Old newspapers show impact of past health crises
Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
We’ve recently been entrusted with a scrapbook of local newspaper articles dating back over 100 years, and it’s interesting to see how – truly – the more things change the more they stay the same. For instance, take this item from January 29, 1918:
Hold Enthusiastic Meeting in Court House Tuesday
An enthusiastic meeting was held in the Court House Tuesday at which time it was decided that something be done in regard to the smallpox epidemic which is raging here. Dr. I.A. Sherly member State Board of Health, from Winchester; Dr. G. O’Roark and County Atty. Thos. S. Yates of Grayson were present, ready and willing to aid us.
Judge John R. McGill called a meeting of the Fiscal Court for next week at which time the County Board and one or more members of the State Board of Health will meet with them and an enforced vaccination and a general quarantine and shutting of all public places until this epidemic is gone is likely. If the brick plants and other places would compel every man to be vaccinated before they was allowed to work they would avoid it, otherwise they may not.
It seems there was just as much contention about how to handle public health crises in 1918 as there is in 2020, and that government and industry has regularly had to intercede to enforce public health, no matter how reluctant they might be to do so.
It also seems that issues with financing during these epidemics are nothing new. While many currently report having difficulty getting the unemployment benefits promised by the state, in 1918 the county was intent on getting back funds provided to those quarantined due to smallpox. Thomas Yates, then Carter County Attorney, published the following notice in large type in a February 14, 1918 paper;
On the same day, the following was printed regarding the community of Olive Hill;
So, it seems that the government stepping in and forcing public protection steps, be it vaccination for smallpox or face coverings for COVID-19, isn’t anything new. It also seems that folks expressed concerns about forced intervention, and whether or not acting earlier could have made a difference, then just as they do today. But, eventually, the illness passed and things returned to normal. Let’s all take the chance to learn from our history and do our parts – whether wearing masks or face shields, or social distancing – to help us get past COVID-19 as Carter County did to get past smallpox in 1918.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles drawn from the historical newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks of Jack Fultz. When necessary typographical errors and misspellings in the original have been corrected for clarity. We thank Sally James of Sally’s Flowers in Olive Hill for sharing her uncle’s collected clippings with us and the community. – Jeremy D. Wells, editor, Carter County Times