The University of Montana
The University of Montana
Red Lodge, Montana
Student Army Training Corps
Head Nurse, Student Army Training Corps
University officials asked Mrs. Hazel Yoder to come to Missoula as head nurse for the Student Army Training Corps. She was 29-years-old, and had previously served as a nurse in Great Falls. Mrs. Yoder had been on campus only two days when she contracted influenza. She died of heart complications on November 8, 1918, following a battle with the flu.
On November 13, 1918, President Sisson wrote a letter to the relatives of Hazel Yoder.
"It is proper that the state university should record its deep appreciation of the spirit which prompted Mrs. Yoder to respond to the call for help in fighting the perils of the influenza epidemic."
Yoder had retired from nursing after her marriage, but volunteered to travel from Red Lodge to Missoula to help care for students at the University. Sisson goes on to write:
"Mrs. Yoder immediately showed herself an invaluable helper. It is hard to realize the grief and disappointment, which we all felt when after two, or three days in the work she was taken down with influenza."
Missoula City-County Health Director Ellen Leahy on Mrs. Hazel Yoder
The letter says Mrs. Yoder was first treated in her room at the Student Army Training Corps Hospital, and then moved to the Northern Pacific Hospital for more constant care.
Sisson concludes the letter by praising Mrs. Yoder's commitment to the students.
"Altho she was so short a time at the University her memory is clear in our minds thru her quiet, efficient manner, her ever cheerful disposition and her unfailing kindness and helpfulness."
"Of her it may be said as truly as of a soldier in battle that she fell in action in the defense of her country."
This was not the only letter Sisson wrote about Mrs. Yoder after her death. He became an advocate for her husband, Solomon. Mr. Yoder was trying to get the Army to pay for his wife's hospital bills, as it had for members of the Student Army Training Corps.Sisson wrote letters on Mr. Yoder's behalf to the War Department and even to the Surgeon General, apparently to no avail. The last reference to the matter in Sisson's papers suggests he would ask the university to compensate Mr. Yoder, but it's not clear whether that ever happened.
The following is a portion of Michael Webster's master's thesis.
Hazel Leonard awoke one day in early 1910 and found herself in a
strange bed in a room not her own. She was young, just 20 years old,
one of six in a large family of adopted cousins and a younger sister.
Back home in the small coal mining town of Monarch, Wyoming, she played
piano at the Methodist church and served in social clubs and benefit
societies. She attended plays when they came to town, a break from the
work at the company store. Her widowed mother allowed her to travel, to
visit family, to see friends; a few days before she had spent New
Year’s with friends in Montana.
She awoke bedridden on January 5 and found an incision healing on her right side, a mark of the surgery she’d just undergone to remove her appendix at the state hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming. She spent three long weeks convalescing there in the strange bed, in the room not her own, surrounded by patients and doctors and nurses.
“While very glad to be at home,” the Sheridan Post reported soon after, “she speaks very kindly of the treatment and courtesy received in the state institution.” Hazel didn’t stay home for long in Monarch, a three-street town tucked along the Tongue River. She left the church, the store, the societies—left them in the shadow of the coal-rich hills and returned to the state hospital a year later to begin training as a nurse.
By 1914, her training completed, Hazel was a nurse in Great Falls, Montana, respected by her peers and colleagues. She lived with her mother and sister; three of her cousins followed from Monarch a year later. Also making the trip north was an accountant from Monarch, a young man named Solomon Yoder. He had captained the Monarch baseball team and served in the Elk’s Club. He had attended plays when they came to town. He was well traveled, visiting family, seeing friends. In Montana he took a job near Great Falls as a credit manager with the Conrad Mercantile Company in Conrad. He and Hazel began courting. In 1915, they married. A small affair at the Leonard home, Hazel exchanged her vows one Saturday afternoon in a tailored suit of golden brown, with her mother, sister, and two cousins at her side. Hazel—now Mrs. S.A. Yoder—25 years old, put her nursing career aside for a turn at married life.
The Yoders moved again, this time to Red Lodge, Montana, where Sol took a job with the Northwestern Improvement Company, first as a clerk and later an accountant. By all accounts, their lives were uneventful. Then 1918, the message. Mrs. Yoder was contacted by the chairman of the state board of nurse examiners, who badly needed nurses in Missoula—an epidemic, a dire situation. The city needed any help it could get. Mrs. Yoder packed her bags and immediately left.
A New Enemy
The first symptoms appeared sometime on Sunday, October 6, 1918. A
tickle in the throat, a chill, a dull ache in the joints. The citizens
of Missoula were largely unaware, distracted by the great war abroad and
their weekly routines. Many of the town’s 12,000 residents were
enjoying their day of rest, walking the streets of town and enjoying the
warm autumn day. Churchgoers finished with their morning services took
their weekly stroll, ambling along the sidewalks as streetcars clamored
by. Newsboys cried out from street corners, hocking the morning’s
The paper’s bold headline that day signaled a shift in the European fighting: “Huns Ready to Accept Wilson’s Peace Terms,” it proclaimed. The country had officially been at war since April of the prior year, and peace was now close. It would have been easy to miss—and much easier to ignore—another front-page story that day, tucked neatly beneath the fold on the bottom half of the page. Aside from the Huns abroad, the town was about to face a new enemy at home.
“Spanish influenza increased more rapidly during the 24 hours ending today noon than in any similar period since the disease became epidemic,” the article began. More than 17,000 new cases at Army camps nationwide had been reported to the surgeon general for the past 24 hours. Army camps, like the one at nearby Fort Missoula, where soldiers lived elbow to elbow, were the hardest hit. The disease was making its way west from the East Coast cities; Montana’s first case had appeared just a few weeks prior. A tickle, a cough, a dull ache. An invasion was beginning.
Forty-eight hours later, October 8, the Missoula city council met to
“make plans to combat the influenza,” the Missoulian newspaper
reported. Twenty-five cases of influenza had been confirmed at Fort
Missoula. A quarantine was imposed, nothing more than a mere
Sixteen new cases appeared in the city the next day.
The council met again and leapt into action, giving City Health Officer Dr. J.P. Richey free rein. At his directive, all places of public assemblage were closed: churches, schools, and especially theaters, which were seen as particularly virulent. Just the night before in New York, the National Motion Picture Association decided that no new motion pictures were to be released anywhere in the country for at least a week.
The Missoulian newspaper called the council’s restrictions a lid clamped over the epidemic, but soon they saw it wasn’t clamped tight enough.
Ninety new cases appeared over the next two days.
Pool halls and saloons remained open so long as people didn’t linger. They did anyway, even after Police Chief Moore and his men hauled hundreds of chairs, benches and stools from the saloons and stacked them in storerooms. The patrons stood and drank. The infection rates appeared constant and no one had yet died. Headlines grasped at optimism: “‘Flu’ Situation Not Dangerous,” “Missoula Is Winning The Influenza Battle.” One doctor, identified only as “a prominent Missoula physician,” said “the scare is out of all proportion to the present danger.”
Twenty-four more cases were reported.
The virus was gaining ground, but the new war at home still played a distant and insidious second to the war overseas. However loosely clamped the lid might have been, it flew open when word of a German surrender hit town.
Bells tolled and sirens sounded as news of President Wilson’s peace
offer trickled into Missoula on October 11. A German reply, intercepted
from wireless towers in France, declared that Germany was ready to
accept Wilson’s offer. France relayed the message as an official
dispatch. “Germany Yields All; Ready To Evacuate” the Missoulian ran
the next morning. Word spread through town. Such a din arose that
concerned citizens flooded the phone lines calling each other, trying to
hear the news. The switchboard literally lit up. Fuses blew around
the operators as they scrambled to connect and transfer calls.
Additional help had to be brought in; one operator was given the sole
task of replacing fuses until the rush subsided.
The fire chief turned out the company vehicle, touring the business section of town, starting an impromptu parade. Under the “great flagpole” at Higgins and Front, the city band and mercantile drum corp assembled, playing patriotic songs. Prominent citizens paraded a dozen times up and down Higgins Street from the bridge to Northern Pacific depot. Cars with red, white and blue and bunting poured into the street, their horns constant. More and more people spilled into downtown from the outlying areas and joined in the celebration, blocking the streetcars and disrupting their schedule, much to the chagrin of Police Chief Moore. The citizens of Missoula moved inside as the evening worn on, assembling in hotel lobbies, elbow to elbow, to talk about the news and situation.
The war abroad seemed all but over; a war at home found the foothold it needed, advancing one sneeze, one handshake, one kiss at a time.
Causalities were inevitable.
“Safe at the Campus”
Mrs. Yoder arrived on October 19, 1918, to find the town a shadow of
what it had been just a week before. The Lid remained clamped, and
still the number of flu cases had risen. Five thousand cases had been
confirmed in Montana. The first death in Missoula occurred on the 12th
when George Bonewitz, one of the soldiers in training at Fort Missoula,
passed away that morning.
The next day, 109 cases had been reported at the fort alone.
Doctors across the city reported new cases to Health Officer Richey, who could barely keep up recording them in his log of communicable diseases. The first cases of October 8 are clearly labeled in fine script—“Epidemic Influenza”—but soon the pages were pocked with ditto marks. By October 17, those marks were replaced with single pen strokes, one line running down the entire page. The cases were simply tallied at the end of each day.
“Total case for day: 63... 60 + 54 SATC... 69... 70.”
The newspapers finally acknowledged the situation: “‘Flu’ Epidemic Increases Here” the Missoulian reported. The Sentinel was more sensational: “Epidemic Rages: Menace Growing.”
Classes at the university had also been canceled as a preventative measure a week before. As Mrs. Yoder arrived on campus, no sounds of student life reverberated among the buildings or spilled from the oval. The only activity was the training of 150 or so men who enrolled at the university as part of the Student Army Training Corps. Permanent barracks had been under construction since the middle of September, but the men continued sleeping in light tents. The weather turned cooler, and the tents proved inadequate for the wintry gusts sweeping through Hellgate Canyon and the Clark Fork River. On at least one occasion, the tents aligned at the base of Mt. Sentinel were knocked flat. Adding to the misery, the men’s uniforms were lightweight summer issue. Training for trench warfare—digging trenches and charging out of them in the fields where buildings now stand—the men were forced to work without gloves or overcoats. None had been issued.
The men crowded into the bleachers of the football stadium when the epidemic hit, receiving their lecture from a professor at a blackboard positioned on the sidelines. By the 15th, all classes were cancelled, freeing up their days for more war training. Still, they were the butt of gibes and jokes: men in the SATC were said to be “Safe At The Campus.” Instead of shipping overseas, they got to “Stick Around Till Christmas.”
The flu hit. Secondary infections set in. The first case of Scarlett Fever appeared on the 20th. With no hospital facilities on campus, a few of the eight men were quarantined in a small room of an infirmary; the others in a one-room music building. Seven more cases were reported, and the men were moved to the gymnasium. Mrs. Yoder jumped right into the work and, in the words of University President E.O. Sisson, “immediately showed herself an invaluable helper.” A handful of female students, without the demand of coursework, also volunteered to help as nurses.
Five more men fell ill.
Lacking a hospital facility on campus, and with spare room filling up with sick men, President Sisson appealed to the district military inspector of the SATC in Helena. “It became clear at the beginning of this week,” he began, “that we must have a separate hospital building at the earliest possible moment. In fact the reopening of University work now hinges absolutely on the completion of this hospital and the moving of all seriously contagious patients into it.” The foundation was laid and construction began on the October 24. Until then, Mrs. Yoder and the other medical personnel made do as best they could. By then it was too late.
“I Had a Little Bird/Its Name Was Enza./I Opened Up the Window/And in Flew Enza.”
The influenza virus attacks the respiratory tract in humans, where it
finds the environment necessary to reproduce. As the virus multiplies,
healthy cells are destroyed. The body responds, causing inflammation
in the infected tissues, and anywhere along the respiratory system can
be affected, from the nose down to the lungs themselves. Fever, chills,
coughs and muscle aches are all classic symptoms. The process, from
infection to illness, can take as little as one to two days.
The virus is only the first swing of a one-two punch. With the mucus membranes damaged and inflamed, the tissue is prone to secondary infections. Usually these are bacterial, and often they are lethal. Strep throat and Staphylococcus infections are common; pneumonia and heart trouble often follow.
The Spanish Influenza of 1918 was a particularly adept killer, its key advantage being speed. Individuals diagnosed in the morning could be dead the same night. So severely did the virus attack, infected lung tissue could swell and hemorrhage. Some victims literally drowned in their own blood and fluids. Among the hardest hit were individuals in their 20s and 30s who were otherwise perfectly healthy, a demographic usually at low risk with other strains of influenza. Not surprisingly, military camps and hospitals, with scores of 20- and 30-somethings in close contact, often had the highest infection rates.
The virus, like other flu viruses, was also airborne, surviving in the air until coming in contact with a host. Sneezes, coughs, hearty laughs: all could spread the virus. Secondary contact also spread the disease as the virus hopped from surface to surface: snot from an infected nose, to a doorknob, to another individual’s clean hand. Then a touched face, another case. As the pandemic ran in course, 28 percent of the U.S. population was infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died, nearly six times the number of U.S. soldiers who died in WWI.
In the third week of October 1918, things got only worse in
Missoula. As Mrs. Yoder attended to the men who’d fallen ill on campus,
70 new cases were reported on the 23rd, bringing the total number of
cases in Missoula to 689. The city council redoubled its efforts to
tighten The Lid. The already sparse streets of downtown soon resembled a
ghost town as the last businesses were closed. The district court
cleared its docket. The saloons and pools halls were finally closed.
Bartenders were seen strolling Higgins Avenue in an aimless fashion,
loitering on the corner in idle discussion of the situation.
Confectionaries were prohibited from selling ice cream and soft drinks.
Steam rose inside barbershops as towels were boiled after each
customer, as mandated by the city. Clerks, messengers and postal
workers were also all required to wear masks, though not all did so.
The public, at first willing to wear them soon tired of the hassle.
“Antiseptic substitutes, onions, salt tobacco and eucalyptus oil” were
often the preferred prophylactic measures, the Sentinel reported.
The town hit its nadir on Sunday, October 27, a day the Missoulian reported as “dismal” and “perhaps the gloomiest and quietest day that Missoula has ever known.” Low fog blanketed the town in a gray mist that later gave way to rain. Higgins Avenue was deserted, save a few parked cars, and one could almost hear the golden autumn leaves falling to the ground. Sunday sermons were printed in the newspaper so people could worship at home, where they remained sequestered. They hoped the colder weather would kill the airborne germs.
“Break into the jail if you don’t want to break out with the ‘flu,’” one inmate of the county jail told a Missoulian reporter. Joking aside, the jail was considered to be the safest place from the epidemic. The inmates had little interaction with the outside world and routinely disinfected the cells. The Missoulian article hastened to add, “It is not openly advised that law abiding citizens offend the law to gain the immunity from the dread disease in the county jail...”
The day could be considered dismal for another reason. The previous afternoon, City Health Officer Richey, recording the new flu cases the day, opened his log and entered case number 849: Mrs. S.A. Yoder, Red Lodge, Montana.
Again Mrs. Yoder found herself in a strange hospital, in a bed not
her own. She’d been taken from her own room on campus to the the
Northern Pacific Railroad Hospital on the north side of town shortly
after falling ill, where President Sission later said “more complete and
constant care could be provided.” By the 30th, just four days after
Mrs. Yoder was diagnosed, hospitals were at capacity, caring for 70
influenza cases alone. Fever gripped Mrs. Yoder, and the physician
overseeing her care reported there had been some lung involvement. Her
mother and sister joined her at her bedside, making the trip from
Seattle, where they’d been living part time. Her husband, Sol, came
from Red Lodge, leaving behind his work. Within a few days, Mrs. Yoder
was showing improvement. She stayed at the Northern Pacific hospital,
convalescing for the next week, the first week of November. The worst
had seemingly passed. Sol returned to Red Lodge and the work he’d put
on hold. He barely had time to settle back in when he received word to
return to Missoula. His wife had taken a turn for the worst: a
complication, heart trouble. He returned on the 9th and learned he’d
arrived just hours late. Mrs. Yoder had passed away at three p.m. on
the prior afternoon, Friday, November 8, 1918. Her mother and sister
had been at her side.
On Sunday, Mrs. Yoder, 29, was buried in Red Lodge cemetery. News of her death was overshadowed by the historic headlines of the next day, November 11, 1918. The armistice was signed; the war abroad was over.
Five months later, on April 3, 1919, Missoula City Health Officer Richey opened his log and marked the end of the war at home. He recorded his one reported case of the day, epidemic influenza, case number 2,566, the last in Missoula.
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