Although COVID-19 was the most recent pandemic to hit the campus of Shippensburg University, it was not the first. In fact, in October of 1918, a completely different virus descended upon the campus of what was then the Cumberland Valley State Normal School (CVSNS) — the Spanish flu.
The worldwide pandemic of Spanish flu began in late spring 1918, according to archives.gov. The first phase, which lasted until the fall of that year, was not as severe as what was to come. Starting in the fall of 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic increased in severity, leading to much more illness and death, according to archives.gov.
The Spanish flu began its scourge among the students and faculty of CVSNS in early October 1918. At first, it looked as if CVSNS would be spared from the virus that had seemingly wrecked through Pennsylvania — one of the hardest hit states of the pandemic — but on Oct. 6, three cases of flu were detected on CVSNS’s campus, according to The Normal School Herald.
Within just days of the first cases, over 40 teachers and students had caught the flu, according to The Normal School Herald.
During this time period, the campus of CVSNS was much smaller than modern-day Shippensburg University. Even so, the school infirmary had become crowded with sick students, and the fourth floor of Old Main had to be converted into a hospital to house even more who had fallen ill.
Although it was hoped that classes could still continue on campus amid the outbreak, it was determined that due to the high number of individuals who had become sick, which, including day students, was near 100, school had to be cancelled for two weeks, according to The Normal School Herald and the 1919 Cumberland yearbook.
During this cancellation period, those who could move back to their homes did, and faculty members who were not sick acted as nurses to those students left on campus who were infected. They specifically formed nursing squads to help out, according to The Normal School Herald.
According to Shippensburg University archives technician Melanie Reed, CVSNS had a “Girl’s League” that helped to make facemasks for those on campus to help with the outbreak of flu. However, there is no indication that the facemasks were required to be worn.
Most of the cases of Spanish flu were mild for those affected at CVSNS, according to The Normal School Herald, and near the end of October 1918, most of those affected had recovered or improved.
However, the Spanish flu was not done with CVSNS, as it would return again that December and cause yet another outbreak. That time, the first floor of the girls’ dormitory (Horton Hall) was turned into an infirmary, according to the 1919 Cumberland yearbook.
In all, the Spanish flu caused the deaths of around 675,000 Americans and over 50 million people worldwide, according to cdc.gov. The impact was so severe in the U.S. that it was estimated that the life expectance for the average American was lowered by more than 12 years.
In regard to CVSNS, there were a few alumni who had died from influenza-related complications in early 1919, including a graduate of the class of 1918 and a graduate of the class of 1913, according to The Normal School Herald.