Read All About It: The Pending End of the First World War and the Raging Flu Pandemic in the “Los Angeles Record,” 7 November 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Los Angeles Record newspaper was published in the Angel City from the mid-1890s through the early 1930s and was established by Edward W. Scripps as part of his media syndicate that included the founding of United Press International and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, which, along with the Associated Press, revolutionized the content and delivery of American news. Scripps started in the industry in the early 1870s when his half-brother, James, launched a Detroit paper, and the two were joined by James’ full sister, Ellen.

While the Scripps family not only built a media empire, rivaling that of the likes of William Randolph Hearst, and were philanthropists of wide scope, including many endeavors in San Diego and Scripps College in Claremont, Ellen stands out as a woman of particularly remarkable accomplishment at a time when very few females lived prominent public lives.

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The Record did not have the circulation of other major dailies in Los Angeles, such as the Herald, the Express, or the Times, and so it is not as well remembered or cited as the others, but tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is the extra edition of the 7 November 1918 issue, which has some very interesting material concerning the coming conclusion of the First World War, content about women (perhaps reflecting the influence of Ellen Scripps?), and references to the second wave of the flu epidemic that was raging through the region, country and world.

Naturally, we have to start with the massive headline screaming out “WAR OVER,” with the declaration that “the greatest war of all time came to an end at 2 p.m. today” as hostilities were reported to have ceased a few hours prior. Below is a small note that Scripps’ United Press delivered the “World’s Biggest Scoop,” because President Woodrow Wilson learned of the purported armistice signing from the news service. Other front page news talked about the Allies’ unrelenting push against the retreating Germans, revolts erupting within the crumbling empire of Kaiser Wilhelm and, of course, further revelations about how the United Press scored its impressive scoop of the news that, alas, proved to be false.

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In fact, an armistice was not reached, nor did fighting cease altogether, although the outcome of the war, not in doubt for quite some time, was four more days from its final conclusion. It was on 11 November that the Germans surrendered to the Allies and brought “the greatest,” though one might prefer to say, “the most terrible,” war of all time to a close after four years of horrific violence and senseless loss of life. A photo, titled “They Downed the Hun” showed the five Allied military leaders, including marshals Foch and Petain of France, General Douglas Haig of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy (yes, he had distant Spanish ancestry), and the head of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, for whom Los Angeles’ Central Park was renamed shortly after the war ended.

It is also noteworthy that the two articles on the front page not related to the war concerned the Republican Party’s trifecta electoral victory in the midterms for governor, a member of the House, and a Senate seat (the latter the reelection of Albert B. Fall, who became Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding and then became a “fall guy” in the Teapot Dome scandal involving no-bid oil leases of federal reserves to oil tycoons Harry F. Sinclair and Los Angeles’ Edward L. Doheny) and the deliberation of the Los Angeles City Council regarding the mandatory use of masks during the epidemic. It was noted that Mayor Frederick Woodman was against the requirement based on advice from a federal health official.

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Inside there is a very interesting little editorial with the headline “Don’t Lose Your Head” which cautioned Angelenos that “despite the fact that we knew PEACE MUST COME, we are as little prepared for peace today as we were for war—and it comes with as great a shock.” Obviously, the news (premature as it was) was a cause for joy and celebration, but it added that the general feeling should “not be one of recklessness.” In particular, people were encouraged to avoid spending too much money “on some new frippery or fad” and were warned “BE CAREFUL.”

At the same time, the piece advised “that doesn’t mean ‘be panic-stricken'” because “no army of soldiers is coming back immediately to take your job away” and “there won’t be any sudden mobs of unemployed,” though, actually, an economic recession did come in 1920-21. So, while reassuring that “there is plenty of work for all,” the Record noted “we can’t predict just now what the next step will be” and told its readers to “adjust themselves before you decide rashly what should be your course.” It then ended with “KEEP YOUR HEAD!” and “BE CAREFUL!”

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Elsewhere, there is a short article and a table on American casualties during the war. Among those listed as dead was Marciano Valenzuela of El Monte, one of two Latinos among the nearly two dozen Californians. Four men were identified as missing, including John W. Bruyn of Whittier. The table providing a summary of losses shows nearly 13,500 men killed in action; almost 4,500 who died of wounds; nearly 1,300 who succumbed to accidents and other causes; and over 4,200 who perished because of disease. The wounded in action totaled over 40,000, while prisoners of war and those missing in action numbered beyond 6,700.

Also noteworthy were the events unfolding in Russia, which was consumed by the Bolshevik revolution of the prior year. A report from Stockholm discussed the tragedy of refugees streaming out of Russia, including from major cities like Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) and Moscow. It was asserted that the Red Guards of the Communist Party indiscriminately searched for and seized anyone accused of being with the Allies during the war, though Czarist Russia was with the alliance prior to the revolution, and that executions without trial were commonplace.

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A separate shorter piece on circumstances in Jaroslav, a city northwest of Moscow said to be a remaining stronghold for loyalists to the czars, observed that the besieged metropolis was being razed by the revolutionaries, who boasted, it was said, of the thoroughness of their work in rooting out remaining royalists. Moreover, it was reported that 25,000 Red Guards descended upon the city, gave residents three days to evacuate and killed some 2,000 people. The reporter who received this news while stationed in Stockholm, Sweden was none other than Carl Sandburg, who began his journalism career in the early part of the century, but whose poems were beginning to bring him widespread attention. Shortly after the end of the war, in January 1919, the “Red Scare” burst forth in the United States as a fear of communism led to a period of labor strikes, race riots, anarchist bombings and the resulting crackdown of government officials on anyone suspected of complicity with real or perceived suspicious activity.

Another notable element from the Record is the serialized fictional work, “Confessions of a War Bride,” which did not have a byline, even as the popular series of short chapters about a young woman whose husband was in Europe fighting with the American Expeditionary Force brought major attention to the unidentified author, Winona Wilcox Payne (1865-1949.) A native of Ohio, born just after the conclusion of the Civil War, Payne was the wife of a prominent Cleveland banker, but whose father was a newspaper publisher. She achieved some renown for writing for newspapers and magazines, including short stories and advice column. She became an editorial page editor for the Newspaper Enterprise Association and was a featured writer for McCall’s, the widely read national magazine. After her husband died, Payne, whose son was the executive editor of Reader’s Digest, lived in Covina until her death.

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One of the more important fundraising drives in Los Angeles for the war effort was the United War Work Campaign, which raised over $2.5 million for the American Red Cross and its vital efforts. The three days period of the 9th through the 11th were denoted “Honor Days” with the goal of raising over $900,000 to provide needed material and services to soldiers, including facilities near battlefield sites. An ad in the paper asked “who has not heard the glowing accounts of our boys’ delight at stepping into these bright, cheerful centers after a hard session beating up the Hun?” The work of organizations providing this assistance to troops “must be continued—and continued one hundred-fold—until the last American boy steps on a transport headed to America.”

It was added, however, that “influenza and other conditions have worked an enormous hardship upon the faithful United War Work Campaign Committees” but that “these three days will determine whether Los Angeles is voluntarily, of its own free will and accord, behind our Government and our boys.” Window emblems and badges were given to each contributor and their names published in local newspapers. The campaign, with its motto of “We Ask as One—We Give as Seven” was a collaboration between the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the Salvation Army, the American Library Association, the War Camp Community Service, the National Catholic War Council, and the Jewish Welfare Board.

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There are also a couple of war-related cartoons in the paper, with one being “Outbursts of Everett True,” which ran for over two decades between 1905 and 1927 and was the most popular National Enterprise Association strip. True, a heavy-set man with a small bowler hat, would be confronted by an annoying individual and then be provoked into some kind of pointed reply that most people would think of saying, but would be too polite to utter. In this case, a man tells True that he’ll bet $10 that the war would end before Christmas. True then angrily snatches the bill away and turns to a woman selling war thrift stamps, another fundraising mechanism, and tells her “let’s have a couple of war stamps for him” to shame him for wagering on such a weighty and serious matter.

The other cartoon, “Doings of the Duffs,” was run by the NEA from 1914 to 1924, when its creator, Walter Allman, died, though the strip was continued until the early Thirties. The Duffs were a wealthy family and they had a black maid, Pansy, who spoke in a dialect that was commonly used but has long been considered racist, though she often delivered sharp retorts to her employers. In this case, Mrs. Duff viewed a parade with women marchers from the Red Cross, after which she told her friend that they should be more active in war work like that. When Mrs. Duff tells Pansy, who is ironing clothes, that she should have seen the parade, the maid replies that she did and, when asked her thoughts of it, answers back that she was thinking about her work as a laundress doing work for the Duffs.

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With regard to women, there are a couple of other noteworthy items in the issue. One is an advertisement from Silverwoods, a men’s clothing store chain of long standing in Los Angeles, and which takes an interesting tack in trying to tie the war effort, the men involved in fighting the war, and women shoppers at the store buying clothes for “their men.” Addressed “to the Women,” the ad states that “when we think of war we think of long columns of marching men. We think of guns, of airplanes, of ships and battlefields. Today we’re reading of Peace pleas, of armistice, of the falling of a throne, or the triumph of democracy—victory by might of arms.”

Yet, it continued, that behind all of this wartime endeavor “dimly through the smoke of a hundred battlefields, we can see the busy working of millions of hands—women’s hands. Always working—night and day—in the Red Cross service, in the munitions plants, in the factories, knitting, saving food, doing the work of men that have gone—sustaining our armies in the field.” Adding that it was the work of women, from Betsey Ross making the first American flag onward, that “have made possible the America of today,” the spirit of which “is shaping the destinies of the world.”

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Because “women are performing a vital part in the conduct of the Nation’s business” involving “the natural business sense of the women,” this meant buying wisely from a place like Silverwoods, where women, as “natural shoppers” could “distinguish the real from the make-believe” when buying clothes for “their men.” It certainly is an interesting display of logic!

Then there is an article noting that the minimum wage for women workers in California was expected to be raised from $10 per week to $12 after a “war emergency” meeting of the state’s industrial welfare commission. There was also an announcement of the $10 weekly minimum to take effect just after the new year for women factory workers, with a clause dealing with those women who took on piece work at home and who were to receive a stated wage after securing a permit from the commission for such labor. Moreover, any women working in factories eight hours a day were not to be allowed to take piece work home, a tactic designed, apparently, to evade wage labor laws and having to work some 14-18 hours per day, which was not uncommon. The question was whether the $12 minimum could be sustained whenever the war was over—of course, the armistice was just a few days off.

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Finally, there are a couple of notable items relating to the flu epidemic that, after a somewhat mild spring outbreak emanating from soldiers in the war and then a summer respite, wreaked a terrible toll around the world during the fall and into the winter of 1919. In the United States, the death toll was some 675,000, by some estimates, and efforts to control the virus were widely varied throughout the country. In the pages of the Record, an ad from the Southern California Telephone Company requested customers to limit their phone usage because of “the large number of operators now absent because of illness.” Restricting use was vital in “helping the service of war industries, hospitals, and stricken homes of the city.”

Then there was a lengthy order from the city’s health commissioner, Luther M. Powers, and the Advisory Committee on Influenza. It noted that “we are in the midst of an influenza epidemic which has been sweeping the country for several weeks. It must be controlled or a great loss of life will result.” Without public cooperation and observation of health department regulations, “little will be accomplished,” and residents were implored that “if you will do your duty you will have but little to fear.”

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Twenty regulations were included, such as preventing crowds or gatherings [a Record columnist, for example, had to cancel her Thursday afternoon meetings because assemblies of more than 10 persons were forbidden in the city]; the quarantine of anyone with symptoms; mask-wearing for those caring for the sick and disinfecting items in sick rooms; brushing teeth, gargling and spraying the nose with antiseptic solutions including salt or soda with lukewarm water; remembering that people could spread the disease for several days after thinking they’d recovered from the disease; not standing in front of or close to someone with the flu; urging the wearing of masks “whenever in business places, street cars, congested traffic, or in direct communication with other people.”

People were asked to wear masks voluntarily and instructions were given on how to make them. They were also implored to do their duty to avoid spreading the contagion and it was added that one person avoiding rules and recommendations could do more damage than twenty who observed them. The order added “the success of this campaign against influenza depends upon your co-operation. Intelligent people will—others must—co-operate.”

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Listed also were five symptoms of the flu, including congestion, aches, chills, fever, and coughs and a sore throat, followed by thirteen suggestions of what to do once symptoms appeared, such as “go to bed at once; do not wait;” taking epsom salts; keeping warm and getting plenty of fresh air [which seemed to counteract staying in bed]; having a “light diet;” coughing and sneezing in napkins, which were to be burned; being quiet and not worrying; not going out for several days even when feeling well because of relapses; and ensuring that caregivers had adequate protection. Reading these orders, we can see how similar the elements are to the basics of dealing with our own COVID-19 pandemic, though it is the level of intensive care we have a century later than distinguishes the situations the most between then and now.

Looking through this extra edition of the Record is a fascinating insight to life at the end of the First World War and during some of the worst days of the flu epidemic that remained the worst viral pandemic in the world until our current one. One wonders what the Angeleno of 2120 will make of our own media accounts of life in our extraordinary year, including the pandemic, the presidential election just called for Joseph Biden this morning, wildfires in California, social justice protests, and storms and hurricanes in the Caribbean and southeastern United States, among others.

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