In the world of historical and genealogical research, there is a saying, “History can repeat itself in some form or fashion.” Whatever the situation, sometime in life certain incidents and events will somehow reappear just to remind us how the world of life goes around and around.
Recently, I stumbled across a series of articles in The Times and Democrat from 1920. The report described the invasion of influenza around the world, including South Carolina and Orangeburg. Strangely enough, this event took place in the months of January, February and March just as we are experiencing at this time in 2020.
As most of us are very much aware, the news of the coronavirus disease is making its way around the world. This is one of those events and times confirming that history can revisit life in some way.
On Feb. 5, 1920, The T&D carried an article from the federal government titled, “Uncle Sam, M.D.,” which was submitted by the U. S. Public Health Service in Washington — “What Is The ‘Flu’? — The disease called the ‘flu’ or influenza usually resembles a very contagious kind of ‘cold’ accompanied by fever, pains in the head, eyes, ears, back or other parts of the body, and a feeling of severe sickness. In most of the cases the symptoms disappear after three of four days, the patient then rapidly recovering; some of the patients, however, develop pneumonia, or inflammation of the ear or meningitis; and many of these complicated cases die.
“In the connection, attention is called to the fact that the pandemic of 1889-1891 originated in China and was carried to Russia, where it was known as “Chinese influenza.” From Russia, it spread throughout Europe and was spoken of as ‘Russian influenza.’
“Introduced from Europe into the United States it was called ‘European influenza,’ and finally when it crossed the Pacific into Japan it was called ‘American influenza.’
“We now know that there was in undue prevalence of influenza in the United States for several years preceding the great pandemic last year. Not until the epidemic appeared in severe form in Boston in September, 1918, did it excite any special interest.”
The T&D reported on Feb. 5, “Influenza to Be Combatted — County Officials Favor a Strict Quarantine for Immediate Relief — Telegrams were received from the Greenville Medical Society today by the State Health Department recommending that a county-wide influenza quarantine be put on to check the spread of the disease in that section.”
Then on the next day, The T&D printed -- “Death Rate Low at This Stage — Northwestern Portion of State Hardest Hit by the Disease — Reports of influenza cases from various parts of the state indicate that the malady is continuing its steady progress in practically all communities.
“The disease has not been epidemic in South Carolina long enough for pneumonia to get in its works yet, and reports seem to indicate that not much pneumonia is following in the wake of attacks.
“The sheriff of Greenville County was requested by state health officials to assist in putting into effect the restrictions imposed by local authorities.”
While the spread of the “flu” inched its way toward Orangeburg, Dr. R.S. Bailey, director of the Orangeburg County Health Department, gave a daily briefing to The T&D to keep the citizens informed and updated about the approaching malady.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 7, 1920, the malady made its unwanted visitation into Orangeburg County. The T&D reported: “Flu Visitor in Orangeburg — Several Mild Cases Show Up Here with an Accompaniment of ‘Pneu’ -- Thirteen cases of influenza have thus far manifested themselves in Orangeburg according to a report of Clerk Dibble of the city yesterday afternoon. The cases were considered a milder type and that at present the situation here is such as to cause no alarm.
“Quarantine and the closing of public assemblages is declared to be unnecessary at the present stage of the disease here.”
The next report came on Feb. 10: “Flu Claims City Victims — Disease in Mild Form is on the Increase in City Just Now — With a total up until yesterday at 6 o’clock of 54 cases; influenza is coming more to the forefront in Orangeburg. While the cases now under treatment are declared by physicians to be of the milder type it is evident, they say, that the malady is gaining steadily here. Only a few cases were noted before Saturday and since that time the disease has spread with considerable rapidity.
Physicians call attention to the spread with which patients sickening last week with the disease have recovered as an indication of the mildness of the attack.”
As the grip of the flu took its aim at more people, the health officials faced the dreaded decision to quarantine Orangeburg.
The T&D reported on Feb. 11, “CITY QUARANTINED OWING TO INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC — Drastic Means Used To Check ‘Flu’ Situation — All Places of Assembly Are Under Ban Beginning at Midnight — Low Mortality At Present Juncture — Diversity of Opinion as to Wisdom of Steps to Be Carried Out — Theatres, schools, churches and places of public assemblage of any and every nature will be closed after today in Orangeburg owing to the increasing presence of influenza and a decision reached by the city board of health last night.
“The decision of the city officials came after a thorough consideration of all matters involved and after physicians had reported 30 new cases for the day and declared that the disease is making unprecedented progress in the city.
“Only bottled drink, drank at the fountain and from the bottle itself and ice cream cones may be dispensed at the soda fountains in the city while the quarantine is on.
“Effort will be made to prevent the congregation of crowds on the streets and the assembling of children anywhere. Parents are requested to keep the kiddies off the streets and to desist from visiting in any events.
“While the local officials are closing the places of assemblage and taking other measures calculated to suppress the progress of the malady an opinion has manifested itself among some citizens here questioning the wisdom at this time of such strenuous steps.
“Of the 30 cases reported yesterday practically all are said to be of the usual mild nature and will likely recover within the course of a few days. Doctors assert that the chief danger lies in the tendency to develop pneumonia as an aftermath to the influenza attack.
“So far, the mortality incident to influenza visitation here has amounted to practically nothing and it is understood that even now cases last reported show a tendency (to) decline in their seriousness and danger. It is said that the epidemic has until this juncture appeared mainly among the grownups.”
“At this stage of the swiftly moving epidemic, one can only wonder what the life of the people in Orangeburg would have looked and felt like 100 years ago in the month of February as the cases of influenza moved through the county.”
Feb. 13, 1920, The T&D reported, “Influenza and the Churches — The band on assemblage, which has been invoked by the public health authorities, includes churches as well as other public places, but every now and then we hear a devout churchman say that there is no use to close up the churches, that to do so implies a lack of faith in the Lord.
“The idea that because a man is doing a good thing the Lord will keep him from having influenza is on a par with the idea that the Lord strikes down all liars.”
Feb. 15, 1920 — “Malady Still Showing Self — Several Cases Reported Yesterday and Effort Made for Suppression — Eighteen cases of influenza were reported to officials on the city health department last night for the day. This brings the total cases thus far up to 131, starting with the first one reported on Feb. 6. Four cases were discharged from quarantine during the day yesterday.
“So far indications are that the malady is making its appearance mostly among the grownups. Only in a few cases are the children hard hit by the epidemic, which seems to take out its full force on the older folk.”
The epidemic continues
On Feb. 18, the headlines read, “Flu Measure Passing Soon — Official Says City is Nearing Condition to Lift Quarantine — Relief from the influenza quarantine now in effect over Orangeburg promises to be a reality about the last of the present week, according to a statement made last night by Dr. V.W. Brabham of the city health board.
“City officials state that during the quarantine the cooperation from local people as individuals and organizations of the city in general has been most marked.”
The next report on influenza in Orangeburg clearly demonstrates the compassion and concerns for one another in our town and county.
Feb. 20, 1920 — “Influenza Folk to Be Assisted — Fund Raised Here Toward Helping Those Who Are in Need — Announcement was made yesterday afternoon that a fund for the purpose of assisting needy people suffering from the influenza epidemic in the city has been raised and will be available now for any needing and applying for some such help.”
Then the health officials had to back track their prediction of the malady: “INFLUENZA IS ON INCREASE — Cold Weather Brings New Rise in Cases Reported to Health Board — Influenza, which until the past thirty hours had shown a very material decrease, both in number of cases and in the intensity. The diseases flared up again yesterday and 33 cases were reported to the local board of health.”
On Feb. 24, 1920, The T&D reported, -- “Farmers Meeting Postponed Here — Prevalence of Influenza Makes Gathering Impossible — Owing to the quarantine effective through the city as a result of prevailing influenza, the ‘Farmers’ Conference Week to have been held from February 23 to 27, has been called off, according to announcement made yesterday at the State Agricultural and Mechanical College, where the gathering of the farmers was to have occurred.”
On Feb. 25, 1920, The T&D reported, “Flu Raking Colored Folk — Reports Show That Disease is Spreading Among Negroes Throughout State. — Reports received in the state health office today indicate that the influenza epidemic is extending markedly to the negro population over the state, especially where this race was practically exempt during the epidemic a year ago. This tendency has been observed especially in Saluda and Georgetown counties.”
On that same date, an article from Shantung, China stated, “The Influenza epidemic in this district has caused so many deaths that there is a shortage of caskets and their price has risen 400 percent in recent weeks.
“Because of this many bodies have been buried in shrouds only, a practice uncommon even among the poorest Chinese. Another departure that has been forced upon the people by the existing situation is that Feng Shui or the practice of geomancy in connection with funerals by which grave sites and time of burial and other details are determined is being ignored.”
Another article stated, “Influenza A County Guest — Malady in Force Over Orangeburg County Now Reports Indicate. -- Something like 1500 cases of influenza are now in Orangeburg County, according to information secured at the office of County Health Director Bailey yesterday. It was said that this number likely does not represent the actual amount of the malady, as many of the physicians of the county have as yet not been heard from.
“The type of disease suffered by the county folk at this time is said to be or about the same degree of severity as that prevalent in the city just now, it is said.
“Schools throughout the county have been affected strongly by the malady. More than half the schools are at this time closed owing to the ravages of the disease, it is said here. No indications of a let-up in the ravages of the malady over the county seem in sight at present.”
On March 3, “School Will Resume Work-Local Institutions to Open Doors First of Coming Week — After a vacation of almost a month, it is hardly assumed that the kiddies will be reluctant about a resumption of their work.
“No actual figures are yet available regarding the number of the school children that were influenza patients during the late attack.”
As the daily reporting continued, The T&D printed on March 13 -- “No Relief to County Folks — Influenza Continues to Make Inroads on Health Over County — Unaffected by the clear and warm weather of the past few days, influenza over Orangeburg County is still maintaining its inroads on the county health. Dr. R.S. Bailey, county health director, stated yesterday afternoon that the improvement noted in the city here has not been duplicated over the rural districts. While the mortality rate seems rather low the disease is going on unabated.
“Only a few schools of the county have reopened their doors after having closed some time ago owing to the ravages of the malady. It is said that of those yet remaining open a large number of the students are absent and that teachers and pupils alike are affected in many instances by the malady.
“Dr. Bailey stated yesterday that a prolonged spell of warm weather just now will, he believes, bring relief from the ravages of the malady.”
Relief at end of March
The influenza epidemic that took grip on Orangeburg County in 1920 made its mark and impact on the people, businesses, churches schools and all other events was talked about for many years after the malady ended. From all of the written accounts of the movement of that dreaded disease, The T&D did an outstanding job in providing information to the citizens here in our county.
In all of the updates that were being communicated by the federal, state and local health authorities, The T&D performed its duty in making certain the people of Orangeburg County were kept up to speed and informed.
March 18, The T&D reported: “Flu Almost Out of City-With Few Cases Disease is Practically Extinct Now in Orangeburg — Influenza in Orangeburg, which has appeared in epidemic form for some time has about vanished.
“Authorities of the city health department stated yesterday afternoon that only 18 cases of influenza are now on hand. Some of these cases were reported to be a mild form. It was also stated that there has been a large number of the patients discharged lately and that only a few cases still exist in the city. The disease has quieted down to a point where danger is considered past.
“Health officials express appreciation and thanks for the work and cooperation that has been carried out by the residents of Orangeburg during the epidemic that existed here for some time.”
The next report on March 23, stated: “Disease Halts Over County — Epidemic Seems Improved Somewhat throughout This County — A large number of influenza cases are reported to be in the town of Bowman. This community seems to be one of the heaviest sufferers of this disease in the county. A total of 215 cases are reported here for the past week.
“The other towns in the county are still suffering from the disease, but the cases reported are not as great as that of Bowman.
“A number of the schools have been reopened and the activities of the schools have resumed. There still remains a large number of schools closed, due to the fact of the malady still exists.
“Dr. R.S. Bailey, (of) the county health department, stated yesterday afternoon that the coming of the warmer weather will check the malady.”
“During this time, the U.S. Census report was released. From 1910-1920, Orangeburg had an increase of 1,384 in the number of inhabitants (a 23.5% increase). The total shows 7,290 in the city of Orangeburg.”
The T&D noted on March 28, “Influenza On Downward Way — Gradual Improvement is Noted in Disease Throughout County — Influenza, which appeared in this county in epidemic form weeks ago, is still a matter of concern to the county health department, yet it is reported to be improving a little.
“A large number of cases still exist in the county and reports for the past week show that it has improved considerably.
“The towns of Elloree, Eutawville and Norway are reported to be the heaviest sufferers of the malady in the county.
“Due to the fact that the disease has improved lately in this county, the schools that were ordered closed have opened up again and the old activities have been resumed.
“Influenza in Orangeburg has practically disappeared, it was reported yesterday. There are still a few cases in this city, but are reported to be of mild form.”
100 years ago, the people of Orangeburg County lived through an influenza epidemic that filtered its way into every section of the 1,106 square miles of land in the county. One can only imagine what the people had to encounter.
Nurse Florella Fordham, R.N.
At the time of the malady of 1920, it must be noted that the services of nurse Florella Fordham, R.N., provided some of the best medical support and compassionate service available in the county. Of course, Fordham did not do this all alone. She worked in concert with all of the other people in the medical field, including Dr. R.S. Bailey, who was the director of the Orangeburg County Health Department.
Although, at that time, the people were separated by the laws and customs of the life of living in a segregated society, the medical needs of blacks and whites sometime were, simply, all the same.
Fordham was born in 1880 to Major John H. Fordham and attended Claflin College, graduating in 1900.
Note: Major John H. Fordham was elected as the first black coroner of Orangeburg County in the 1870s. Later in his life, Fordham was the chief of the black firemen in the city of Orangeburg.
With high determination, and over her parents’ objections, she went to Hampton Institute in Virginia to get her nurses training.
After graduating, Miss Fordham came back home to Orangeburg as a registered nurse. Little did she know but at her return and medical status, Nurse Fordham became the only nurse among the blacks and white nurses in the county that carried the title R.N.
For many a years, Fordham was the only nurse that doctors (black or white) could call on to assist in home maternity cases. Also Orangeburg County did not have a hospital for the people.
In 1932, she became the resident nurse for South Carolina State College. She retired in 1952 but continued to be active in the Orangeburg community. Having such a great love of the field of nursing, in 1953 she took on the position of resident nurse on the campus of Claflin University.
Fordham finally retired in 1959 after devoting a sum of 56 years to her love, “nursing.”
Nurse Florella Fordham died in 1973.
Can you envision living in a time of being quarantined for nearly two months? Each and every aspect and corner of life in our county was touched. The businesses, schools, churches, sports, social events, agricultural and our government had to make all types of changes for the sake of monitoring and controlling the spread of the malady that touched the world, our state and our county.
One thing that can be said about the people of our county who witnessed the spread of influenza 100 years ago: The unity and togetherness of the inhabitants rose up in the times of troubles and despair.
Thus the people were able to overcome and continued their work to move Orangeburg County forward to where we are today. Therefore, we give thanks to our ancestors.
Richard Reid is president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society. His mission is researching Orangeburg history, with a particular emphasis on the role of African Americans in that history.
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