The tiny village of Fletcher, Vermont proved to be the most provisional of the provisional escape communities we studied. Fletcher’s experience during the 1918–1920 influenza epidemic may simply have been shaped by good fortune, remote location, and viral normalization patterns.
At a Glance
- Type of Site: Rural village in northern Vermont.
- Population: 737.
- Pop. Density: 19.4 ppl./sq. mi.
- Geographical Considerations: Fletcher was a rural agrarian village in northern Vermont, approximately 15 miles from the nearest population center, and 35 miles from Burlington.
- Influenza Cases: 2
- Influenza Deaths: 0
- First Reported Case: Oct. 30, 1918.
- NPI Implemented: Quarantining and placarding of houses with ill patients; schools, churches, and public places closed by state order; influenza made reportable disease by state board of health.
Historical and Demographic Background
Fletcher, Vermont, is a small, rural, remote village located in Franklin County, approximately 35 miles northeast of Burlington. In 1918, only 737 people lived in the 38 square miles composing the town of Fletcher, (a population density of 19.4 persons per square mile). In comparison, the population density of the entire state of Vermont (with just over 350,000 residents) was 37 people per square mile. The tiny village of Fletcher was chartered in 1781 from land granted to a group of influential state political and military leaders. The leader of this group and the town’s namesake, General Samuel Fletcher, was a former French and Indian War veteran and member of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Response to Influenza in Vermont
Vermont health officials took early action to monitor and prevent the spread of pandemic influenza across the state. In late September, ahead of most other states, Vermont health authorities declared influenza a “contagious and infectious disease,” thereby adding it to the list of reportable diseases and giving local health officers authority to visit and placard the homes of patients. In the set of instructions to local health officers, the state Board of Health also advised the home isolation of the ill and the use of handkerchiefs or napkins by patients. Although it was not made a public decree, the ill as well as their families were advised to refrain from attending public gatherings, movies, or other forms of entertainment, and were asked to keep their children out of school. Health officers were advised to isolate patients for at least one week, and to ask those who had been in contact with the ill to quarantine themselves for four days from the time of exposure. Public funerals were allowed, but with the provision that those who had been in close contact with the deceased or who were ill themselves would not be allowed to attend. For the time being no further action was recommended or required. In fact, the director of the state Board of Health, Dr. Charles Dalton, notified local health officers that no general closure order for schools or public places was likely, though he did make it clear that state law allowed local officers to order closures and enact other NPI.
By the last week of September it had become clear that several areas of Vermont were in the midst of an influenza epidemic. According to the Board of Health, practically all of the cases at this point were among those who had traveled to Camp Devens, Massachusetts, to visit ill family members there. The Vermont cases, however, appeared to have been milder than those observed at Camp Devens, and as a result, the Board of Health did not believe that any wider action was required as yet. Meanwhile, several towns had taken independent action to prevent or mitigate the spread of pandemic influenza. Stowe, Rutland, and Shelbourne, for example, enacted public closure orders, closed schools, cancelled church services, and prohibited public gatherings. Other areas that had begun to experience influenza cases followed suit.
By the first week of October, the influenza situation in Vermont had grown serious enough to warrant more centralized and decisive action. On October 4, Governor Horace F. Graham, like many other governors across the U.S., enacted a statewide ban on public gatherings. All schools, churches, movie theaters, and places of public entertainment and gathering were closed, and public assemblies were prohibited. Local health officers were directed to enforce the order until further notice from the Board of Health. That notice came one month later, on November 3, when Governor Graham ended the closure order.
In the end, Vermont experienced 43,735 reported cases of influenza between mid-September 1918 and February 1919. Of this number, 1,772 deaths occurred in 1918 alone. Given the likelihood of underreporting, the number of actual cases may have been more than 50,000. Despite the state’s rural nature and the geographic isolation of many of its towns and villages, more than 12 per cent of Vermont’s residents contracted influenza during the second wave of the 1918–1920 pandemic, and 0.5 per cent of its population died as a result of influenza complications.
Fletcher and the Influenza Pandemic
Information regarding Fletcher’s specific experience during the influenza pandemic is scant. The pandemic certainly did reach the general area, as St. Alban’s—the nearest town of significant size (15 miles away; population 7,588 in 1920)—had experienced enough influenza cases by September 27 to close its schools, have its hospital overcrowded with patients, and require extra lay nurses.
Meanwhile, Fletcher residents engaged in activities that increased their contact with others and from the wider region. For example, in mid-September, as the disease was spreading across the area, a Red Cross dance was held in Fletcher. A few days later, many Fletcher residents attended the county fair in the neighboring and larger town of Essex. On September 18 a solider from Camp Devens, Massachusetts, arrived in Fletcher for his wedding and 120-guest reception. By this time Camp Devens was in the midst of a major influenza epidemic: more than 14,000 cases (28 per cent of the camp’s population) and 757 deaths occurred in the month of September alone. With a good amount of fortune, Fletcher did not suffer an outbreak of influenza as a result of these potentially risky social interactions.
Fletcher did experience at least a few individual influenza cases, however. On October 30, the St. Alban’s newspaper reported that one Fletcher woman was ill and that another, Mrs. L. H. Scott, had recuperated enough to leave her home. The Scott household had been quarantined, the only recorded case of quarantine in the town. In early January 1919 the newspaper reported that two Fletcher residents had fallen ill, and that one school had been closed on account of influenza. Yet it appears that no deaths resulted from these few cases.
As mentioned above, the amount of primary source material relating to the Trudeau Sanatorium and the 1918–1920 influenza epidemic is minimal. Digitized sources include:
- Bellows Falls Times
- Bristol Herald
- Burlington Free Press
- Enterprise and Vermonter
- Orleans County Monitor
- St. Alban’s Daily Messenger
- Governor Horace F. Graham Papers, Vermont State Archives, Burlington, VT
- Town Reports, University of Vermont Library, Burlington, VT
- Vermont Board of Health Laws and Bulletins
Bellows Falls Times
|10/3/1918||Everything Closed Until October 11||bft04|
|10/10/1918||Local Situation Not Alarming||bft06|
|10/31/1918||Churches, Schools Resume Next Week||bft09|
|9/23/1918||Vermonters Die at Devens||bfp02|
|9/26/1918||Spanish Influenza Reaches Burlington||bfp03|
|10/12/1918||Five die at St. Alban’s||bfp04|
|10/12/1918||Husband and wife die of pneumonia||bfp04|
|10/15/1918||Decrease in number of influenza cases||bfp05|
|10/17/1918||Little change in epidemic situation||bfp07|
|10/23/1918||Quarantine not lifted until Nov. 3||bfp08|
|11/2/1918||Must wash Army dishes in boiling water||bfp12|
|11/9/1918||Influenza cases numbered 28,842||bfp17|
|1/15/1919||Influenza toll not less than 2,000||bfp24|
|10/2/1918||Influenza Epidemic Closes Town Tight||ocm01|
|10/2/1918||Board of Health Orders Lid On||ocm02|
|10/9/1918||The Influenza Situation||ocm03|
|10/16/1918||Influenza Toll Heavy||ocm05|
|10/30/1918||Sickness in Monitor Force||ocm07|
|12/11/1918||Influenza Coming Back||ocm14|
|9/23/1918||St. Alban’s Free of Influenza||sadm01|
|9/24/1918||What is Spanish Influenza?||sadm02|
|9/27/1918||Epidemic Still Rages in State||sadm03|
|10/3/1918||Grip Shows No Let Up in State||sadm04|
|10/5/1918||Epidemic Fails to Stop Embarkations||sadm05|
|11/9/1918||28,842 Cases of “Flu” in State During October||sadm09|
|Box/Folder||From/To||Date||Description or Title|
|Reel S-3162||H. Graham to C. Dalton||9/26/1918||“Do you not think some general action ought to be taken by the Board with reference to this epidemic? If it is contagious what about permitting all these conventions and meetings.”||graham01|
|“||C. Dalton to H. Graham||9/27/1918||Letter with 2 enclosures:“I am enclosing herewith copes of two circulars which have been sent out by the State Board of Health to all health officers and which will show you what we have done in the matter of the so-called “Spanish Influenza”.||graham02|
|“||C. Dalton to public||10/4/1918||Closing order issued by Dalton||graham03|
|“||C. Dalton to public||11/3/1918||Closing order rescinded||graham04|
|“||Influenza reporting form||10/31/1918||Seems to be a blank form for the reporting of influenza||graham05|
|“||Lt. Gov. C. Coolidge to H. Graham||9/26/1918||Telegram requesting doctors and nurses||graham06|
|“||H. Graham to Lt. Gov. C. Coolidge||9/27/1918||Return telegram to Coolidge||graham07|
|“||H. Graham to Lt. Gov. C. Coolidge||9/27/1918||Letter to Coolidge explaining telegram||graham08|
|“||10/21/1918||Influenza reported by weeks for October up to 10/21 (by county and town)||graham09|
|FA Palmer; Thaddeus Park; WEL Walker||2/1/1919||Fifty-Seventh Financial Report of the Town of Grafton Vermont for the Year Ending February 1, 1919||vtreport01|
|FA Palmer; JB Duncan; FDP Howland||2/1/1920||Fifty-Eighth Financial Report of the Town of Grafton Vermont for the Year Ending February 1, 1920||vtreport02|
|2/1/1919||Annual Report of the Auditors of the Town of Monkton, Vermont for the Year Ending, February 1, 1919||vtreport03|
|2/1/1920||Annual Report of the Auditors of the Town of Monkton, Vermont for the Year Ending, January 31, 1920||vtreport04|
Description or Title
|1918||General Laws of the State of Vermont Relating to the State Board of Health (Burlington, State of Vermont, 1918)||vtlaw01|
|12/1918||Bulletin of the Vermont State Board of Health; Information on Influenza in the United States; also, death of the President of the Vermont State Board of Health, due to influenza.||vtlaw02|
|3/1919||Bulletin of the Vermont State Board of Health; Laws relating to District Health Officers||vtlaw03|
|6/1919 & 9/1919||Bulletin of the Vermont State Board of Health; Full reprint of law establishing district health officers; disinfection and quarantine guidelines; ‘Full’ quarantine and ‘modified’ quarantine described.||vtlaw04|
|1917||Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont at the Twenty-fourth Biennial Session, 1917, No. 194 – Duties of Health Officers||vtlaw05|
|1919||Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont at the Fwenty-fifth Biennial Session 1919, No. 175 – Duties of District Health Officers||vtlaw06|
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