The 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic – Jesse James Bryan

I’m currently researching and writing about how my families were impacted by epidemics, pandemics and other health crises, starting with the 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic. First was Woodye Webber, followed by Lizzie Strange. Now, Jesse James Bryan. I’m still collecting information on him, so I’m only telling part of Jesse’s story today.

I first encountered Jesse James Bryan in the pages of the George Washington Bryan and Sarah Stokes family Bible. He was an Independence Day baby!

Jesse James Bryan was born July 4th 1887.

Jesse is also found on an otherwise blank page of the bible.

Jesse James Bryan died Nov. 13-1918. Age 31 In France. Died with the Flu.

And there is a Joe Bryan with the same information on the Deaths page.

Joe Bryan died Nov. 13, 1918 with the flew in france.

My mother had a few photographs from her father’s family and had identified this photo as Joe Bryan, Aunt Rose’s son. It took me a while to figure out that Joe and Jesse James were the same person, but the bible confirmed it.

Jesse James Bryan


Jesse, or Joe, Bryan was born in Drakesville, Iowa, the second of fifteen children born to James Washington Bryan and Rosa Luella Hoskins. Joe was first cousin to my grandfather Thomas Hoskins. In fact, he was Grandpa’s first cousin on both sides of the family. Joe’s father, James W. Bryan was the brother of Grandpa’s mother Sarah Elizabeth Bryan. Joe’s mother, Rosa (Rose) Hoskins, was the sister of Grandpa’s father Thomas Franklin Hoskins. My mother remembered going with Grandpa to visit Aunt Rose many times, so I’m assuming the families got together fairly frequently when Joe and Grandpa were growing up, despite not living in the same town – especially with the double family connection.

Jesse (from here on I’ll use his given name) is listed in the 1900 US Federal Census with his extended family on a farm in Davis County, Iowa. In the home are Jesse’s parents, his grandmother Sarah Bryan Hoskins, his uncle John Bryan, and nine siblings who range in age from fourteen to four months. Jesse, twelve, and his older brother William, fourteen, are listed as farm laborers. Only sister Georgia, age nine, attends school. The growing family is documented again in the 1905 Iowa State Census in Davis County, Iowa.

I was confused when I saw that Jesse registered for the draft in Calumet, Iowa because it is so far from Drakesville. But it also says that he was employed by Ed Heinel in Paullina, Iowa, which is in the same county as Calumet.

That sent me looking for Jesse and his brother William, who are not listed in the 1910 Census with the rest of the family. I found them together on a farm in Humboldt County, Iowa.

William, 24, is listed as a farmer and head of household. Brother Jesse, 21, is listed as “working out” – earning income working on other farms. William didn’t register for the draft until September 1918 in Pocahontas County, Iowa and at that time listed his mailing address as a P.O. Box in Laurens, Pocahontas, Iowa. So it seems that the two older brothers had left the family farm before the 1910 census and were in northern Iowa by at least 1917.

Jesse registered for the draft on the first national draft registration day, June 5, 1917. The recently enacted Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register in order to raise an armed service sufficient for participation in the war. Jesse was not immediately called into service, so I’ll assume he just went on farming and working while waiting and listening to news of the war.

Jesse’s Army record of death provides the date of his enlistment – July 23, 1918, a little over a year after he registered for the draft.

I went to the internet looking for information about Camp Gordon this week and found a man in Atlanta whose passion is researching Camp Gordon, among other things. I saw an email address for him and decided to contact him with some questions I was trying to answer. He responded within minutes, offering his phone number so we could talk. With his help, I think we put together most of a timeline, some interesting context, and some suggestions to help my research.

From our phone conversation, I learned that the enlistment date of July 23 makes perfect sense because the large 82nd Airborne Division left Camp Gordon in late April, leaving plenty of room for new recruits. Jesse would have received his orders and boarded a train bound for Georgia, presumably arriving on July 23, 1918. Jesse got off the train at the “back door” to Camp Gordon in Chamblee, GA, walked across the railroad tracks, and waited for his turn to be processed. I wonder if this undated photo taken at Camp Gordon depicts what it was like when Jesse arrived. At its peak, Camp Gordon held 46,000 troops. It was a small city.

Iowa sent 6,440 recruits to Camp Gordon during the course of the war.

I’ll stop here for now with my link to the prompt photo. Jesse was able to go home on furlough before he went overseas. His youngest sister, Hattie, was just a little girl at the time. She didn’t really know her brother, since she was born in 1912 – after Jesse had moved away from home. Hattie told her daughter that she was in the yard swinging when he arrived and introduced himself to her. If she had met him before, she didn’t remember.

Maybe Jesse also enjoyed some time with old friends during his furlough.

For a good time visit other participants at Sepia Saturday.

1918-1919 Flu Epidemic: Lydia Elizabeth Strange

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Illness can barrel through a family or a community with the force of a train. Sometimes there are parallel stories, like the tracks that a train rolls along.

I’m continuing to look at how epidemics, pandemics and public health crises have impacted my families. Last year, I wrote a series on the death of my mother’s brother, who died as the result of the measles in 1930. That series begins here: An Uncle I Never Knew.

Now I’m focussing on the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. I began with Woodrow Wilson (Woodye) Webber in my last post. Woodye was the daughter of Myron David Webber and Dorinda Rebecca Strange. As I was looking through old newspapers for information about the 1918-1919 flu epidemic in Lincoln County, Kansas, where the Strange family lived for many years, I came across this.

I didn’t know who Lizzie Strange was, but knew she must have been one of ours and when I reached out to cousins by email, I was assured that all of the Lincoln County Stranges are our kin.

The Strange family was very large and included step-siblings and half-siblings, siblings who cared for siblings after the death of parents, and siblings who had lots of children. I have a hard time keeping them straight!

Here is what I have pieced together about Lydia Elizabeth (Lizzie) Strange Hammond.

Lizzie Strange was the daughter of George Washington Strange and Nancy Matilda Henderson. The youngest child born to George and Nancy, she is front and center of the photo above. Her mother had two children from a previous marriage – Martha (Mattie) and William Tannehill. George and Nancy had three boys in addition to Lizzie – Benjamin, Harry, and Everett.

Lizzie was born 7 August 1882 in Lincoln, Kansas. Her father George was a half-sibling to Dorinda Rebecca Strange (Woodye’s mother). There was an almost twenty year age difference between half-siblings George and Dorinda, but Dorinda was only about six years older than George’s daughter Lizzie, her niece. Or would that be half-niece? Below is a photo of Dorinda, on the left, and Lizzie on the right.

Dorinda Rebecca Strange (L) and Lydia Elizabeth (Lizzie) Strange (R)

According to Strange genealogist John H. Mayer in his book Strange of Eastern America, Lizzie first married William McCormick, by whom she had a boy who died young. The couple divorced.

Francis Marion Strange (1880-1951), in his book of memories Anecdotes From My Life, provides a little more information while telling of a prank he played on his Uncle George:
In the fall or early winter of 1898, I had been teaching my first school in the Ingalls district in northwest Lincoln County. It was some 20 miles up there and I rode my horse to and from there every week when the weather was favorable. So one Friday night I finished up my school work and the cleaning up of the house, and started home. I arrived to find there was a real surprise for me. My cousin, Lizzie Strange, had just recently married. Perhaps the real surprise came since I didn’t know she was thinking of getting married, since she wasn’t quite sixteen.

Lizzie married veterinarian Marion J. Hammond of Luray, Kansas on 06 December 1916 and they made their home in Luray, a town a little over thirty miles west of Lincoln.

By this time, Dorinda and her large family were living in Iowa and Woodye was born seven months after Lizzie’s marriage to Marion Hammond.

The only wedding announcement I found was this in the Luray newspaper.

The Luray Herald (Luray, KS) 11 Jan 1917

Lizzie seems to have involved herself in the life of her new community, hosting the M. E. (Methodist-Episcopal?) Aid society a few months after settling in Luray.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 30 Aug 1917

I assume the ladies were singing rather than tinging.

The couple moved into a new home around New Year’s Day 1918.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 3 Jan 1918

The local newspaper kept everyone informed of the comings and goings of the Hammonds – their visits to family out of town and visits from family to their home.

In March, Lizzie attended the funeral of her aunt in Lincoln. The newspaper notice does not report the name of the aunt, but that would have been Rev. Sarah Bird Strange, wife of Rev. Thomas Madison Strange. Sarah died March 8, 1918. Her obituary does not list a cause of death, so I have no idea if her death was related to influenza.

The Luray Herald (Luray Ks) 14 March 1918

When I saw that Lizzie and Marion attended the funeral of Lizzie’s sister-in-law, Rachel Strange, wife of her brother Everett, in September, I wondered if she had died of influenza.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 12 Sep 1918

But John Mayer wrote in his book, Strange of Eastern America, that Rachel died by suicide.

Wedding portrait, Everett and Rachel Strange

Rachel and Everett had three sons, James Sibley, Raymond Everett, and Norwood Norton. Norwood was only two when his mother died.

Sons of Everett and Rachel Strange

Shortly after the funeral notice in the Luray newspaper, there was a notice that Everett had brought his son Raymond to live with his sister Lizzie. I don’t know where the other boys went, but perhaps they also went to live with relatives.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 19 Sep 1918

Less than a month after Everett left his son with Lizzie and Marion, came the news that Lizzie was ill with influenza in Junction City. Her husband had family in Junction City, so it is unclear if she became ill while visiting, or if her husband took her to the larger town for medical treatment.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 14 Nov 1918

A week later, the newspaper reported that Lizzie had died.

The Luray Herald (Luray KS) 21 Nov 1918

Lizzie and Marion were about six weeks shy of celebrating their second wedding anniversary.

This obituary is the first time I had heard of the Royal Neighbors. According to Wikipedia “the early members of the Society were ahead of their time. In addition to providing life insurance for women, they stood firmly behind the women’s suffrage movement. Royal Neighbors was also one of the first fraternal societies to insure children and recognize mortality studies establishing the fact that women live longer than men, and to reflect that difference in life insurance premiums…. They intended to be that helpful neighbor, combining the Biblical “neighbor” with the word “royal” that signified their belief in the nobility of the work they would do.”

Fairfield Journal, Fairfield, IA Dec. 17, 1918

Nearly everyone in the eleven-member family of Lizzie’s Aunt Dorinda was reported to be ill less than a month after Lizzie’s death.

From the brief research I did this week, I found no evidence that Lizzie’s husband Marion remarried. His widowed sister and her children had moved to Kansas before Lizzie’s death. The 1920 census shows his nephew Frank Steele living with him and, for a time Marion, and his sister and her children lived together. Marion later had a small farm where he lived alone in Clay County, Kansas. He died in California in 1953.

As for Everett Strange and his sons, they were reunited. Everett remarried and census records show the boys living with their father and step-mother and several half-siblings.

Rev. Thomas Madison Strange, husband of Rev. Sarah Bird Strange and brother of George Washington Strange and half-brother of Dorinda Rebecca Strange, died in October of 1919. His obituary lists the cause of death as uremia, a condition caused by kidney damage. This is of interest to me because of the death of my mother’s brother after having the measles. His death was secondary to measles, the cause of death being nephritis. I am no doctor and have no medical knowledge at all, but my little look into the definitions of both seem to have some possible overlap and made me wonder if T. M. Strange had a chronic kidney condition or if, like my uncle, had suffered kidney damage from a viral infection that led to his death. Always speculating… Can’t help it.

That’s all for my lengthy contribution to Sepia Saturday. Ride the rails to the next stop on the line, where other’s have surely written shorter and more uplifting tales at Sepia Saturday.

The 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic – Woodye Webber

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

I really can’t think of a connection to the prompt photo and my post today other than several suits and ties. I’ve been wanting to research and write about the epidemics, pandemics, and other public health crises that have impacted my families, so I’m starting those posts today. I do have old photos, so there’s that.

First up, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. My family research hasn’t been particularly fruitful, but I’ll go with what I have. And I’ll add that I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of old newspapers to find information and context. If you don’t want to read all of them, feel free to scroll on by!

My Strange-Webber family has one story that has been passed down – about Woodye (Woodrow Wilson) Webber.

This picture of the M. D. Webber and Dorinda Strange Webber family was taken in 1919. Woodye is the youngest child, seen here in her mother’s arms. My grandmother was Abbie, the oldest girl in the family.

I don’t know the occasion that prompted this photo. The girls may all be be dressed in white and most of the boys are in suits and ties. Church? Easter? The short sleeves the girls are wearing indicate a warm time of year, so maybe this was taken in late spring or summer. At the time this photo was taken, the family lived in Fairfield, Iowa. Woodye was born May 2, 1917, in Fairfield.

Woodye’s children shared what they heard and remember about their mother’s bout with the flu.

Wilda – The story of Mother and the epidemic as I recall hearing it is that mother was very sick for quite some time (several weeks, I think), and that Aaron went into the bedroom periodically to try to entertain her. One day he came out of the bedroom with tears in his eyes. Zam asked, “What’s the matter, Aaron?” He replied, “The baby smiled.” Her smile had been met by tears of joy, and it marked her turn around. She had started talking and was becoming more mobile, but had to relearn everything after her recuperation.

Aaron, the second oldest boy in the family was the next in age after my grandmother. Zam is the name Woodye’s children called their grandmother, Woodye’s mother.

A newspaper clipping dated 17 Dec 1918 confirms the approximate time of Woodye’s illness.

Fairfield Journal, Fairfield, IA Dec. 17, 1918

The curious thing about this little notice in the newspaper is the family member count – eight of nine family members. If you can count, you can see that there are eleven members in this family – two parents and their nine offspring. So where did those numbers come from?

Norman in National Guard Uniform 1918

My best guess is that the oldest son, Norman, was not counted. He served with the Iowa National Guard beginning October 7, 1918.  His military service never took him out of Fairfield. I don’t know if he stayed at the armory or post for the duration of his service, but maybe he did and was not counted. It looks like Norman is wearing his uniform in the family picture above. Eleven minus one.

The next obvious possibility is that my grandmother had moved out of the house. The 1920 Census shows her living in the family home, so either Abbie was staying somewhere else at the time of the newspaper story or the reporter just didn’t get the numbers straight.

Whatever the case, there were a lot of sick people in that house. All at the same time. Since only the story of Woodye has been passed down, perhaps she was the most ill and, being the baby of the family (not yet two years old), her illness was most significant to family lore. We are left wondering if everyone eventually became ill, how they managed with so many sick at once, and how influenza affected others in the family.

The Fairfield newspaper began to report on local cases of the flu in October, along with information about avoiding infection and patient quarantine.

The following day, public meetings were banned due to twelve cases of influenza, plus diphtheria, scarlet fever, and a possible case of infantile paralysis. This order included schools, theaters, churches and other public buildings, but the theater owner had already ordered films and apparently had permission to show them.

The ban on gatherings was reported to be working and hopes were high that the ban would be lifted. Unfortunately, the epidemic was not as well controlled in other parts of the state and local officials could not lift the prohibitions. (Click to enlarge.)

Halloween was canceled for the Webber kids, as well as all the kids in town.

At some point schools, and presumably churches and other meeting places reopened, but I missed the notices of that. A clipping from November 15th reported that two teachers had contracted the virus and said that the rumor that schools would close was unfounded. The Red Cross needed volunteers to make gauze masks. And Parsons College, in the city, reported thirty-three cases and was under quarantine in November.

Ten days before the notice about the Webber family having influenza, the paper had several notices pertaining to the epidemic. Gatherings of more than twelve people were banned, which resulted in the closing of many businesses as well as churches and schools.

In addition to the influenza epidemic, there was a war going on with calls to service, mask-making, and food rationing, among other things. At the end of the clipping below about church services is a note about sugar – and how the government will trust every one to be on their honor not to use sugar extravagantly. Also – don’t eat a fourth meal.

Schools were closed again beginning December 11 and to continue through December 30. In addition, children under the age of eighteen were not to gather in the streets or in the homes of friends.

Failure to comply with quarantine was an indictable offense.

This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Closings. Openings. Closings. Re-openings. Quarantine. Masks. Outbreaks on college campuses. Follow the rules!

A local newspaper published this piece in the face of difficult times.

I came up with a few ideas about what may have prompted this family photo.

* Easter, April 20, 1919 – as suggested earlier
* A celebration of Woodye’s recovery
* Woodye’s 2nd birthday on May 2, 1919. If you look closely, you can see that Woodye is holding a doll in the photo and seems to be showing it to the camera. A birthday gift?
* Winning 1st prize at church on Family Night for having the largest family, March 1919

I wonder what happened to that Bible?

The story of Woodye and the flu doesn’t end with her recovery as a toddler.

Wilda – Part of the irony of Mother’s life is the role the flu played. When flu shots were first available to the public in the 1940s, Mother had one – and got very sick again. And then in her later life, she had a very serious bout with the flu, after which she was pretty-much wheelchair-bound for her remaining lifetime. It seems as though the Spanish flu early in her life and the seasonal flu late in her life are almost bookends to her lifestory – though, of course, not the most important elements of it.

Dorinda – Mother spent her life being afraid of flu shots, because she had a horrible bout with it after her first flu shot, so she didn’t trust them.  When she was in Healthwin nursing home they wanted to give her a flu shot each year and she always hesitated.  I reminded her that her first shot was a live virus and that they were now giving shots that were not live viruses.  Makes a big difference.

Becky – First, when she was still in Iowa City (before moving to South Bend) I remember her saying she was getting two half doses of the flu because she felt a full dose caused her to get sick. 

Alice – I remember the 2 half doses for several years before moving to South Bend. What I remember about mom going into the nursing home is she had had a real bad case of the flu and was in the hospital and could no longer walk and that is when she went into Helthwin.

Needless to say, our family is grateful for the life of Woodye Webber. And please, don’t take this as an anti-vaccine story! Get vaccinated! And let’s all hope for a safe and effective vaccination for COVID-19.

I’ll end with a cute photo of Woodye on her first date with future husband Orville Kessler.

Oh! There it is! A man and a woman standing together. My link to the prompt photo.

To see how others have interpreted the theme this week, visit Sepia Saturday.