Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Lien-Hang Nguyen
During the final months of the Great War, the loss of human life was not confined to the battlefields of Western Europe. The Spanish influenza virus was rapidly spreading around the globe¸ and would ultimately leave millions dead in its wake. Some American groups, both public and private, saw the pandemic as a blessing in disguise. They interpreted the pandemic as a sign that their work, whether religious, political, commercial, or health, was more vital to the world than ever before. Influenza reinforced their existing beliefs in the rightness and necessity of their causes, and used the pandemic as a call to increase their activities. American missionaries interpreted the pandemic and its spread as a sign of the backwardness of native peoples, and they argued that the United States and Americans had an increased duty after the War and pandemic to help foreign populations with education, sanitation, and religion. For American diplomats, the pandemic was a nuisance to their work of promoting and expanding American trade. Although it devastated societies, it was not destructive to international commerce. It did, though, provide an opportunity for Americans to teach foreign peoples about better health to protect them from future diseases, and to strengthen commercial ties with the rest of the world. The U.S. Government was greatly distracted with the war effort when the epidemic hit, and refused to take it seriously. They appropriated a small amount of money to the United States Public Health Service (PHS) to deal with the epidemic. This appropriation, although small, continued a trend of the federal government becoming more involved in health efforts at the expense of states, and was used as a justification for later federal health initiatives. The PHS actively used the influenza epidemic to push for their own expansion, arguing that their success in combatting influenza showed their merit, and used it to ensure that they would maintain their power and authority after the epidemic ceased. For all of these groups, the Spanish influenza epidemic provided an opportunity for their work, and reinforced their beliefs that their efforts were needed and vital to the nation and world.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Chilcote, Jonathan, "Epidemic and Opportunity: American Perceptions of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic" (2016). Theses and Dissertations--History. 39.