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Missouri Methodists and the 1918 Flu Epidemic


May 19, 2020

The Missouri Methodists have been through a pandemic before. The disease commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu in 1918 canceled events, closed churches, and people died. Missouri United Methodist Archivist John Finley has found the following references to the influenza epidemic in the St. Louis Christian Advocate, the principal newspaper for the Methodist Episcopal Church South in the Midwest. Following are stories from that newspaper that reference the flu, with the publication date noted.  
 
Wilkes Boulevard, Columbia MO – October 16, 1918
The revival at the Wilkes Boulevard Methodist Church, Columbia, was a great success. The services were held in a tent for the last two weeks, and splendid audiences attended throughout the services.
There were 52 additions to our church, and some few went to other churches.
Rev. O.L. Martin of Bucklin, MO, did the preaching, and did it in his own unique way. Sometimes with much sarcasm, sometimes with flashes of wit and humor, sometimes with great flights of oratory blended with pathos and beauty.
As a whole, the meeting was a great success, and the church was strengthened and edified, and had not the Spanish Influenza invaded our town we would have gone at least another week and the good would have certainly been more far-reaching than even that was.
We have been prevented from having any service since the close of the meeting on Sunday night, Oct. 6, to baptize or receive the candidates into the church.
Everything looks very encouraging on the outset of the great year of the five, with a united, revived church and increased membership and 11 months of the year to utilize the results of the revival.
Surely God doth all things well.  A.B. Coffman, P.C.
 
Kansas City – October 23, 1918
No church services have been held in Kansas City on either of the past two Sundays. The ban was removed for three days last week, during which time the theaters were crowded, but was re-imposed in time to protect the city from church contagion.
In the meantime, the Board of District Stewards has met and discharged its duties. Plans are being outlined for future work and we are expecting a large crowd at all churches as soon as the epidemic wanes. R.B. Kimbrell, Secretary.

Up to Date (editorial) – October 30, 1918
Dear Doctor: The quarantine has tied up our section of the state, but I am using the mails to keep in touch with our people. Last week I addressed the stewards concerning the finances, and this week I am sending out the enclosed letter to the preachers. Yours, M.T. HAW.
Cape Girardeau, Oct. 24, 1918 - Dear Brother: One month of the activities of our churches has been prevented, lost, by the plague. That is almost as serious as if our victorious armies of Europe had been arrested in their glorious progress. This is to be the greatest year of our lifetime. We must plan Wesley and act with the utmost energy to realize fully on our great opportunities. First, election day is near and we have the opportunity of striking a deadly blow to the enemy of the church, the home and the nation, the Hun-imported beer traffic. We must not miss this chance. Vote YES for amendment six – urge all our people to go to the polls and seal the fate of the saloon.
 
Obituary: Harris – Oct. 30, 1918
Virginia Francis Harris, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. T.B. Harris, Higginsville, Mo., died in the parsonage at Higginsville at noon on Sunday, Oct. 13, 1918. She was born on the 9th of December, 1907, and was baptized by the writer of this sketch on Sept. 12, 1910. She was received into full membership in the church in October, 1916.
Virginia was stricken with influenza, which terminated in pneumonia and in death. She suffered greatly from the first, though the last three or four days she was not conscious of her suffering.
She was a beautiful child, in features, in manners and disposition. Born in a Christian home, nurtured carefully in Christian doctrine and discipline, she was growing into a womanhood that promised much for the Master’s service here. But 11 brief years were allotted to her here. A time long enough to entwine tenders cords of love about many hearts. She was a universal favorite with the people whom her father and mother served, and was a dear little girl to all who knew her. She is with the Lord. Henceforth she shall minister before His throne.
On account of the contagious character of the disease of which she died, the funeral services were conducted in the open air in the parsonage yard by the author of this sketch, assisted by Rev. F.M. Burton. We buried her in Marshall, Mo., beneath a bank of flowers, every leaf and petal of which was eloquent with love…
 
St. Louis Preacher’s Meeting – November 6, 1918
The meeting was called to order at Centenary Church on Monday at 10 a.m. and was opened in the usual way, with a hymn and a prayer. For four consecutive weeks now no regular services have been conducted in any of our city churches, on account of the Spanish influenza ban. Two of our preachers – Bros. L.M. Spivey and T. E. Smith – have been quite sick with this disease. They are rapidly convalescing but were unable to attend the preachers’ meeting. Bro. Johnson of Lafayette Park was likewise unable to attend, having recently undergone a minor operation.
In spite of the unusual and discouraging conditions resulting from the prolonged influenza ban, the reports of the preachers indicate that they have been hard at work and have exercised an ingenuity and initiative which have prevented our work from suffering in any serious way. In many cases little group meetings have held in accordance with Health Board regulations. Stewards and other workers have visited in the homes of the people, assisting their pastors.
Bro. Burton of Wagoner Place reports that he has been calling on his members and has conducted four group meetings on Sunday.
Bro. Brown of Shaw Avenue has called upon nearly all of his members. His Sunday School classes have met in the homes of their respective teachers and a volunteer band of young women have visited every home the church each week to receive the weekly offerings, with the result that more money has been received than in normal times. The Shaw Avenue people are bereaved in the death of Mrs. C. M.  Hummel, a greatly loved member and secretary of the St. Louis District Woman’s Missionary Society.
 
Personal – November 6, 1918
Rev. R.E. Foard, pastor at Festus, MO, has been seriously ill with influenza. While improved, his physician says he must exercise great prudence for several weeks. Mrs. Foard and John also suffered with the malady, but are convalescent at this writing.
 
Some Benefits of the Influenza Ban – November 6, 1918
The public has been directed by the Boards of Health throughout the country to avoid gathering in groups. By this means the epidemic of influenza has been fought, and doubtless reduced.
Aside from preventing the spread of the disease, there have been other wholesome results from this ban. The hot race for pleasure has been slackened. People have learned that joys of the most satisfying kin are to be had in the simple things of life. The passion for amusement is less feverish. The saving of one’s life and the lives of others has displaced, at least in a measure, the absorbing pursuit of gain. Sanitary laws have received a new and needed emphasis. People are inquiring and learning how to be healthy. Precaution and prevention are being substituted for cure. The fine benefit of this season of thinking upon the preservation of the physical foundations of human welfare will last far beyond the lifting of the ban.
Homelife is being exalted. Young people, who seldom sat quietly in the family circle, have gained a new appreciation of home. There has been opportunity, coveted by many men, to converse upon the sweet and holy interests of the various members of the household. Many family altars have been used again the first in years. The Sabbath has possessed a sacred quiet for many who have been glad to rest awhile in the retreat of God. A fresh sense of the value of the “means of grace” that are supplied by the church services has been realized, and the hearts of thousands are hoping that in their time no emergency may ever again cause the closing of the doors of the sanctuary.
 
Obituary: Hillyard – Nov. 20, 1918
A death which has more deeply touched the whole church at Olive Street, St. Joseph, than any in many a day is that of Marvin Hillyard, who succumbed to the ravages of the dreadful influenza epidemic at Columbia Thursday, October 24, 1918, where he had gone to attend the school and the S.A.T.C.
The case was one of the aggravated type issuing in pneumonia, from which death resulted. Bro. and Sister Hillyard went to his bedside immediately upon hearing of the sickness of their sons, as the next younger son, Walter, who was there also, was attacked by the disease at the same time but with no serious results.
All that loving hands Could do was done by these for the recovery of this noble young man. Unfortunately, the lack of nurses and equipment was in evidence there, as in so many other places at such a critical time in the history of our nation.
 
St. Louis Preacher’s Meeting – November 20, 1918
The devotional exercises were conducted by Brother Burton of Wagoner Place Church. “Faith of Our Fathers” was sung, the 46th Psalm was read responsively, after which he led in prayer. The reports of the preachers were called for. Last Sunday we were able to hold regular worship for the first time in five weeks, since the influenza ban was not lifted until Wednesday last. These reports all indicated that the services were exceptionally well attended, the people being hungry for the gospel after so long being barred out of churches. The Sunday schools were also unusually well attended, so it would appear that the influenza ban did not demoralize the work of the church and the interest of the people in it to any great extent. Most likely there has been a gain in interest. Ernest C. Webb, Secy.
 
Kingdom House – November 20, 1918
Many societies, no doubt, have been prevented from having “the week of prayer” at the appointed time, on account of the “flu ban.” Let me insist that your hold it yet, and encourage liberal contributions, as the money raised from this source this year goes to a most worthy cause, the support of worn-out workers. They need it, and we have it, if we are giving to God his tenth.
 
Another Sunday at Church – November 20, 1918
At last, the ban has been lifted by the Board of Health and the people have been able to return to the sanctuary. From all reports congregations everywhere were unusually large last Sunday. The people demonstrated their hunger for the things of the spirit. Many things made the day one of high importance and great rejoicing. Since the congregations had last assembled the serious phases of the epidemic had passed, but another event had flashed to the world which meant more than any single bit of news this generation had ever received. Victory and peace had come. The struggle for their great principles of justice and liberty had been brought to the United States and allied nations a triumph complete and permanent.
Last Sunday was a glorious day and filled with hearty praises.
 
Centenary Sparks (stewardship literature) – November 20, 1918
Some time ago, in the midst of the influenza epidemic, Re. Chas. J. Dohn of Dexter wrote in for some Intercession pledge cards. Sunday, November 10th, was his first service with that good church. He preached on “Prayer and the Centenary.” Two results:

  1. He secured forty-five signatures to the cards.
  2. Two men and their wives came back to the night service and united with the church on Profession of Faith. Two of the most prominent men in the town.
Every pastor can so use the Centenary as to produce a revival in his church. It will in no way hinder his work. Brother Dohn wrote in for 100 pledge cards for his Christian stewardship drive. They have been sent and along with them a hundred of interesting tracts on the subject. Watch Dohn and Dexter.
The influenza ban has closed our churches, but it did not keep Rev. R.A. Vaughan from securing pledges for the League of Intercessors. He went from house to house, held prayers with all who were present and enrolled them in the Fellowship of Intercessors. You can count on Brother Vaughan going right down the line for the Centenary program.
 
Charleston District Notes – November 27, 1918
The influenza has closed churches in this section for five weeks and has wrought destruction unknown since the cholera and smallpox ravages following the Civil War. In one town two hundred new graves have been made. There were fifteen funerals one day. One of our preachers held thirty-eight funerals since Conference. One physician told me he visited seventy cases in one day.
Our church at Portageville, under the leadership of Rev. F. W. Harvey, the new pastor, has rendered a community service to the stricken homes such as I have not seen before. The pastor instructed and directed selected workers and went with them to the homes made helpless by the epidemic and ministered to their needs.
The Quarterly Conference Monday reported an increase of 33 ½ percent in allowance for salary with the money for the entire quarter in the bank. Nine lay members were present and each one subscribed and paid for the Advocate under the call of question seven
At New Madrid Brother Fesler and several members of the Quarterly Conference were just up from an attack of influenza. The town was under a new closing order. A few of the brethren met for a few minutes and the salary was increase 25 percent. The situation as to influenza is somewhat improved and our churches are moving forward somewhat with a view to resuming the usual activities. The enforced inactivity of our churches, I am confident, greatly reduced our prohibition majorities. The Methodists are solid against liquor and they abound in this section. M.T. HAW.
 
Dexter District – November 27, 1918
The Dexter District Steward’s meeting was held at Malden Nov. 15, after about six weeks’ postponement on account of influenza. Our Presiding Elder had the chairmanship and stated plans for the year and Dexter District can be counted on right now to go over the top on everything. This meeting was well attended and very much interest in the work was shown for the coming year. Malden, as usual, made us feel at home, and at the noon hour they directed us to different homes in the city and all fared sumptuously.
 
Belton – December 4, 1918
Since I last wrote my honored father – to me, the greatest man in the world – has gone to his eternal home, and my heart has been saddened again and again as influenza has claimed my personal friends, and I often feel the poet was speaking for me in the lines: “I ate my crust in tears today, As scourged I passed along my way.” H.A. Wood