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Epidemic in Joliet: Country Club turned clinic in just 5 hours

"The Club House was visited, supplies ordered, and by 1 o’clock the first three patients were being cared for in the new hospital."

Now that cases have fallen in Illinois as the state leads the nation in COVID-19 response, we have an obligation to history to fulfill. Over 100 years ago, a pandemic was recorded locally. It’s lessons offer us the opportunity to learn from the ones that worked, and the ones that didn’t turn out all that great.

There are….quite a few.

Pulling from the records is nothing short of a challenge itself. With print fading over time, words become lost among smudges and scruffs. We’ve tried to salvage what we can and will be presenting it accordingly in the coming weeks, in its entirety.*

Right here, in Joliet, many of the lessons we applied to COVID-19 came directly out of those pages of history, including the setting up of temporary hospitals. But their speed was nothing short of otherworldly by today’s standards. Outreaching efforts from the community and humanitarians alike, people stepped up like never before.

Rather than put events into a summary, I’d prefer to let these pieces speak for themselves. Florence fills us in on a temporary hospital was set up at a local Country Club that began accepting patients in Joliet…in less than 5 hours!

Below is the full journal entry of Florence C. Baldwin, one of eight Community Nurses in the City of Joliet during the pandemic. Florence’s entry first appeared in The Influenza Epidemic and How We Tried to Control It.


Epidemic in Joliet, ILL

By Florence C. Baldwin

Head Community Nurse

During the months of October and November, Joliet was plunged suddenly into an acute and fearful Influenza epidemic.  In a city of 40,000 populations, there were approximately 1,800 cases and 263 deaths. 

The Community Nurses ministered to 186 cases of Influenza and pneumonia in the homes.  As a result of the fearful amount of illness and the fatalities, Mr. Wm Buchanan, President of the Public Health Council, called on the morning of October 10th at 9:30 a.m., a meeting in the office of the Health Commissioner, consisting of himself, with the Secretary of the Public Health Council, Head Community Nurse, and two members of the Mayor’s staff, to discuss and formulate plans for the use of the Country Club, about three miles from town, as an emergency hospital. 

The Club House was visited, supplies ordered, and by 1 o’clock the first three patients were being cared for in the new hospital.

From the first hour of its work the wonderful spirit of sympathetic, comprehensive co-operation and desire to help by the citizens, both trained and lay workers, was evidence.  Men and women from all walks of life called up, asking to serve.  The hospital took only influenza patients or cases of pneumonia, a direct result of the former.  Beds, mattresses, and linen were loaned by one of the local hospitals and the E.J. & E.R.R.; medicines and drugs were furnished at a liberal discount, many physicians giving supplies.  Food and delicacies of all kinds were donated in large quantities, oftentimes dinner, or suppers for the entire working force being sent all cooked ready to serve. 

One of the city hospitals furnished training nurses every day for five weeks. 

During the existence of the emergency hospital, there were 197 patients cared for – 70 men, 56 women and 71 children ranging in age from four days to fourteen years.  A children’s ward was opened, also a baby ward in which two Red Cross women worked daily for a week from 8 in the morning until 5 and 6 o’clock, giving their services, glad and anxious for instruction from a trained worker, so that they might better serve our babies. 

As a result of the work at the emergency hospital, two-child welfare stations are being opened up this week and by Jan 1st we expect to have one Day Nursery started.  One hundred and forty-eight patients were discharged as cured, or in a condition to go home with the follow-up care of the welfare nurse.  Forty-two patients died and several patients were placed in the city hospitals at the closing of the emergency hospital.

As an illustration of the intelligent teamwork, this has been a truly wonderful experience.  The volunteer untrained worker has been willing and anxious to be taught and to serve.  Four years ago, there was in Joliet, one community nurse. 

Today there are eight welfare nurses in the field, representing the schools, two industrial plants, the Tuberculosis Society, and the Public Health Council; and when one realizes what this means to our people, what Joliet is doing for her own, we do indeed see the results of the Nobel women who blazed the trail for Public Health work.


*Looking back at some of these records, there is a lot of not PC friendly stuff, so be prepared. The world of 1918 was a different one at that. Country Herald is committed to reprinting select pieces connected to topics of coverage, unedited, without context notes.

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