1918 - 1919 Flu Epidemic
What was the reaction of local Christian Scientists to the 1918 - 1919 flu epidemic? One source of information is from Christian Science War Time Activities: A Report to the Board of Directors of The Mother Church by The Christian Science Relief Committee, published in 1922. This report includes a letter from a medical officer at the hospital in Camp Beauregard, located in Pineville, Louisiana:
"I take the means of this letter to express to you as best I can, my appreciation of your help and assistance during this trying situation in camp.
When you offered your services in the beginning of this critical situation, we needed help upon whom we could depend. We were a little surprised at your offer, not at all on account of the man from whom it came, but we did not know how your people's views were along the lines of such humanitarian work as you have done here.
I felt that everything was as it should be in my absence with you as Ward Master. One thing I want to say to you, a thing that I appreciate, while your position as Ward Master would have safeguarded you against any orderly duties of the hospital, -- the thing necessary to be done, was the thing you did.
Again thanking you for your faithful and fearless work during this serious time, I am,
"Your friend." Christian Science War Time Activities, page 343.
According to the Louisiana National Guard Museums, the influenza infection rate at Camp Beauregard during World War I was greater than 50%. It was more deadly than the high rates of pneumonia, meningitis, mumps, measles, hookworm, and malaria. The volunteering Christian Scientists were possibly uplifted by the following article appearing in the Christian Science Sentinel from April 12, 1919, and which was a reprint of a news article from California's Oakland Enquirer about experiments at Goat Island by Navy doctors studying the 1918 flu epidemic. The story told was that 50 sailors volunteered for an experiment where they were exposed to the flu in every way believed to cause the disease so the medical staff could study its transmission and development. The article concluded:
"But no cases developed among these fifty sailors! These men had been inoculated; they had been exposed to the disease in every manner; they had breathed in the germs and eaten and slept with flu victims, and not one of them became infected! The medical men confessed themselves baffled. . . . The explanation, however, is simplicity itself, for it was proved by each one of these fifty young men. These fifty young men volunteered to act as subjects upon which to be experimented. This showed clearly that they did not fear the disease. In other words, they could not acquire what they did not fear. Since their fear of the disease was gone, the disease was absolutely nonexistent, even though every effort was made to force it on them.. . . .Medical men are now acknowledging this condition. They are the first to tell patients to eliminate fear. When this is done, their work is done. There would be no cases of influenza if every person in the state would do as these fifty Goat Island sailors did; namely, eliminate fear of the disease." - "The experiments made at Goat Island by Navy doctors. . .," from the April 12, 1919 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel
This fearlessness was expressed by the local Christian Scientists, who continued to press on, holding church services when permitted by law. (All New Orleans churches were closed by the city from the second week of October 1918 - November 3, 1918. "100 years ago, the Spanish flu pandemic tore through New Orleans in three terrifying weeks," by John Magill, The Historic New Orleans Collection, March 27, 2020)
Shortly after this pandemic, First Church of Christ, Scientist, New Orleans, was dedicated at a Sunday service in its present uptown location on October 5, 1919. In the words of the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science:
"Every trial of our faith in God makes us stronger. The more difficult seems the material condition to be overcome by Spirit, the stronger should be our faith and the purer our love. The Apostle John says: “There is no fear in Love, but perfect Love casteth out fear. . . . He that feareth is not made perfect in Love.” Here is a definite and inspired proclamation of Christian Science." - Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, page 410:14