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Being smarter in 2020: A century ago another virus had Tucsonans wearing masks

Being smarter in 2020: A century ago another virus had Tucsonans wearing masks

A Red Cross nurse wearing a “flu” mask.

Teachers often quote, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That may have evolved from a quote of George Santayana, philosopher and novelist, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but that isn’t the point.

A look at the archives of the Arizona Daily Star shows a time when the wearing of masks to mitigate the spread of infection was mandatory in Tucson, public gathering places were closed and Tucsonans were advised to avoid crowds at all costs and to stay 6 feet away from each other outside the home.

The subject, of course, was the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, that most historians say lasted at least until 1920.

That two-year span may give those of us frantic for human contact reason to moan.

An article in the Star on Oct. 10, 1918, tells of the acting Tucson mayor ordering churches, movie theaters, schools and pool rooms closed. The order reads:

“Owing to the fact that there is present in Tucson what appears to be the beginning of an epidemic of Spanish influenza, as a protection to the public health, we hereby order you to close your place of business.

“By order of ‘MEADE CLYNE,’ City Health Officer.

“In compliance with above order, as acting mayor, I hereby declare for the public health and safety until further notice is given that the following places of business will be closed to the public:

“Churches of all denominations.

“Public and private schools.

“Moving picture houses.

“Pool rooms and other places of amusement where people congregate.

“This is in accordance with the orders of the surgeon general of the United States and also the superintendent of health, together with the city health.

“I urge upon every person, above named places of assemblage and all ministers of the gospel to strictly observe this request.

“We are not only fighting the enemy abroad, but also the enemy at home.

“In order to conserve all our forces and resources it becomes a necessity for each and every one to observe this request.


“Acting Mayor.”

Tucsonans were ordered to wear masks when going out in public downtown, enforceable by police beginning Nov. 23, 1918. “Policemen will be stationed in every street by which the downtown district may be reached,” the Star stated.

Read PDFs of articles on the Spanish flu epidemic from the Arizona Daily Star by going to

Contact Johanna Eubank at

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Online producer

Johanna Eubank is a digital producer for the Arizona Daily Star and She has been with the Star in various capacities since 1991.

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