Date of Award

Spring 6-9-2023

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Libi Sundermann

Second Advisor

William Burghart

Third Advisor

James Hannes


As of 105 years ago this October, the deadliest pandemic of the twentieth century arrived in Tacoma and the greater Pierce County area, putting its residents and officials in an arduous position. The choices made in October of 1918 were not made lightly, as the potential for a public health crisis weighed heavily on the minds of those in the face of the “Spanish Flu.” With a public health lens, I have used local newspapers, health reports, military history books, the transcripts of the Pierce County Medical Society meetings, and adjacent scholarship to analyze the influenza policies of 1918 Peirce County. My research began with a desire to know the response of my home county during this medical crisis. Furthermore, I wanted to know the reactions of the county’s officials and professionals and what measures they deemed necessary or superfluous.

The public health measures that Pierce County implemented were impressive, given that the field of public health was a more novel aspect of the United States government. However, the pandemic’s slowing infection rates in November and December of 1918, media reactions to the pandemic, and lack of medical unity made long-standing policies tough to maintain. For these very reasons, within this essay, I argue that the effectiveness of the county’s public health measures was undermined, resulting in the premature lifting and ceasing of cohesive public health policies. A review of these various policies, their strengths, and their failures not only gives a deep look at a local history that has often remained ignored or overlooked but helps prepare for future pandemics and further retain lessons from our most recent one.