1918

A Student’s Diary of the Spanish Flu (1918)

As students travelled to begin their fall term studies at Montana State College, USA, in 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic travelled there with them as well. A number of students came down with the flu and the sick among them were housed in special barracks. One of the students decided to keep a diary of his experiences. The identity of the student remains unknown because it was published anonymously in the college’s yearbook, The Montanan, in 1920. The student tells of his experience in becoming ill, then being housed in special quarters, the boredom of his recovery, and how he then helped other sick students during his convalescence.

The original magazine can be accessed here


Oct. 12.—Been so busy getting started I have a hard time finding time to write.[1] We got pulled thru the pond this afternoon. It sure was wet. But we won the sack rush anyhow. There’s lots of excitement about the Spanish influenza. They say it is coming west. I don’t believe it will hurt us. We get so much fresh air in drill and it is cold enough to freeze any germ at nights here. Several of the fellows have colds

Oct. 17.—[…] the “flu” struck at last, and they want to keep it from spreading. Some of the boys have it, and they are in a log house down by the “bug building.” They say we may all have to wear “flu” masks. We’d look like members of the “Ku Klux Klan” then.

Oct. 19.-“Flu” still going on. They moved the fellows, beds and all, up to the gymnasium today. It is being fixed up for a hospital. One of us fellows has to guard it all the time, and we can’t even let cars go past. The drill sure is stiff. Some of the fellows get sick in it and have to drop out; the next thing we know is that they have the influenza. None of the dorm girls have it tho. The doctors sure are busy and so are the nurses. I’m feeling pretty tired tonight. Think I’ll go to bed early.

Oct. 21.—No more dates. The girls at the dorm are all quarantined-no influenza there and they think they can keep it out by locking themselves in. Ostrich tactics, so to speak. Several more fellows are sick. The log house is full so they have a couple of tents there, too. I don’t think very many more will get sick. I have a little cold, but I know it isn’t the flu.

Oct. 25.—I sure didn’t think I was getting the “flu” last time I wrote. But here I am in bed. I am not very sick. The day after I got in the gymnasium they moved the hospital over to the aggie building. Some of the fellows were wheeled over in chairs, and the rest of them were carried in bed. I had to stay in bed and they covered my head all up. Pretty near got tipped out a couple of times-especially going up the aggie building stairs. Here comes the nurse.

Oct. 27.—This being sick isn’t any fun at all. Here we’ve been having lots of anything we wanted to eat and yesterday they decided to give the sickest ones just liquids and us soft stuff. The almost well ones couldn’t even have enough to eat either. I had a poached egg on toast and some custard for supper. Gosh! and I felt like a sirloin steak, potatoes, gravy, mince pie, “ ‘n’ everything.” It was hardest on the liquid fellows tho; they just got milk or cocoa.

Oct. 29.—We have some new nurses. Too many patients for the real ones to take care of. The new ones are college girls but we can’t see anything of them except their eyes. They won’t talk much either. College girls are cooking for us, too. I’m in what was once a sewing room. They say there are more fellows in the other rooms on this floor. They all are getting along well, the nurses say. I wish I’d get some letters from home. Gets mighty tiresome lying around here all day.

Nov. 1.—Decided to try to write down my feelings while I had the “flu'”-for the benefit of science or at least for future generations. The first symptom is being tired; the second is having a fit of “blues;” they say girls always cry; then you get a “bad cold and soon go to bed; along comes an officer and sends you off to the hospital; you sleep awhile; when you wake up your back and legs ache and ache and ache some more; you wish you were a cat so you could double up your back and get the pains out; by this time you get your green cough syrup regularly, and your temperature taken about every two minutes, and white tablets now an then; when you’ve been sick several days you feel like a toy balloon that someone has stuck a pin into; this lasts until your soft diet begins; you get to feeling better then; the funniest sensation is when you walk; you feel like an inflated balloon this time-just barely anchored by a thread and ready to go up into the air any minute; after you’re up, you are terribly hungry and can eat a whole day’s food at one meal. That is the point I’ve reached now. For the sake of conservation of the food resources of the nation, I hope I don’t have such an appetite very long.

Nov. 4.—Still hungry. I’m on K.P. [Kitchen Patrol] now. “It’s a great life”—carrying trays back and forth and doing dishes. Get enough to eat now, anyway. Lots of the girls who have been helping here are sick now. We get a new bunch every day or two. We K.P. fellows sleep on the top floor of the building. The barracks are done now and about tomorrow I think I’ll be sent down there. I sure do eat a lot. Gee! Wish it was supper time.

Nov. 7.—They decided to keep me here as “chief cook and bottle washer”—mostly bottle washer. The rest of the gang were sent down to the barracks this morning. There aren’t very many fellows getting sick now. Some of them have a relapse and have to come back. Marie sent me a box of candy yesterday. It sure was good […]

Nov. 20.—Was sent down to the barracks today. The influenza is almost over now. But they have decided to keep college closed until January. The dorm girls are all going home. The “flu” sure did its work. Almost every one of the boys had it. We don’t any of us feel quite as good as we did before. Get tired lots easier. Five of the fellows and one of the nurses died with it and a couple other fellows are still dangerously sick. I’m sure glad it is getting better.

Dec. 19.—I haven’t written for a long time. About the most important thing that has happened was that I was invited out for Thanksgiving dinner. It sure was great, too. We got our uniforms the other day. They are thinking of continuing the S.A.T.C. even after the war. I sure hope they do, so more of the fellows can go to college. The “flu” is past now. The only sick ones left are the scarlet fever boys and the four fellows in the hospital. The town will be out of quarantine tomorrow. I am going home for Christmas so guess this will be the last time I write until 1919.


[1] Anon. [online], ‘A Fluey Diary’, in The Montanan, ed. by [Staff Editors], vol. 13 (Montana State University, 1920), pp. 147–50. Available at: https://arc.lib.montana.edu/msu-yearbooks/objects/1920-Montanan.pdf.