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A Silent Killer of Epidemic Proportions: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community

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journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2000, 00:00 by Jessica S. Merlin

The numbers are mind-boggling: approximately 550,000 Americans, most between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-nine, died a miserable death from influenza in 1918 and 1919.1 This is significantly greater than the number of American casualties of World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. The Influenza Epidemic, however, is often called a "silent killer." Barely discussed by newspapers of the day and far from the forefront of our nation's memory, it remains buried in history.

With this paper, I hope to contribute to the limited but important body of contemporary historical research on the epidemic. There is an especially small amount of research on the social history of the epidemic within ethnic communities; thus, I concentrate on its trajectory through Pittsburgh's socially divided Jewish community. This community, like most others, ignored the epidemic until it had already taken a severe toll. What are the broader implications of this case study? Could early attention and action in response to this medical crisis have saved lives?


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The Sloping Halls Review, Vol. 7, Copyright © College of Humanities and Social Science, Carnegie Mellon University



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