Date of Award

Winter 3-19-2021

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Julie Nicoletta

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Kucher


The 1918 “Spanish influenza” was the worst influenza pandemic in recorded history. This paper traces advancements made in medicine and public health, especially those made during the latter half of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, leading up to the 1918 pandemic, by examining primary source materials and scholarly secondary sources. Unfortunately, the viral cause of influenza would not begin to be understood until the early 1930s. In 1918, the lack of scientific understanding of viruses led to many theories on the nature of influenza, including how to best treat it, and, ultimately, to a feeling of failure among many in the medical community. Fragmentation between state and federal public health organizations at the beginning of the pandemic resulted in a lack of preparation and preventative measures, such as social distancing, in many east coast cities. The impacts of the 1918 influenza in cities like Boston during September 1918, were eye-opening for public health and government officials in Seattle. Seattle escaped the fate of many east coast cities through preparation, unified messaging between national and local public health and government officials, and the implementation of proactive preventative measures. The lessons learned from Seattle’s handling of the 1918 flu can be applied today in our efforts to combat diseases like COVID-19 and future strains of novel viruses.