Home Demonstration Agent Saves Life

The human face of the 1918 Spanish Influenza

Hello History Lovers!

Today’s article was published January 1921 in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women featuring the extraordinary work of a young Home Demonstration Agent during the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. Miss McElhinney was able to help save the life of a seriously ill boy by means of artificial respiration (I’m not sure what AR looked like a century ago but evidently it worked). Her service blessed the lives of many people in her community.

Enjoy!

A Home Demonstration Agent Serves Her People

“Miss Flora E. McElhinney, Home Demonstration Agent Houghton County, Michigan, is known throughout her own state and other states for the wonderful work she did for the people of her county during the influenza epidemic of the past two winters. Disregarding the protests of friends, Miss McElhinney went right out into the community that was suffering most from the disease and nursed back to health more than two hundred patients who had to be without the attention of a physician. This brave woman surmounted the greatest difficulties. When the snow was so deep that a horse could not go through, her driver, Mr. George Renti, tramped the snow down to make a path and they went through. When no other means was possible, Miss McElhinney tramped in snow, waist-deep, to get to her patients. When trains were not running, she and her helper braved the storm on a speeder (a small gasoline-powered cart) down the railroad track”.

Makeshift hospital for 1918 Spanish Influenza patients

“The first year of the epidemic, Miss McElhinney established a hospital in the town hall of the community. Patients were moved to the hospital on their own mattress and with their own bedding. The mattress was placed on four camp chairs and this served as a bed. Each bed was screened off and as many as eighty-seven patients were cared for at one time with the assistance of two nurses. More than two hundred and eighty patients were cared for in this way”.

Woman suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Last year, Miss McElhinney felt that her work would be more lasting if she could go right into the homes, take care of the patients and teach the members of the family how to give the medicine and necessary attention themselves. As many as ten in one family were stricken”.

Bedridden children suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Sixteen days and nights with an average of one hour’s rest was her extraordinary record during the ravages of the disease. Two hundred and eighty-five patients were nursed back to health, one hundred of whom had pneumonia, as they did not send for help in time. One boy’s life was saved by working all night over him producing artificial respiration.

One of the young men of the community, Mr. George Renti, gave up his work and accompanied Miss McElhinney in her visits to act as interpreter for many of the people who could not speak English, to lead the faithful old horse through the snowdrifts, to drive the car or run the spade, and to him, Miss McElhinney says, much of the credit is due.

To have given aid in a time of need was a wonderful work, but that has not been the end. The lessons in home nursing learned in the community at that time will be lasting. The need for fresh air and hygienic living were lessons that are still put into practice, and the love and devotion of a grateful people have been gained. The community would do anything in the world for Miss McElhinney, and it is thus that one Home Demonstration Agent has reached her people”.

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1921, Page 290; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.