day indeed to me, for we are quarantined in for the time being. . . . We are held up because 'influenza,' or some such a name is in the camp. . . . They seem to think it is pretty bad." --Charles Johnston, Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918

Located on Fort Riley, Camp Funston was a massive training facility rapidly constructed after America's entrance in the war. There, soldiers were prepared for combat in Europe. Due to the war effort, resources were limited and soldiers in 1918 found themselves overcrowded in poorly heated tents during an unusually cold winter. Along with poor sanitation and inadequate medical facilities, the circumstances proved ripe for an epidemic outbreak.

On March 4, a private at Funston (a cook) reported ill with a volatile form of influenza, and within three weeks, 1,100 soldiers on the post displayed similar symptoms. From there, soldiers moved to camps around the county, unknowingly infecting local civilian populations along the way. Worse yet, troop movement to Europe exposed foreign populations weakened by four years of war. The disease proved particularly lethal in Spain, where it acquired its name.

Within a year, influenza had spread to every part of the globe. Estimates place those killed at 50 million, higher than total war casualties. Most died from secondary infections such as pneumonia. Spanish Influenza was unique in targeting the immune systems of healthy young adults, which explained its rapid transmission through soldiers. As a virus, the disease mutated constantly, making inoculation nearly impossible.

Camp Funston infirmary

In Kansas, 12,000 had died from influenza by 1919. Wichita reported 188 deaths in the month of January alone. Dr. Samuel Crumbine, Secretary of the Kansas State Board of Health, led efforts to counter the epidemic. Along with promoting a public awareness campaign, the Dodge City doctor discouraged the use of communal drinking cups and issued masks to the general public. Quarantine was the primary measure implemented, and infected patients were isolated in makeshift hospitals throughout the state.

Disease was common in rural Kansas, but Spanish Influenza hit at a vulnerable time. Many local physicians enlisted during the war, leaving one doctor responsible for multiple communities. Dr. Chester Stocks of Bushong, Kansas, experienced this when he found himself treating infected patients from nearby towns. Able to do little more than quarantine, Stocks probably received these signs in bulk from the State Board of Health and issued them to individual households. Once posted, the sign signaled others to stay away.

In 1976, the contents of Dr. Stocks' medical practice were donated to the Kansas Museum of History, where it is on display in the main gallery. Along with this "Influenza" sign, quarantine signs for "Typhoid Fever," "Diphtheria," and "Smallpox" were found. The variety of signs reveals what a battle life could be for Kansans in the early 20th century.

Listen to the Influenza Sign podcast Play Audio

Entry: Influenza Sign

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2007

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.