Western History & Genealogy Blog

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 in Colorado

St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty Oct. 1918 Influenza epidemic. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs.
Description of Leadville during the 1918 pandemic. From History of Influenza Outbreak (1918) in Colorado, C MSS -M1208
Influenza Mortality Table for Leading Cities published in "Denver Municipal Facts," November 1918.

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In 1918, a powerful strain of influenza (nicknamed “Spanish Flu” and “La Grippe”) spread swiftly throughout the world. The virus proved to be deadly, often bringing on pneumonia that filled its victims’ lungs with fluid. Worldwide, it is estimated that 21–50 million people (many of them adults in their 20s and 30s) died from the flu in 1918 and 1919.

"Spanish Flu” was first reported in Colorado on September 21, 1918, among the Student Army Training Corp stationed at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Hundreds of soldiers were sickened and 19 died. Between September 1918 and June 1919, nearly 8,000 Coloradans died from influenza and its complications. Colorado had one of the highest mortality rates in the country, possibly because it was home to a large population with compromised lung function (miners and tubercular patients)—folks at a severe disadvantage for fighting pneumonia.

The flu in 1918 was a pandemic (rather than an epidemic) as it spread quickly and affected a large number of people across several continents. In Denver, Colorado Springs, and towns throughout the state, officials tried to control the spread of the virus by encouraging the use of face masks and placing restrictions on public gatherings.

In her autobiography manuscript available in DPL’s Western History & Genealogy department (C MSS -M1013), Nova Eisner Rose recounts how her family was tragically affected by the pandemic in Weld County:

Father caught it. Mother took a leave of absence [from teaching at Denver’s Whittier School] and went up to nurse him, but she herself became so tired she then sent for me to come from my college freshman year and relieve her. The second day after I arrived, Father died of a massive hemorrhage. His body was taken to Denver for burial, but the day of the funeral I couldn’t raise my head from the pillow. People avoided gatherings in those days, so Mother alone saw my Father buried.

A more complete story of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 in Colorado can be found in DPL’s Western History and Genealogy department in newspaper articles (index available here) and reports.