Fall 2020

Michigan Daily front page


Two Pandemics, a Century Apart

By James Weir

Influenza Cases Well in Hand Now
Michigan Daily article from October 28, 1918.

In the fall of 1918, the University of Michigan was forced to address a spreading pandemic while the final months of World War I continued to disrupt American life and University operations. At the helm of the University’s response to both crises was U-M President Harry Hutchins, who served as dean of the Law School from 1895 until he assumed the presidency in 1910. 

Contemporaneous coverage in The Michigan Daily shows clear parallels between the 1918 pandemic and the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020. 

A century on, masks remain among the most effective tools in fighting viral spread, and the content of an October 2, 1918, article detailing how to craft a mask at home could be repurposed almost verbatim for a viral social media post. 

An October 6, 1918, headline blared “Influenza Cases Well In Hand Now”, and four days later, the Daily ran an editorial arguing that the pandemic was a “false alarm” and suggested that a “cheerful state of mind, a condition which forms a strong barrier to the approach of sickness” is all that would be necessary to defeat the virus (the 1918 outbreak went on to kill tens of millions). 

Students Urged to Wear their Masks
Michigan Daily article from, October 6th, 1918.

A news story titled “Movies Reopen in Spite of Ban” ran seven days before an advertisement from The Majestic Theater that announced they would reopen “as soon as all danger from the Spanish Influenza has passed, with bigger and better shows than ever before.”

As Michigan Law navigates a fall term amidst an ongoing pandemic, one headline from October 28, 1918 seems particularly timeless: “Students Urged to Wear Their Masks.”