From the Archives: JBU vs. The Flu

Fighting the Global Pandemic

By Archives
6/28/2018 4:47:43 PM

Though many admit that John Brown Sr.’s efforts to start JBU in the fall of 1918 were nothing short of spectacular, few take into account the actual obstacles that he would have faced by opening his college during that year – most notably, the threat posed by the 1918 flu epidemic. Arkansas was no stranger to what became the deadliest global pandemic in history. Though state officials downplayed the power of the disease, a number of Arkansan military camps ravaged by the disease had to be quarantined in order to stop press coverage from lowering war morale.

As World War I drew to a close, few wished the public to panic. In reality, over 7,000 Arkansans died of the disease, more than fourteen times the number of Arkansan soldiers who died while serving overseas in the Great War. Even today that toll is approximate since many rural cases went unreported, medical care was limited, and neighbors were too scared of the disease to help each other. Though the First World War ended on the 11th of November, the disease retained its grip on much of the country through the spring of 1919, and by the close of the year, had caused 675,000 American mortalities, permanently changing he lives of all who survived.

In light of the pandemic, it was obvious that JBU would need a nursing station from the first days of the school’s opening. Though there are no records of any infections at JBU, there is at least one photo in the school’s archival collection which indicates that the flu did reach JBU students or poultry, even if there were no student mortalities from the disease (see photo at right). Twenty-two nurses and doctors are known to have served as JBU physicians since 1923, though it is likely that a few more simply slipped through the gaps in school records. Only two of the school’s physicians have been men (Drs. J. Rex Williams and Charles G. Blauw). Most female nurses’ terms were brief, lasting little more than one school year. In fact, current nurse Mary Ann Guinn recently became the longest-serving school nurse as she entered her seventeenth year of service to students and faculty.

In addition to providing medical services, JBU was aware from the very beginning of the need to provide up-to-date buildings with proper facilities and equipment for students. Over the years, there have been at least four different on-campus infirmaries.

The second permanent building on campus, after the construction of J. Alvin Hall, was the brick Catalina building, built in the early 1920s. As the Siloam Springs region continued to grow, JBU’s medical services, like its student fire department, became a means of ministering to the surrounding community. In 1935, JBU medical staff and students opened the town’s first hospital in the building that currently serves as the city’s Chamber of Commerce.


Originally published in The Lantern, Dec. 2006. The Lantern is a monthly publication that seeks to educate its readership about John Brown University’s history and heritage.

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