A Medical Historian Looks Back On The 1918 Flu Pandemic : Short Wave The 1918 flu outbreak was one of the most devastating pandemics in world history, infecting one third of the world's population and killing an estimated 50 million people. While our understanding of infectious diseases and their spread has come a long way since then, 1918 was notably a time when the U.S. practiced widespread social distancing.
NPR logo

Letters From The 1918 Pandemic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/849246712/849416107" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Letters From The 1918 Pandemic

Letters From The 1918 Pandemic

Letters From The 1918 Pandemic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/849246712/849416107" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A woman wearing a flu mask during the 1918 pandemic which followed the First World War. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

A woman wearing a flu mask during the 1918 pandemic which followed the First World War.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The 1918 flu outbreak was one of the most devastating pandemics in world history, infecting one third of the world's population and killing an estimated 50 million people. While our understanding of infectious diseases and their spread has come a long way since then, 1918 was notably a time when the U.S. practiced widespread social distancing.

Medical historian Dr. Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, shares lessons learned from 1918 and Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong shares 102-year-old letters from her aunt's family.

John Moore Smith and Anna Sharp LaRue Smith in Stanton, New Jersey. Smith Family Archive hide caption

toggle caption
Smith Family Archive

John Moore Smith and Anna Sharp LaRue Smith in Stanton, New Jersey.

Smith Family Archive

Talk family history with Emily Kwong on Twitter @emilykwong1234.

Email the show at shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Brit Hanson, with editing by Viet Le and fact-checking by Berly McCoy.