Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, which still stands today in downtown Pittsburgh. From the CHM Image Collection.

Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, which still stands today in downtown Pittsburgh. From the CHM Image Collection.

Given prevailing Progressive Era attitudes towards physcially challenged individuals, the Western Pennyslvania Institute for the Blind (WPIB) was a naturally isolated facility. WPIB was not geographically isolated however, and existed (and still does) in the middle of a busy section of Pittsburgh. We identified the WPIB as a provisional escape community, but the amount of information on the institution during the 1918–1920 influenza epidemic is rather limited.

At a Glance

  • Type of Site: Small, co-ed school for blind children in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Population: 179 students; faculty and staff also lived on-site.
  • Pop. Density: N/A
  • Geographical Considerations: WPIB was an enclave restricted to faculty, students, and known visitors. Visitors were prohibited during the second wave of the pandemic.
  • Influenza Cases: 12
  • Influenza Deaths: 0
  • First Reported Case: Late November 1918.
  • NPI Implemented: After several children returned with influenza after Thanksgiving, the school closed for one month (including the Christmas holidays).

Case Study

The Western Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind (WPIB) was chartered in 1887. In 1894 the school moved to its permanent home in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, a thriving commercial and residential district and the cultural and educational center of the city. In keeping with the school’s mission, WPIB offered academic as well as commercial and industrial training to its students. Now called the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, this facility remains open today.

The cloistered nature of the institution itself, its relatively small size, and a swiftly enacted protective sequestration policy all contributed to WPIB’s escape of the influenza pandemic, even as the disease ravaged Pittsburgh. Early in the pandemic, school officials announced that visitors would not be allowed to enter the school nor students allowed to go home for weekends. As a result of being effectively shut off from the rest of the city, no cases of influenza appeared in the school during the period of protective sequestration.

Although there is no recorded documentation, we learned from our tour of the extant building and meeting with the facility’s current Executive Director, Dr. Janet Simon, that there were on-site living facilities for the headmaster and his family. In addition, there were living quarters for the faculty and staff members, many of whom, as was the custom of the day, were probably unmarried women and men. It seems likely that the majority of the faculty and staff were placed in protective sequestration along with the students. We did uncover evidence that in the summer of 1918 the school installed a cold storage and refrigeration plant, allowing for the storage of large quantities of food. This may have played an important role in the institution’s ability to seal itself off from the rest of Pittsburgh.

By late November, as the epidemic in the Pittsburgh appeared to abate, the protective sequestration of WPIB was lifted and students were allowed to travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Upon their return in early December, however, 12 cases of influenza were diagnosed among the WPIB students. As a result, officials immediately closed the school for one month and scheduled the re-opening for after the Christmas holiday. When students finally returned to school in early January 1919, the epidemic was almost over in the Pittsburgh area and no new cases appeared at WPIB. There were no influenza-related deaths at the school during the second wave of the pandemic.

Research Materials

The amount of primary source material relating to the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind in the 1918–1920 influenza epidemic is minimal. Because it was located in the middle of a Pittsburgh neighborhood, we also conducted research into how that city coped with the epidemic. Digitized sources include:


Archival Material:

Pittsburgh Gazette Times
Date Title PDF
9/29/1918 News of National Army Cantonments pgt01
9/30/1918 New ‘Grippe’ Ravages East pgt02
10/1/1918 Again – the Grip! [editorial] pgt03
10/2/1918 To Prevent Spanish Influenza Start Using Nostriola Now! [advertisement] pgt04
10/3/1918 Influenza in the Army Is Waning pgt05
10/3/1918 Epidemic to Close Schools pgt05
10/4/1918 Growth of Epidemic Prompts Drastic Order by Dr. Royer pgt06
10/4/1918 Influenza Vaccine Will Get Severe Test; Doctors to Be Masked pgt06
10/4/1918 Closing Order Will Be Obeyed in Pittsburgh pgt06
10/5/1918 Influenza Sweeping Through Nation: Pittsburgh Under Quarantine pgt07
10/5/1918 All About Influenza Is Told In Free Book Issued by Government pgt07
10/5/1918 Sunday Gas Lid On Yet Despite Epidemic Plea pgt08
10/5/1918 Training Corps Placed Under Quarantine pgt09
10/5/1918 Measures For Those Who Would Not Take Spanish Influenza pgt09
10/5/1918 Pitt and Great Lakes Won’t Play Because of Influenza Epidemic pgt10
10/6/1918 Schools Will Help Prevent Epidemic Here pgt11
10/6/1918 Use Gas Masks to Ward Off Influenza pgt12
10/6/1918 Quarantine Not Satisfactorily Observed pgt13
10/7/1918 Health Chief Says Epidemic Here Is Sure pgt14
10/8/1918 List of Grip Victims Show Big Increase pgt15
10/9/1918 Officials Plan Hospitals For Grip Patients pgt16
10/10/1918 Rapid Spread of Influenza in Pittsburgh pgt17
10/10/1918 Maj. Day Hit by Epidemic He Is Fighting pgt18
10/11/1918 Larger Death Toll Is Taken by Pneumonia pgt19
10/11/1918 Liquor Men To Urge Saloons’ Opening pgt20
10/12/1918 Army Officer Is Victim of Influenza pgt21
10/12/1918 Surgeon General Blue Gives Advice on Influenza pgt22
10/13/1918 Deaths From Grip Increase; Fewer Cases pgt23
10/13/1918 Cases of Grip Increase in Camps pgt23
10/14/1918 Grip Deaths Increased 10 in 24 Hours pgt24
10/15/1918 Red Cross Busy in Checking Epidemic pgt25
10/15/1918 Full Force of Epidemic Yet To Come pgt26
10/15/1918 Health Board Gives Warning of Influenza Danger pgt26
10/15/1918 Influenza Closes Schools pgt26
10/16/1918 Grip Epidemic Victims Now Number 4,445 pgt27
10/17/1918 Fewer Cases of Influenza Are Reported pgt28
10/17/1918 Heavier Toll By Epidemic in Camps pgt28
10/171918 Urgent Calls Sent Out by Red Cross pgt29
10/19/1918 Peak Not Hit By Rising Tide of Influenza pgt30
10/19/1918 Red Cross Needs 300 Nurses to Fight Spanish Influenza pgt30
10/20/1918 High Tide of the Influenza Is Maintained pgt31
10/22/1918 Medical Men Unite Forces to Fight Grip pgt32
10/22/1918 Health Board Gives Warning of Influenza Danger pgt33
10/22/1918 City Schools Not Closed by Grip Epidemic pgt34
10/23/1918 Children Best In Schools, Says Burns pgt35
10/23/1918 Epidemic Gains In Eight Counties pgt35
10/24/1918 City Schools Are Closed by Grip Fighters pgt36
10/25/1918 Real Vaccine For Influenza Will Be Made pgt37
10/25/1918 Royer Refused Any Easing of Influenza Ban pgt38
10/25/1918 Fuel Production Hard Hit by Influenza Conditions pgt39
10/26/1918 Nation Unites With State In Fighting Grippe pgt40
10/27/1918 Catholic Aid In Epidemic Is Accepted pgt41
10/27/1918 Arrests For Drunkenness Show Marked Decrease Since Saloons Are Closed pgt42
10/28/1918 Vaccination Against ‘Flu’ Here Is Urged pgt43
10/28/1918 Babcock Asks State to Lift Influenza Ban pgt44
10/29/1918 Ban Remains; Babcock Goes to Harrisburg pgt45
10/30/1918 Mayor’s Effort to Remove Ban Without Avail pgt46
10/30/1918 Police Prohibit Halloween Celebrations; Ban Crowds pgt47
10/31/1918 Influenza Ban Is Modified Very Slightly pgt48
11/1/1918 Influenza Epidemic Wanes In Pittsburgh; Ban May Soon Be Lifted by Authorities pgt49
11/1/1918 Spanish Influenza Is Epidemic Here pgt49
11/1/1918 Gloom-Draped Pittsburgh Mourns Lost Halloween pgt49
11/2/1918 Influenza Ban Abrogated by City Officers pgt50
11/2/1918 Mayor Babcock’s Proclamation Regarding Lifting of Ban Here pgt51
11/2/1918 Managers Vote To Open All Theaters pgt52
11/2/1918 Church Services Are Allowed Tomorrow, Maj. Davis Announces pgt53
11/2/1918 Royer To Get Legal Advice Before Acting pgt53
11/3/1918 Royer Awaits Violations of Closing Order pgt54
11/5/1918 Plea Is Made For Influenza Ban by Blue pgt55
11/6/1918 All Theaters Agree to Obey Influenza Ban pgt56
11/7/1918 Influenza Ban to Be Lifted Next Saturday pgt57
11/7/1918 Influenza Less Throughout State pgt57
11/8/1918 Only 874 Die of Influenza in Day pgt58
11/8/1918 Schools In City Will Reopen November 18 pgt59
11/9/1918 All Theaters In City Open Today; Royer Gives Ban-Lifting Regulations pgt60
11/9/1918 Dr. Royer Gives Warning to Influenza Sufferers Who Are Now Convalescent pgt61
11/11/1918 Epidemic Still Affecting Coal pgt62
11/12/1918 Board Decides Schools Open Next Monday pgt63
11/20/1918 Eight School Teachers Die of Influenza pgt64
11/20/1918 Influenza Rates Still High pgt64
11/21/1918 Many Flare-Ups of Influenza In State pgt65
11/22/1918 New Outbreak of Influenza Is Threatened pgt66
11/23/1918 New Influenza Cases Show Slight Decrease pgt67
11/27/1918 New Cases of Influenza In 24 Hours Total 198 pgt68
12/4/1918 Influenza Is Stationary pgt69
12/6/1918 Night Schools to Reopen pgt70
12/30/1918 The Epidemic, by Walt Mason pgt71
12/31/1918 No Decrease In Influenza pgt72
1/14/1919 Dr. B.A. Booth Dies From Influenza pgt73
1/15/1919 185,000 Deaths Last Year Sets New State Record pgt74
1/20/1919 Music In The Home Furthered by the Influenza Epidemic pgt75
1/27/1919 Pastor Arrested in Pulpit for Influenza Violation pgt76

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Pittsburgh Sun
Date Title PDF
9/21/1918 ‘Spanish Influenza’ Reported in Chicago ps01
9/27/1918 Influenza’s Spread Delays Draft Call ps02
10/4/1918 Firm Stand Taken Here For Health ps03
10/4/1918 Physicians Ordered to Report Cases ps03
10/4/1918 City Officials Warn Public That Health Department Order Must be Observed Strictly ps04
10/4/1918 175,000 Suffer From Epidemic of Influenza ps05
10/4/1918 Closing Order Being Obeyed, Reports Show ps06
10/4/1918 For Our Protection ps07
10/4/1918 U.S. Health Bureau Tells of Epidemic ps08
10/5/1918 Situation Here Does Not Alarm ps09
10/5/1918 Rallies To Be Held by Sunday School Classes ps10
10/5/1918 Smash It In Its Infancy ps11
10/5/1918 Pittsburgh, For First Time Sees All Sports Suspended ps12
10/7/1918 Churches Are Closed Under Health Order ps13
10/7/1918 States Divided Into Nursing Districts ps14
10/8/1918 Hospitals In Fight Against the Influenza ps15
10/8/1918 Red Cross Supplies Face Masks to Pitt ps16
10/9/1918 Influenza Is On Increase Reports Show ps17
10/9/1918 Many Influenza Cases Found In Nearby Points ps18
10/10/1918 Fewer Cases of Influenza Are Reported ps19
10/11/1918 Liberty Day Program ps20
10/11/1918 Epidemic Here Not Alarming, Figures Show ps21
10/11/1918 Increase In Camp Epidemic Reported ps21
10/11/1918 What to Do to Prevent It and How to Treat Influenza ps22
10/12/1918 Influenza Hold On Pittsburgh Is Weakening ps23
10/15/1918 Theater Ban May Last Five Weeks ps24
10/15/1918 659 New Cases of Influenza Are Reported ps25
10/16/1918 Fewer Cases of Influenza Are Reported ps26
10/17/1918 Fewer Deaths In Influenza Epidemic Here ps27
10/18/1918 Business Girls to Combat Influenza ps28
10/18/1918 Little Change in Influenza Outlook Today ps29
10/19/1918 Report Shows Fewer Cases of Influenza ps30
10/19/1918 Churches of City Are Still Closed ps31
10/21/1918 Epidemic Adds to Death List in Pittsburgh ps32
10/22/1918 Epidemic Now Waning Here, Officials Think ps33
10/22/1918 Coal Men to Fight Epidemic at Mines ps33
10/23/1918 Big Increase in Influenza Victims Today ps34
10/24/1918 Schools Close As Deaths from Epidemic Grow ps35
10/24/1918 State Closing Ban May Soon Be Rescinded ps35
10/24/1918 Health Department Closes Libraries ps35
10/25/1918 713 New Cases of Influenza Are Reported ps36
10/26/1918 Government’s Doctors Here For Epidemic ps37
10/28/1918 Mayor Babcock Favors Lifting Epidemic Bans ps38
10/29/1918 Babcock and Royer Confer on Epidemic ps39
10/30/1918 Halloween Carnivals Banned in City ps40
10/30/1918 Closing Order May Be Lifted Within Week ps41
10/31/1918 Big Decrease in Influenza Case Shown ps42
10/31/1918 Last Week Death List Totals 1,032 ps42
11/1/1918 Closing Order Will Be Lifted on November 9 ps43
11/2/1918 Radical Steps by Harrisburg Anticipated ps44
11/5/1918 Fight Begins on Influenza Ban Violators ps45
11/6/1918 Theaters Quit Fight Against State Officials ps46
11/7/1918 Ban May Stay Unless Death Rate Lowers ps47
11/9/1918 Royer Closing Ban Is Lifted at Noon Today ps48
11/9/1918 Theaters Are Opened [editorial] ps49
11/11/1918 Influenza Epidemic Will Soon Be Over ps50
11/12/1918 Influenza Reports Indicate Increase ps51
12/10/1918 Only 66 New ‘Flu’ Cases Are Reported ps52
12/13/1918 48 New Influenza Cases Are Reported ps53
12/14/1918 Increase Shown in Influenza Cases ps54
12/16/1918 60 New ‘Flu’ Cases Are Reported in City ps55
12/17/1918 61 New Influenza Cases Are Reported ps56
12/18/1918 Influenza Strikes Is Lowest Figure ps57
12/19/1918 Only 13 New Cases of ‘Flu’ Reported ps58
12/20/1918 Influenza Ravages [editorial] ps59
12/21/1918 Influenza Reports Shows 45 New Cases ps60
12/26/1918 ‘Flu’ Shows Increase; 60 Cases Are Reported ps61
12/27/1918 16 Influenza Cases Are Reported Today ps62
1/4/1919 27 New ‘Flu’ Cases ps63
1/6/1919 111,688 Dead From ‘Flu’ in 46 Cities ps64
1/7/1919 36 New ‘Flu’ Cases ps65
1/15/1919 Record State Death Rate Laid to ‘Flu’ ps66
1/18/1919 20 New Influenza Cases ps67
1/21/1919 Whisky Praised As Influenza Medicine ps68
1/22/1919 Big Increase Shown in Influenza Cases ps69
1/23/1919 New Influenza Cases and Deaths Increase ps70
1/24/1919 New Steps Taken to Combat ‘Flu’ ps71
1/28/1919 Influenza Reported Increasing Again ps72
1/29/1919 Fewer Influenza Cases Are Reported ps73
2/3/1919 ‘Flu’ and Pneumonia Cases Show Decrease ps74

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Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind Annual Reports
Date Description or Title PDF
1919 Thirty-second Annual Report of the Directors of the Western Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind, Presented to the Corporators at their Annual Meeting, May 5, 1919 (Pittsburgh: Mordoch-Kerr Press, 1919) wpib_32report
1920 Thirty-third Annual Report of the Directors of the Western Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind, Presented to the Corporators at their Annual Meeting, May 3, 1920 (Pittsburgh: Mordoch-Kerr Press, 1920) wpib_33report
1921 Thirty-fourth Annual Report of the Directors of the Western Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind, Presented to the Corporators at their Annual Meeting, May 2, 1921 (Pittsburgh: Mordoch-Kerr Press, 1921) wpib_34report

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