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.”