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Hillsdale braved its first pan­demic in 1918. Nolan Ryan | Collegian

The COVID-19 pan­demic is not the first the college has experienced.

In 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu out­break, Hillsdale’s football team was preparing for a “splendid” football season, according to The Col­legian pub­lished on Dec. 19, 1918. “First one team and then another would cancel their games. It looked for a while as tho [sic] Hillsdale was not going to be able to con­tinue football at all, but would be forced to give it up entirely,” the article said.

The Oct. 24 issue of The Col­legian reported that Olivet College, slated to play against Hillsdale, can­celled because their team was quar­an­tined. 

“The squad were all set for a hard game Sat­urday and were angry when word was received from Olivet that being in quar­antine because of the Spanish influenza they would be unable to get to Hillsdale as was expected,” the article said. “The student body had been having pep meetings under the lead­ership of Cheer Leader Frankhauser, and by the way the chapel rang with the songs and cheers, Olivet would have been beaten by the yelling and singing on the side lines alone if necessary.”

Other col­leges con­tinued can­celling games because they had stu­dents infected with influenza, including Hillsdale’s then-rival, Albion College. To date, this year’s Chargers have only played three games because of similar cancellations.

Instead of playing them at the scheduled date, the 1918 squad had to search around the league and schedule games once the disease had passed. They even­tually played around half a dozen, winning most.

“The only team which she seemed to be able to get games with,” The Col­legian joked, “was Hillsdale High School.”

Back then, the college had fewer stu­dents and a tight com­munity among them. They reported student cases of influenza in the paper, espe­cially if stu­dents returned home when they were infected, so one could read all about influenza updates. In one instance, a student’s sister returned from teaching in Ohio after all the schools in the state were shut down because of influenza.

Hillsdale in 1918 has one up on us. It did not fully cancel its home­coming fes­tiv­ities. “The third annual home-coming was not as con­spicuous as the pre­vious ones had been,” an article from Nov. 17 said. “There were a number of ‘old grads’ and former stu­dents who were unable to resist the homeward call and came last Sat­urday.” The “loyal Hills­daleites” came for the rescheduled Albion game, the article noted.

In the same issue, though, The Col­legian announced the can­cel­lation of the all-college party at the advice of the city health officer. “While influenza is not prevalent among the stu­dents it was thot [sic] best not to allow a crowd to con­gregate,” the article said. “As soon as the ban is off, however, the stu­dents will get together for the promised party.”

The Oct. 24 issue of The Col­legian reported that there are “No ‘flu’ cases here.”

“Hillsdale has not, as yet, been seri­ously affected by the epi­demic,” the article said. “There are no cases in the college and very few in the city of Hillsdale. The epi­demic is well under control and there is little danger of its spreading.”

Though Hillsdale remained rel­a­tively undis­turbed by the pan­demic until then, many other col­leges closed for some time. Hillsdale finally received an issue of The Pleiad, Albion’s Col­legian coun­terpart before its Nov. 17 issue. It “came out this week with the news that Albion College had been closed because of the influenza. The sit­u­ation is now well under control.”

As the winter pro­gressed, the college even­tually did catch the flu.

“Prof Harry Mack is a victim of the second influenza epi­demic. He was unable to meet his classes all last week and may not be able to attend this week,” an article from the Dec. 19 issue said. “Tho [sic] the stu­dents had a vacation from his classes, the assign­ments posted in his room kept them busy in the library. If only he could have seen us!”

In the end, around 30 people asso­ciated with the college caught the flu around December 1918. All of them were men. The influenza spread thor­oughly through Hillsdale’s Student Army Training Corps, a group of stu­dents who vol­un­teered for the great war. World War I had just ended, and the United States ordered the closure of SATCs since they were no longer needed.

Hillsdale took a few extra weeks to close its SATC bar­racks because many of its men were sick with influenza. One by one, as each soldier recovered, he was dis­charged, until there were only a few left.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Private Harry S. Kelly died after fighting influenza for nearly 10 days.

“Private Kelly’s death came as a great shock to all the student body and par­tic­u­larly the members of the S.A.T.C.,” the lead article in The Col­legian pub­lished Dec. 26 said. “It was hoped that since con­di­tions were not quite so bad here that Hillsdale might escape the epi­demic without a single casualty.”

As Kelly departed, Hillsdale’s men sta­tioned overseas pre­pared to return home. In the same issue, The Col­legian received a letter from six of Hillsdale’s brave sol­diers sta­tioned together in France, resting after the war had ended.

“Real bunks to sleep in at night, and in our room we have a nice large fire place,” they wrote. “By the art of a little sal­vaging, we have enough cooking utensils to start a bake shop. With sad, tender, tearful voices, we got some flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, etc., and this A.M. we had some pan­cakes all by our­selves. Even eggs in them. Say, it tasted the most like home of any­thing we’ve had in a long time.”