Through the Viewfinder: Hudson School Students, La Puente, circa 1915.

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As students are readjusting to life back at school after summer vacation, the “Through the Viewfinder” series continues its march through time with a photo from the Homestead’s collection dating to the 1910s.

This image shows the combined fourth and fifth grade class at Hudson School in Puente (as it was then known, now it is La Puente), probably about 1915. The real photo postcard depicts some thirty students seated, and their teacher standing, on the steps of the school, which was located at the corner of Glendora Avenue and Rowland Street, across from La Puente High School.

As can be viewed in the image, scratched onto the negative was “4th & 5th Grades” and
“Puente, Cal.”  Because Hudson was the only grammar school in the rural agricultural town a century ago, it was easy to infer the location!

What was notable and heartbreaking, though, what was written on the reverse of the postally unused card.  In ink, someone wrote “Bernice Lantz, Teacher / Gracie Hoag in top row.”  As can be clearly seen on the image, an ink letter “X” is above Gracie’s head–she’s in the top row, third from the right.

Then, when the photo was acquired, a note was attached that read, “The girl with the x was my Great Aunt Grace Mercy Hoag.  She Died at age 15 January 1, 1919 During the Great Flu epidemic.”

Hudson School 4-5 grades ca. 1915
This circa 1915 real photo postcard from the Homestead’s collection of fourth and fifth grade students at Hudson School in [La] Puente was purchased because of its local associations with education. But, it turned out to have another meaning, when an inscription on the reverse noted that the young girl, Grace Hoag, in the back row with the “x” over her head, died several years later in the great flu epidemic of 1918-1919.

The Spanish Flu pandemic, which struck in 1918, just as Europe was emerging from the ashes of the devastating “Great War,” known better today as World War I, was, as a Stanford University web page expressed it, “a global disaster.”  As it ran its destructive course through 1919, some 20-40 million people perished, including some 675,000 in the U.S., making it the most deadly epidemic in human history (one wonders what the Zika virus will do when it goes through its cycle!)  It is said the average lifespan of Americans dropped 10 years because of the epidemic.

As the Stanford page noted, more persons died in one year of this outbreak than in the five years of the far better-known Black Death of the mid 14th-century.  Fully 20% of the earth’s population, and nearly thirty percent of Americans, contracted the disease, also known as “la grippe.”  It was unusual that this scourge mainly claimed the lives of younger adults in their twenties and thirties, instead of younger and older persons.  Moreover, the development of the condition was extraordinarily rapid, with some people dying within just hours of displaying symptoms.

For more from the Stanford web page, click here.

Notably, three members of the Workman and Temple family died from “la grippe” or the Spanish flu in an 1892 outbreak: these being Nicolasa Workman, who was 90 at her death; her daughter, Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, age 61; and Margarita’s oldest child, Thomas W. Temple, age 45.

It is one thing to read a book, newspaper article, or web page about the far-reaching consequences of a global disaster like the flu epidemic of 1918-19–it is another matter to see a photo of a young victim like Grace Hoag, who was on the verge of adulthood when her life was cut short by the epidemic.

Photos like this, which was acquired because it was a rare local photograph of school children, often wind up having multiple, unexpected meanings, as was found out when the object arrived with the note attached to the back.  The Homestead is filled with artifacts with just these kinds of layered meanings.  So, check back for more examples here.


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