Historical Corner: Sisters during the flu pandemic of 1918

ledger entries that say "influenza" from a hospital in 1918
1918 ledger page documenting influenza deaths at St. Vincent Hospital, Portland, Ore.
Photo courtesy Providence Archives Seattle

This isn’t the first time the Sisters of Providence congregation has weathered a pandemic. From 1918 to 1919, more than 21 million people worldwide were killed by an influenza pandemic that bears an eerie resemblance to some of our experiences in today’s coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic of 1918 first appeared in March, peaked in October, and then ebbed into 2019. As we have been experiencing with the current crisis, the pandemic rocked the social and economic order of the day, closing schools and places of worship, prohibiting assemblies and other gatherings, and requiring masks in public buildings.

Every institution in the province was affected, and many sisters, nurses, employees and students fell ill or died. But countless others were nurtured back to health or kept safe from the flu under the sisters’ care.

In November 1918, Mother Vincent Ferrier, provincial superior, wrote: “This terrible epidemic recalls the days of our Mother Foundresses [who endured cholera and typhoid epidemics] and has given us an occasion of proving our spirit of self-sacrifice, and I rejoice to say our dear Sisters of today have not been found wanting.” And so history repeats itself in 2020.

Learn more about the history of the Sisters of Providence in the West at Providence Archives Seattle, providence.org/archives.