First Northampton High School, later the Central Building. Photo courtesy of Larry Oberly.

By Larry Oberly and Ed Pany

In this column we are looking back at the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Northampton.

As the September outbreak in Philadelphia pushed the spotlight of the pandemic to Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had an Acting Commissioner, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Royer.  On Oct. 3, 1918, he issued an order that closed all saloons, theaters, movie houses, and places of amusement. All public meetings and other gatherings were banned, as were public funerals, parades, and visits to the sick.  The closure of schools and churches was left to local authorities, while churches were asked to limit attendance at all functions.

In Northampton, the Local Health Board lost no time in promulgating the following; all hotels, clubs, dance halls, moving picture houses, and soda fountains were closed and public indoor meetings prohibited.  Churches, Sunday Schools and fraternal organizations were closed as of their next meeting until the Health Board released them.  Beginning the following week, all local wholesale liquor dealers and breweries were asked to not sell or deliver drinks within the limits of the borough.  Public Schools were to remain open, but the necessity to close them could arise at any moment and was left to the local health board after inspection of cases.  Our schools did not currently have any cases and therefore could remain open.  Teachers and the school superintendent were to report each and every case to the Secretary of the Health Board.  The Parochial Schools were without medical inspection.  They had a choice of closing or submitting to a medical inspection, if they so choose, they could remain open.

Only a few cases were reported to the Health Board.  Physicians were ordered to promptly report to the board so that effective measures might be made to stamp out the virus and prevent its spread.  Those affected by those orders had obeyed in the right spirit.  While hardships in numerous cases of those directly affected put the public welfare above personal gain and comfort, it was hoped that any unpleasantness might be avoided.

In two weeks, 30 grams of Aspirin.


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