Influenza continued to spread across the country. Now, all Americans were instructed that they were required to join in a new kind of fight being waged on the home front.

Influenza was an ENEMY.
It needed to be COMBATTED.
It needed a multi-pronged ATTACK.

“Our Boys in France Correctly Learning to Use Gas Masks” Library of Congress

Just as soldiers overseas suited up for combat, so too did many Americans in cities and towns across the country.

Homefront/Warfront, Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1918

There was, however, no federally-mandated plan of “attack;” Health ordinances, safety precautions, and official regulations were crafted on an ad hoc basis and they varied widely across the country.

On Thursday, October 3, the nearby town of Winnetka issued an order to deploy armed troops within the city to “protect” residents from the influenza invasion.[29] Two days later, the towns of Wilmette and Kenilworth followed suit; By Saturday, Wilmette, Winnetka, Hubbard Woods, and Glencoe were under quarantine. All schools, churches, and places of amusement were closed.[30] Other nearby towns and the city of Chicago began banning public gatherings and implementing strict regulations. The state’s regulations, which banned public amusements and other gatherings went into effect everywhere, including in Evanston. 

North Shore quarantine announcement, Evanston News-Index, October 5, 1918

Despite having as many as 300 cases reported in a single day, Evanston was the only city or town in Illinois north of Chicago that did not order a quarantine at the pandemic’s outset .*

Around Evanston, the picture was bleak: Pharmacies reported being swamped by customers looking for remedies to treat or ward off the virus. Prescriptions for heroin, cocaine, morphine, and opium were on the rise, with over 100,000 prescriptions (to combat flu) being written by doctors in just one month in the Chicago area.[31]

“Don’t dope yourself” urged Illinois medical officials, responding to the alarming increase in narcotic use, as well as the commonly held perception that drinking alcohol was beneficial in treating influenza.[32]

Drugstore clerks were “worn out” in Evanston, the local newspaper reported. Soon, the Central Street Pharmacy, at 1900 Central Street, was forced to close entirely after its proprietor W.L. Daniel fell ill with influenza.[33]

Work at the Evanston Post Office all but ceased as twelve employees got sick.[34] With nearly every single worker “down with the influenza,” the Evanston Railway company, which operated the city’s street cars, established a “skip stop” service, only stopping at every other stop.[35]

A request went out to Evanston residents to limit their telephone use. The reason: Roughly one third of the city’s telephone operators were sick.[36] The “first of the Evanston telephone girls to succumb to influenza,” twenty-year old Clara Stauber, who worked at the telephone exchange at 612 Davis Street, died in October.[37] 

Stauber was one of many young Evanston women who were dying from the disease. Three weeks earlier, 32-year old Frances Poole, described by a local paper as a “prominent society girl,” died from influenza while working as an Army nurse in Oswego, New York.[38] 

Frances Poole (1886-1918). A graduate of Evanston Township High School, Poole attended Northwestern University before enrolling in a nurse training program. On August 1, 1918, Poole left Evanston to work as a nurse in a military hospital (General Hospital No. 5) at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. There, she treated sick and wounded U.S. troops who had been brought back home from France. She contracted influenza in September 1918. Her loss was described as sacrifice in service. She “gave her life yesterday for her country” as the Evanston News-Index wrote. On October 26, 1918, a memorial service for Poole took place at St Luke’s Church in Evanston. (Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1918)

Read more about Frances Poole.

Evanston residents would learn of more deaths of other young women, who passed away heroically serving their country. At the nearby Great Lakes Training facility, a total of seven nurses would die during the pandemic: Theresa Burmeister, Myrtle Grant, Edith Hokanson, Emma Kotte, Alice Lea, Garnet Olive Peck, and Amber Story. (For more, see Carol Byerly, The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919.)

The fact that so many young women – from students to stenographers – were dying at a time when the nation had been so wracked with worry about its sons overseas was a particularly striking aspect of the pandemic.

Stories of mothers passing away and leaving their families behind told the tales of heartbreak. And more than one family bore the dual tragedies of war and illness:

When Nellie Simpson, age 47, of Washington Street, died at the Evanston Hospital, she left behind two daughters, also sick with influenza, and a husband who had only just recovered after contracting influenza while working at the Great Lakes Training Station. The Simpsons’ only son, Nels, was serving in France.[39]

Within two weeks, the Goacher family, who lived on Maple Street, lost their 14-year old son to influenza and Mr. Goacher’s only brother was killed in combat in France.[40]

The Schaefer family’s youngest son, John Schaefer, departed Evanston in August for training camp. Two months later, he embarked on a troop ship where he died of influenza before reaching France.[41]

Across the city, many also confronted serious economic hardship. “The loss in the earning capacity of those who have been stricken has not been computed,” observed the Evanston News-Index, “but it is a very definite loss.”[42] Many who fell ill were workers in industries that brought them in greater contact with others – the postal service, transportation, and retail – and thus made them more susceptible to catching influenza. 

The top floor of the Evanston Hospital was converted into an emergency facility for white patients suffering from influenza and pneumonia.[43] Evanston’s Black residents, who were not, as a rule, admitted to that hospital or to St. Francis, the city’s other hospital, turned to the Evanston Sanitarium, a hospital founded in 1914 by Dr. Isabella Garnett and Dr. Arthur Butler. Indeed, for Black Evanston residents, the experience of the pandemic was “framed by the disadvantages of racial prejudice.”[44] 

The pandemic would underscore disadvantages among residents based not only on race, but also on class. There can be no doubt that those who were poor and working class suffered more acutely since they were without the means to pay for doctor visits and other necessities. In essence, in Progressive-Era Evanston, many relied on charity and the goodwill of their wealthier neighbors for help in a crisis.

“Lend Your Maid to the Sick.” This was a call that went out to the city’s wealthy residents to offer their maids to help families afflicted with the virus. “It is a patriotic duty for the home of many servants to offer those which can be spared for the greater need of the city,” the Evanston News-Index advised.[45] Such a statement underscored the city’s vast class differences; the great majority of sick people remained at home, without help.

A call for nurses in Evanston, Evanston News-Index, October 9, 1918

When the first call for nurses went out, a dozen women and one man answered; none, except one, had any medical training. But they volunteered to go to the homes of flu victims throughout Evanston and “offer their assistance in whatever capacities they might be needed.”[46]

“Eligible” was a term defined by race. Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1918

Since the start of the war, The American Red Cross, which recruited nurses for service in the military and at home, had managed several campaigns to enlarge its nursing corps. However, the organization did not accept Black women into its ranks. (The U.S. military would remain segregated until 1948). Even after it officially lifted its bar in 1917, the Red Cross reportedly sidelined Black applicants; their applications left untended. It was only with the onset of the pandemic that the Red Cross began to “allow” Black nurses to serve in military camps beset by influenza. (See Marian Moser Jones, “The American Red Cross and Local Response to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic: A Four-City Case Study.”)

The city of Evanston was in crisis, with many in desperate need of help. Evanston’s Central Association of Charities, which served as a clearing house for citywide organizations that offered assistance to those in need, reported: “For three weeks we have had emergency work night and day – calls for doctors, nurses, food, bedding and help of every kind, whole families of 5 to 13 persons being completely prostrated.”[47]

On October 10, the Woman’s Club of Evanston organized an “emergency kitchen” to prepare and deliver food to families stricken with influenza. Soup, cornbread, and stew were provided for free to those who could not pay. Again underscoring the city’s class differences, club volunteers donated use of their own automobiles to deliver the food around the city.[48]

Emergency kitchen operation, Woman’s Club of Evanston, 1918. Photograph from Robert H. Moulton, “The Evanston Community Kitchen,” Munsey’s Magazine, March 1921.

Influenza was now “ravaging the city in epidemic proportions” with the death toll “daily mounting.”[49] At one point, the city’s 31 physicians were so busy caring for patients that they were unable to submit the daily tally of new cases to city officials.[50]

On October 8 – weeks into the pandemic – Dr. Roome announced a “drastic measure.” He would “put an end to all public activities until the epidemic is under control.”[51]

The order was approved by Evanston’s mayor, Harry P. Pearsons. Evanston was now under quarantine.

Quarantine Order, October 7, 1918, Evanston News-Index
Evanston News-Index, October 8, 1918


“It looked like the beginning of a dark and dreary day. The sky was gray and the early morning atmosphere a bit foggy, with a hint of rain . . . town closed up tight, everybody sick or dead with the influenza, papers full of it.”[52]

Evanston News-Index, October 12, 1918

Every night, the city’s “old town bell” in Fountain Square rang. The Evanston City Council voted to resume the nightly ritual, long neglected, as a reminder that the city was under “influenza quarantine.”[53]

All public schools were shuttered; all meetings cancelled; the reading room at the Evanston Public Library was closed. Recently drafted men who were scheduled to leave for training were on hold, waiting for orders to leave at the lifting of the quarantine.[54] Children sixteen years and younger were ordered “to remain on their own premises.” Police were deployed to patrol the city on the lookout for children; later, they began apprehending them; by October 12, police had taken three children into custody.[55]

At Roome’s office, the phone rang off the hook with people calling to “demand advice and instruction” regarding “each and every particular case and the observation of quarantine.” Like so many other officials, Roome continued to be upbeat. In the midst of one of the pandemic’s worst weeks, and on a day when three Evanston residents died, Roome told the press “the disease is not gaining here.” Within a few days, he said, “it would begin to subside.” [56]

For a while, Northwestern University remained open even after the city’s official quarantine order; but all female students were barred from leaving Evanston; they, along with the 1,600 male students on campus, were all being “closely watched for any sign of illness.” [57]

As the epidemic worsened, (at least 42 cases were reported at Northwestern), Northwestern imposed its own quarantine which barred students from leaving campus entirely.[58]

“Oh, Fluey!” Daily Northwestern, November 6, 1918. Students were only allowed to attend classes during the quarantine at the university.

Along with the quarantine order, a list of regulations went into effect:

  • Spitting in public places was “absolutely prohibited.”
  • All clerks must be sent home from work immediately if they were sick.
  • Special precautions were ordered in hotels, restaurants, and ice cream parlors, including “properly sterilizing” dishes after use.
  • People in street cars, stores, and public buildings were ordered to hold handkerchiefs over their faces when coughing or sneezing.
  • No sharing of “common cups” in offices was allowed.
  • Barbers were ordered to wear gauze masks when serving customers.[59]

Barbers and clients, outdoor barber shop, c. 1918. (National Archives and Records Administration).

The authorities were serious, as Joseph Poklen, who worked as a barber at 1937 Central Street, soon found out.

Poklen was one of four barbers arrested and charged with violating a public health ordinance after officials received complaints that they failed to wear masks while working.[60] Poklen was brought before a city judge and fined ten dollars. “It’s an awful thing to be a barber these days and have to wear masks and everything, just because of the influenza epidemic,” Poklen said, explaining that he had simply forgotten to put his mask on.[61]

On September 12, 1918, (about a month before his arrest), 42-year old Joseph Stanley Poklen had gone to the Evanston City Hall to register for the draft. The draft age had recently been expanded to include men 18 to 45. Poklen, who was self-employed, and his wife, Lena Faner Poklen, lived just down the street from his shop on Central Street. Lena was born in Germany. (Source: 

The policing of residents continued as the quarantine wore one. Even Dr. Roome took it upon himself to investigate reported violations. One morning, the city’s health commissioner himself showed up at a service in progress at Saint Mary’s Church at Oak Ave and Lake Street, with roughly 200 people in attendance – a clear violation of the quarantine order. “I at once stopped further entrance of anyone,” Roome recounted. “I also ordered that the congregation be dismissed and that no service be held in the church.”[62]

Residents were also encouraged to take further precautions, including wearing face masks or “germ screens” and avoiding “dry sweeping.” (Sweeping was widely believed to circulate influenza through dust blown into the atmosphere.) People were also encouraged to hose down sidewalks to eliminate dust. At Northwestern, “all the walks and roads on the campus” were “sprinkled” with water in order “to keep the dust down,”[63] while the city ordered members of the Evanston Fire Department to turn their hoses on full blast and water the “entire length of Davis Street.”[64]

DIY face covering, pattern for a “Germ Screen,” Chicago Tribune, October 6, 1918

Newspapers were full of advice on how to combat the disease; and numerous products and services, from Dixie Cups to Listerine, Lysol to dry cleaning, were advertised as offering protection from influenza.

Advertisement, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 8, 1918

Advertisement, Six-One-Nine Cleaners, 1619 Sherman Ave, Evanston News-Index, December 17, 1918.

With the onset of the pandemic, orders and regulations issued by officials seemed only to lengthen the already familiar litany of instructions that reminded people on a daily basis that their lives were not “normal;” they had been curtailed by something beyond their control; first a war, and now a pandemic.

“Don’t shake, but salute friends.” [65] This was but another dictate issued to stop the practice of the handshake, a perfect reflection of a country that had been forced to alter even the smallest of human gestures in the face of a war and a pandemic. The martial air of saluting was right in step with the wartime climate that fall.

End of Part 2. Next Time: How Things Ended


[29] “Soldiers to Protect People of Winnetka from Epidemic,” Evanston News-Index, October 3, 1918; “Wilmette and Kenilworth in Drastic Move,” Evanston News-Index, October 5 1918.

[30] “North Shore Under Quarantine,” Evanston News-Index, October 5 1918.

[31] John Dill Robertson, Report of an Epidemic on Influenza in Chicago, 138.

[32] “Banish Opium Robertson Plea to Physicians,” Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1919.

[33] “Health Commissioner Issues Proclamation Ordering Drastic Methods to Check Disease Spread.” Evanston News-Index, October 8, 1918.

[34] “Wilmette and Kenilworth in Drastic Move,” Evanston News-Index, October 5 1918.

[35] “Lands a Hard Blow at Tramway System,” Evanston News-Index, October 26, 1918.

[36] “Warns Evanston To Cut Down On Telephone Calls,” Evanston News-Index, September 23, 1918.

[37] “Telephone Girl Dies,” Evanston News-Index, October 24 1918

[38] “Frances Poole, Army Nurse, Dies in Eastern Camp,” Evanston News-Index, October 9, 1918.

[39] “Worked to Permit Son to Go to War; Influenza Victim,” Evanston News-Index, October 4, 1918. Nels Simpson (1892-1974) survived the war and returned to Evanston where he worked as a milk distributor before retiring to Florida in the late 1960s.

[40] “Frank Goacher,” Evanston News-Index, November 12, 1918.

[41] “Evanston Soldier Dies Aboard Ship,” Evanston News-Index, October 28, 1918.

[42] Editorial, Evanston News-Index, December 22, 1918.

[43] “Pneumonia Claims 3 In One Day,” Evanston News-Index, October 10 1918

[44] Nancy K. Bristow, American Pandemic, 72. More research on the experiences of Black Americans during the pandemic is needed. As historian Elizabeth Schlabach notes the “historiography of the African American experience during the influenza epidemic is shockingly sparse.” Schlabach, “The Influenza Epidemic and Jim Crow Public Health Policies and Practices in Chicago, 1917–1921,” The Journal of African American History (Winter 2019), 33.

[45] “Lend Your Maid to the Sick,” Evanston News-Index, October 12, 1918. 

[46] “Women Respond to Call for Nurses,” Evanston News-Index, October 11, 1918.

[47] “Charities Association Head Tells How People Cooperated to Aid Victims of Influenza,” Evanston News Index, October 28, 1918.

[48] “Send Food at Cost to Stricken People,” Evanston News-Index, October 11, 1918.

[49] “Pneumonia Claims Three in One Day,” Evanston News-Index, October 10, 1918.

[50] “Epidemic Now Under Control,” Evanston News-Index, October 12, 1918. 

[51] “Health Commissioner Issues Proclamation Ordering Drastic Methods to Check Disease Spread,” Evanston News-Index, October 8, 1918.

[52] “His Inspiration Lifts the Gloom,” Evanston News-Index, October 12, 1918.

[53] “Curfew to Warn Evanston Children From Streets,” Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1918.

[54] “Influenza Again Halts Draft Call,” Evanston News-Index, October 19, 1918.

[55] “Influenza Now Under Control,” Evanston News-Index, October 12, 1918.

[56] “People Quick to Respond to Quarantine Ban,” Evanston News-Index, October 9, 1918. “Pneumonia Claims Three in One Day,” Evanston News-Index, October 10 , 1918.

[57] “But One Student Dies of ‘Flu’; N.U. to Remain Open,” Evanston News-Index, October 17, 1918.

[58] “Place Quarantine Over N.U. Campus,” Evanston News-Index, October 21, 1918; “ ‘Flu’ Quarantine Lifted,” Daily Northwestern, November 6, 1918; “Health Conditions at N.U. Improved,” Evanston News-Index, October 25, 1918.

[59] “Health Commissioner Issues Proclamation Ordering Drastic Methods to Check Disease Spread,” Evanston News-Index, October 8, 1918.

[60] “More Maskless Tonsorial Artists Are Arrested,” Evanston News-Index, October 18, 1918. 

[61] “Barber Without Mask Arrested: Fined By Boyer,” Evanston News-Index, October 17, 1918. 

[62] “Quarantine Rules Broken by Catholics,” Evanston News-Index, October 14, 1918.  

[63] “Influenza Epidemic is Topic Discussed by the War Council,” Evanston News-Index, October 5, 1918.

[64] “Stevens Suggests Way to Stop Germs Spread,” Evanston News-Index, October 18, 1918.

 [65] “Don’t Shake, But Salute Friends,” Evanston News-Index, October 29, 1918.

One reply on “Evanston Dimensions | Cold, Gray Days in Evanston, Part 2”

  1. Excellent story, so interesting! Thank you for immersing readers in a time 100 years ago, but with so many parallels to today.

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