Years in the Making

(Right to left) Dr. Anderson-Bricker, Professor of History, and Mike Gibson, Director of the Center for Dubuque Area History, holding book which was the basis of the influenza research.

Dr. Anderson-Bricker, a Professor of History here at Loras, will present the culmination of almost two years’ worth of student-faculty research. The visual presentation, “The ‘Dread Malady’ and La Grippe: Surviving the 1918 Epidemics of Polio and Influenza in the City of Dubuque,” will discuss how influenza emerged as a global killer during the last year of World War I, killing 50 million people around the world. More specifically, Dr. Anderson-Bricker will detail how the flu greatly impacted the Dubuque community, leading to the closure of public facilities and the quarantining of over 2,000 people.

This research project highlights the feats that can be accomplished through student-faculty partnership. In 2016, Dr. Anderson-Bricker and a number of students, with disciplines ranging from history to data analysis, began to study historical documents, compiling data regarding cases of influenza in 1918. The students and Dr. Anderson-Bricker made use of the City of Dubuque: Communicable Diseases original books (3 vols. 1890-1943), which are housed in the Loras College Center for Dubuque History. Mike Gibson, the Director of the Center of Dubuque History stated, “Dr. Anderson-Bricker and her students have made great use of these valuable primary sources [here on the Loras campus] over the last several years.”

On the nature of the study-faculty relationship, Dr. Anderson-Bricker said, “The students have completed the research each spring semester while enrolled in HIS 122, US survey since 1865, so they have been instrumental in its success.”

To both the students and Dr. Anderson-Bricker, the findings were astonishing. Not only did the team find that the recorded number of deaths might be underrepresented in the ledger of communicable diseases, but additionally, that the Dubuque community was practically paralyzed with fear due to the epidemic. Dr. Anderson-Bricker was surprised to learn just this past summer that a polio epidemic was just ending as the flu arrived in Dubuque.

“[Learning this] helped me to understand why some of the evidence the students collected did not match conclusions historians have offered about the community response to influenza across the United States. For example, many cities struggled to enforce quarantines while the people of Dubuque made no complaint and obeyed the public health laws.”

The epidemic coincided with the end of WWI, making 2018 the centennial year of the influenza outbreak. Although I gave a few presentations on the research last spring, this talk is more exciting because it is during the centennial of the influenza outbreak. One-hundred years ago this month the entire city of Dubuque closed down to ensure that individuals did not continue to spread the disease.” Dr. Anderson-Bricker said about it being the centennial year. She also revealed that although influenza had a massive impact on the citizens of Dubuque and the nation during 1918, it has been forgotten about in today’s society. However, with this past winter being one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent history, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza should not be taken lightly. In an interview with the Telegraph Herald last February, Dr. Anderson-Bricker stated that a deadly epidemic could potentially happen again. “This is something that we wouldn’t be able to defeat, just like they couldn’t defeat it then,” she told the TH reporter, “Because it’s a virus.” 

Dr. Anderson-Bricker encourages students to attend to learn more about the history of Dubuque and the influenza that marked history 100 years ago. The presentation will be held twice: from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m., on Thursday, Nov. 15,  and again from 12-1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16. Both presentations will be held at Loras College in the Center for Dubuque History, which is located on the first floor (the lower level) of the library.

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