The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 3-Society Pages and Local News

pr10498
Children ready for school during the 1918 flu epidemic-Image courtesy of Florida Memory

Over the last 2 months, we’ve discussed varying aspects of the 1918 flu pandemic. Beyond front pages, which predominately present national updates on the flu, there are other sections of our papers where the gravity of the influenza pandemic becomes undeniable; notably the society page. In our blog we’ve previously discussed women’s/society pages at length, but, as a refresher, society sections are regularly occurring columns in newspapers that cover issues including parties, women’s clubs, social visits from out of town, and other issues that were considered to relate to the domestic sphere. Additionally, some newspapers papers had broad local news sections. During height of the pandemic, the flu was often mentioned in those columns as well as in the society sections. In this post we’ll highlight content from society and local news sections of our papers to contextualize the effect of the pandemic on towns and cities in Florida.

In her book on the pandemic, Kristy Duncan points out that “in the United States, the 1918 influenza pandemic caused 550,000 deaths, widespread social disruption, and enormous burdens on health care and civil infrastructure” (Duncan 4-5). While this number is shocking, it is perhaps so large that it obfuscates the individual and local impact the flu made in Florida. Society pages really bring to light the intimate labor associated with caring for the sick as well as the mourning that occurred when loved ones succumbed to the disease.

In The Pensacola journal, which has the most consistent society page of our collection, readers will notice an uptick in reports of illness beginning at the end of September 1918. One particularly telling report is about a Lieutenant Cyester Smith, who had just returned from overseas duty only to find himself in a naval hospital in Virginia with pneumonia. For many affected by the flu, pneumonia followed with deadly consequences. While we are certainly speculating as to if Lieutenant Smith had the flu, it fits the timeline presented by Duncan. In her book, she notes “in September, the disease swept Europe. Returning troop carried flu home. In North America, servicemen disembarked from crowded ships at Atlantic ports only to board trains that would take them, along with flu, inland to cities, villages, and farms from Newfoundland to California” (Duncan 8). By mid-October 1918, nearly every issue of The Pensacola journal contained reports of illnesses, recoveries, and deaths attributed to flu and pneumonia. The overwhelming number of reports on this same topic demonstrate the spread of the disease to and around Pensacola.

Red Flu Highlight
The Pensacola journal-October 10, 1918

 

Interestingly, along with the flu epidemic we see a more regularly occurring section of The Pensacola journal: the obituary column. Prior to the 1918 flu pandemic, obituaries sporadically appeared in the paper, but the sheer number of deaths associated with influenza necessitated running it much more frequently. During this time, there are an almost overwhelming number of obituaries related to deaths attributed to either pneumonia or influenza. Following the end of the pandemic, the column remained in the paper, appearing on a regular basis.

PJ Obituary
The Pensacola journal-October 10, 1918

 

The society and local sections of The Lakeland evening telegram, while not quite as robust as The Pensacola journal, also provide snapshots into how influenza affected Lakeland. Similarly, by mid-October these sections were inundated with reports of sick citizens as well as reports of those that had passed away. Uniquely, on several occasions the paper also includes a report by the acting city Health Officer about the number of new flu cases in the city. The Lakeland evening telegram also opened up about their own struggle to produce the paper in the face of sickness and asked subscribers to “try to be as good-natured as you can” if “your paper is late, or if the substitute carrier boy misses you.”

29 New Cases Spanish Influenza
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 15, 1918

On a practical level, society sections are exceptionally useful for historians and genealogists trying to locate information on specific people.  It is worth mentioning that not all deaths were reported in society sections and, given the fact that our papers were written by and for the white populations of cities, African American deaths by and large aren’t mentioned or, if they are, they are reported without the use of specific names. Even with a subject as macabre as the 1918 flu pandemic, the society page sheds light on the day-to-day lives of people living where our newspapers were published.

We’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed our series on the 1918 flu pandemic.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

Advertisements

“Ship Went Down With All On Board”: Remembering the USS Tampa

NH 1226
Photograph of the USS Tampa courtesy of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

As the end of the centennial of World War I approaches (November 11, 2018), it is important to recognize that while the major loss of human life was on land in such terrible battles as Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, and the Argonne, tens of thousands of men and women died as a result of the war at sea.  Americans who know about this aspect of the war might point to the German sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania—the sister ship of the Titanic—on May 7, 1915, as the most famous naval incident of the war: 1,198 out of 1,900 people onboard died, including 128 Americans; the sinking dramatically increased anti-German sentiment in the United States and contributed to the eventual American decision to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917. While the sinking of the Lusitania resulted in a terrible loss of civilian life, the worst American military loss at sea occurred in the final months of the war on September 26, 1918, when a German U-boat sank the USS Tampa off the coast of Britain. The sinking killed everyone on board the Tampa: 131 men died, 34 of them Floridians.

The story of the Tampa began in 1912 when the ship, originally christened as the US Revenue Cutter Miami, was launched at Newport News, Virginia on February 10 that year. Weighing 1,181 tons and 190 feet in length, the steam and sail vessel was armed with three 6-pound guns. After initial trial voyages off Virginia and Maryland, the Miami was stationed for coastal duty in Key West. The vessel also took part in iceberg patrols in the North Atlantic following the sinking of the Titanic on April 14, 1912. In January 1915, the US Revenue Cutter Service merged with the US Life Saving Service to form the US Coast Guard. As a result, the Miami became one of the first ships in the modern Coast Guard. On February 1, 1916, while serving in Tampa Bay during the Gasparilla festival, the Miami was renamed the Tampa and continued to serve off of Florida and the North Atlantic.

USS Miami added to fleet
The Pensacola journal-February 11, 1912

Following America’s entry into the war in April 1917, the Coast Guard transferred its cutters to the command of the US Navy. The USS Tampa retained the same officers and crew, but the ship was outfitted with new weapons and features to combat German U-boats, which were sinking large numbers of American and Allied ships off the coasts of Europe and North America. On September 29, 1917, the Tampa left New York for Europe. The ship took up its new station at Gibraltar and spent the next year escorting convoys of merchant ships through U-boat infested waters from Gibraltar to Britain. During this time, the Tampa spent 50 percent of its service at sea. The Navy commended the Tampa for its “excellent record” of service.

Florida Memory 324723
Algy Bevins in uniform aboard the USCGC Tampa courtesy of Florida Memory

Among the young crew of the Tampa was Seaman Algy Knox Bevins of Davenport, Florida. Algy joined the Coast Guard in 1916 and first served aboard the USCG dredge Barnard stationed at Key West and Jacksonville. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany, Algy entered the Navy and was transferred to the Tampa. Serving onboard with his brother, Arthur, Algy wrote to his parents a week after joining the Tampa, describing his duties and assuring them of his safety:

Both Arthur and myself are in the cutter service. We have enlisted for one year and have been aboard one week today. It is way ahead of the Barnard for we are getting a little more money than the dredge was paying and at the same time traveling a little and serving Uncle Sam. I am [firing] and Art is passing coal. There is a good chance for advancement which the Barnard did not offer. . . . The cutter is not like the regular navy yet we are under the navy now. Our duties is life [saving] and coast guarding. Something which there is very little danger [encompassed] with the regular service. [Don’t] worry about us for we both like it and there is nothing to worry about.

Almost a year later, writing from Europe, the brothers continued to reassure their parents of their safety:

Both well etc. and going about our duties without any fears and it strikes me that if we can see nothing to be afraid of why you all should [have no] great cause to worry. The danger is no more here than in any other industry back home so just put those petty fears aside and look on the bright side always.

U-53
The Pensacola journal-October 13, 1916

The brothers were right. Serving aboard an escort ship was relatively safe. The real danger of U-boat attack came to unescorted ships sailing unattached to a convoy. Unfortunately, although the odds of a U-boat launching a successful attack on the Tampa were slight, the risk of an attack was always present. For the Bevins brothers and rest of the crew of the Tampa that risk became real on September 26, 1918, when U-boat UB-91 found the ship in its sights on a foggy night as the Tampa made its way into the Bristol Channel off England. The submarine fired one torpedo that hit the Tampa’s stern. Other ships in the convoy that the Tampa was escorting heard a loud explosion, and the Tampa was never seen again. The ship went down with no survivors. Only a single body was found among a few pieces of wreckage.

Ship went down with all on board
The Ocala evening star-October 3, 1918

Florida newspapers brought news of the shocking loss to their readers. The Navy did not make the sinking public until October 3. That day, the Ocala Evening Star ran the headline “Ship Went Down With All on Board,” but was unable to provide many details besides noting that a submarine had sunk the Tampa off the English coast. On October 8, the Pensacola Journal reported the death of First Lieutenant J. T. Carr, the Tampa’s engineer officer who had been stationed in Pensacola before America went to war. Two days later, on October 10, the Punta Gorda Herald noted the loss of the Tampa was especially tragic for the ship’s namesake town as nineteen crew members came from that city. The paper bemoaned, “Thus are the horrors of war brought home to us all.” Such an attack, the Herald declared, made a mockery of Germany’s recent peace overtures—on October 5, the German government declared its willingness to negotiate peace terms. “Unconditional surrender,” the newspaper argued, “is the best terms she [Germany] should receive.” The Lakeland Evening Telegram covered a touching memorial ceremony held for Bert Lane, a Lakeland native, whose life had ended on the Tampa, and who had “laid down his life for the cause of his country.” This tribute would have been repeated across the state as Floridians mourned the loss of so many of their young men.

Fitting memorial for Bert Lane
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 10, 1918

Citations and Additional Sources

American Legion, “Our Name Sake “U.S.S. Tampa” and Her Legacy.” http://www.post5tampa.org/history.html.

Bevins Family Papers. State Archives of Florida. https://www.floridamemory.com/collections/bevins/.

Gonzalez, Robin Robson, Nancy J. Turner, and Jen Larcom. USCGC TAMPA Tampa’s Own: Pageantry, Protection & Patriotism. Tampa History Center. https://www.dropbox.com/s/ha7sjsbm7eo6mpf/booksofar.pdf?dl=0

Herscovici, Derek. Remember the Tampa! Tampa Magazine (July 28, 2016). http://thetampamagazine.com/remember-the-tampa-military-ship/.

Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 1226 USCGC Tampa. https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-01000/NH-1226.html

Unites Sates Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard History Program. U.S.S. Tampa, C.G. Casualty List, World War I. http://www.post5tampa.org/files/U.S.S._Tampa_Casualties_1918.pdf.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 2-Medical Advice and Questionable Cures

Coughs and Sneezes
The Pensacola journal-October 16, 1918

In our last blog we introduced the 1918 flu pandemic, discussed how the flu traveled through U.S. military camps during the last year of World War I, and briefly looked at how this topic was discussed in historical Florida newspapers. This seemingly unstoppable flu, which affected every segment of the population, stumped doctors and created a public health crisis. In this blog post, we’ll discuss attempts to limit the spread of the disease and some of the products that were incorrectly marketed as methods to prevent or cure the flu.

Responding to a public health crisis during wartime was no easy task for the U.S. Government. John M. Barry discusses the tension that existed between the need to downplay stories that would impact the morale of the American people and the very real health threat presented by the flu. He claims that newspapers helped downplay initial reports of the flu’s severity but, by late September 1918, there was no way to deny the presence of the flu in Florida and most other east-coast states. Around this time, articles begin to appear in our Florida papers, written by government agencies like the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) with recommendations on how to avoid the flu as well as how to treat it. One Government piece titled “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu” ran in many Florida papers including The Ocala evening star and The Nassau County leader. This article is particularly interesting because it explicitly talks about the King of Spain’s multiple bouts of influenza over the years and doubles down on the “Spanish Flu” name/origin. While some of the information about the flu itself is highly speculative, it does offers some practical advice to those helping the sick including that “no one but the nurse should be allowed in the room” and “care should be taken that all such discharges are collected on bits of gauze or rag or paper napkins and burned.” But the simple fact of the matter is many of the suggestions for avoiding disease transmission aren’t specific to the flu. This is likely due to the fact that “in 1918, the medical profession did not know what caused Spanish flu. And because they did not know the cause, it did not know to prevent the disease” (Duncan 11).

Safe expedients in home treatment
The Pensacola Journal-October 5, 1918

While the Federal government was certainly concerned with the flu, local governments and newspapers stepped in with their own suggestions and policies in an attempt to limit the impact of the epidemic in their areas. On the most basic end, we have examples like the fact that The Ocala evening star printed directions for making and properly wearing masks while attending to the sick multiple times during the height of the second wave of influenza. The Ocala evening star also ran a proclamation by the Mayor in early October 1918 titled “Concerning Measures Taken to Prevent Spread of Disease known as Spanish Influenza.” It mentions that “city health authorities have seen fit to close the schools, theaters, churches and other places of public assembly.” He also asks that people “avoid as far as possible gathering in crowds” and that parents “prevent as far as possible their children from going abroad.” He was not alone in his calls for “diligence to alleviate the situation.”

Ocala Mayor Proclamation
The Ocala evening star-October 9, 1918

Quarantines weren’t necessarily popular, but many local governments felt they were the most effective way to limit the spread of flu. As Kristy Duncan points out, medical practitioners “rightly assumed that the disease could be spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. Therefore many governments at all levels and on all continents enforced the closure of public areas where people might come into close contact with one another. They closed dance halls, schools, and libraries. Some North American cities shut YMCAs, ice-cream parlours, shoeshine parlours, candy stores, furniture stores, and churches (Duncan 11).” Quarantines were used throughout Florida during the height of the flu epidemic. Pensacola banned public gatherings even after the worst part of the epidemic had passed. While Orlando didn’t seem to have a quarantine, public officials told citizens that they needed to stop visiting neighbors or else it would “be necessary to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance” with a more enforceable quarantine. Schools were closed in many places, including Ocala and Lakeland. The Lakeland evening telegram is unique among our papers in that for one week in October they published the lessons students were missing due to the school closures. There’s no indication of if this section of the paper only ran for one week, (possibly because of illness among the teachers and/or students?), but it demonstrates that there were attempts to maintain some normalcy in the face of influenza.

Teachers assign lessons
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 23, 1918

Desperation and fear meant that people were willing to try just about anything to cure or prevent the flu. There are multiple articles in our papers explaining that the flu “doesn’t like lemons” or other citrus fruits. The Punta Gorda herald even claimed “unaccountable barrels of hot lemonade have been drunken to drown the flu germs” causing “a lemon shortage in America.” Brands were also quick to recognize that public concern surrounding this epidemic could be leveraged to sell “cures” to the public. Lack of regulation regarding patent medicines in the early 20th century allowed many products to claim to be effective flu remedies. Some companies, including Calotabs and Vicks VapoRub wrote ads that were intentionally designed to look like news articles touting the supposed efficacy of their products against the flu. Others, like Foley’s Honey and Tar, adopted a more standard advertising format to encourage consumers to buy their products. Even after the threat of the “Spanish Flu” had passed, memory of and fear of another epidemic probably influenced companies like Peruna and Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic to include flu in the list of diseases and ailments they claimed their products protected against.

Peruna as flu relief
The Pensacola journal-June 22, 1919

The best cure for the flu was ultimately time, but many people succumbed to the disease or complications caused by it before their body could successfully fight off the virus. Fear of the flu and the desperation that came with it resulted in governmental willingness to resort to quarantines and the willingness of private citizens to turn to cures like eating excessive amounts of citrus. Join us next month for the culmination of our series on the 1918 flu pandemic.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic Part 1-World War I and the “Spanish Flu”

4th Liberty Loan
The Pensacola journal-September 29, 1918

2018 marks the centennial of an event that is almost forgotten in our collective memory: the 1918 influenza pandemic. Over the next few months, we’ll feature stories about this global health catastrophe, focusing on how newspapers in Florida covered the topic. This first post will contemplate the origins of this pandemic, specifically looking at how it affected the ongoing war effort in the closing months of World War I.

Most of us know what influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is. We may associate it with symptoms which include fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, and more, which can appear abruptly.  While doctors and researchers do their best to anticipate world-wide flu trends to thwart the virus today, it acts in unpredictable ways. In 1918, medical science was even less equipped to handle a particularly aggressive flu strain that “swept the world in three great waves and killed an estimated 20 million-40 million people in just one year” according to Kristy Duncan, a professor at the University of Toronto and Canada’s Minister of Science (Duncan 3).

In the United States, the disease went by many names including the “Spanish Flu.” Despite the name, the flu didn’t start in Spain, but, because Spain was neutral in WWI, the press in that country covered events surrounding the burgeoning epidemic much more thoroughly than nations embroiled in the conflict. Those involved in the war didn’t want to give any indication of weakness to their enemies, and the flu epidemic certainly weakened every country it affected. In Florida and other states, people even speculated that the sickness was actually spread by Germany to weaken the war effort in America. While multiple theories as to the flu’s origin exist, there is no scientific consensus about where it truly started.

Speculation Germans caused disease
The Lakeland evening telegram-October 18, 1918

What we do know is that conditions associated with WWI military camps, which included soldiers living in close quarters and increased travel due to the war, facilitated the spread of the disease. In America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 Alfred W. Crosby notes that “On September 11, the Sox won the World Championship, the navy announced that the pandemic had killed 26 sailors in and around Boston, and the first flu cases were recognized among navy personnel in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, and Illinois” (Crosby 46). Within two weeks of September 11, 1918, front page stories emerge in The Pensacola journal, The Lakeland evening telegram, and The Ocala evening star about instances of influenza spreading in military camps throughout the United States. Despite the need for new troops, by late September 1918 there were talks of suspending the draft due to the unrelenting spread of influenza. Nationwide, doctors recognized the need for quarantine in the face of a disease that was killing segments of the population who normally didn’t succumb to the flu.

Epidemic Expands-Ocala
The Ocala evening star-September 20, 1918

The 1918 influenza pandemic affected the entire globe-but when did it get to Florida? A map in Crosby’s book shows that the that the epidemic started on Florida’s west coast between September 21-28 and the east coast between September 28-October 5 (Crosby 65). Troops stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola were affected by the outbreak, as were people living in nearby Pensacola. In September, Dr. Paul Mossman of the U.S. Public Health Service visited Pensacola and made recommendations to both the military and businesses, like restaurants and theaters, about to how to limit the further spread of the flu. Despite his recommendations, by mid-October, the F.D. Sanders, mayor of Pensacola, requested that Captain Bennett, commander of the Naval Air Station, prevent “large numbers of sailors” from visiting the city due to the epidemic. That’s not to say soldiers didn’t help the town during the flu, in one story, service men were thanked for stepping in to serve as telephone operators during the crisis.

Service Men make good relief phone operators
The Pensacola journal-October 13, 1918
Mobile bans kissing
The Pensacola journal-October 9, 1918

Soldiers were often prevented from going on leave, while others that were able to do so got sick while away from their stations. But the flu disrupted more than just the lives of those serving in the military. The pandemic also threatened the 4th Liberty Bond campaign, which ran during October 1918. Previous Liberty Bond drives depended on publicity campaigns which included airplane exhibitions and rallies with celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. With a deadly flu pandemic raging, public gatherings, while potentially beneficial to the war effort, were also a huge public health risk. Some cities, including Mobile, Alabama, banned all public gatherings “including Liberty Loan rallies.” Despite this risk, supporters in Pensacola rallied during mid-October to raise needed funds. The city was ultimately successfully, as was the overall campaign, but it should be noted the same jubilant edition of the paper also contains a society section full of notices about local people recovering from the flu.

Pensacola 4th Liberty Loan
The Pensacola journal-October 20, 1918

The effects of the 1918 flu pandemic touched every segment of society. We have better numbers on the extent to which it affected the U.S. military during WWI than perhaps any other part of society. Crosby claims “the United States Navy, which had more accurate knowledge on its sailors than the USPHS did about civilians, estimated that perhaps as high as 40 percent of naval personnel had flu in 1918. Three hundred and sixty-one of every thousand soldiers in the United States in the same year were officially admitted to treatment as flu patients” (205). It is not surprising then, that many articles in our papers discuss the flu in relation to the ongoing war effort.

Citations and Additional Sources

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Byerly, Carol R. “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.” Public Health Reports 2010; 125 (Suppl 3): 82-91. Accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.

Crosby, Alfred W. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Duncan, Kirsty. Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Gunderman, Richard. “The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago-but many of us still get the basic facts wrong.” The Conversation, January 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/the-greatest-pandemic-in-history-was-100-years-ago-but-many-of-us-still-get-the-basic-facts-wrong-89841.

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

Our Man in Havana: Governor William Sherman Jennings and the Inauguration of Cuban Independence

UF00102111
Photograph of William Sherman Jennings courtesy of UFDC

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

The reestablishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in 2015 marked the end of an era in U.S.-Cuba relations that began with the victory of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in 1959. During that period, Florida played a pivotal role in the tensions between the two countries. The state was the main exit and settlement point for two massive Cuban migrations—one in 1959–1960 and a second in 1980—and the frontline in the Cold War between the two nations. Fifty-seven years earlier, in 1902, Florida also played an important role at the start of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, when Governor William Sherman Jennings attended the inauguration of Cuba’s first president, an event that launched modern Cuba’s tenuous independence from U.S. rule.

Cuban president Tomás Estrada Palma’s inauguration on May 20, 1902 was the culmination of a series of dramatic events. The United States occupied Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898. The result of which included Spain turning over control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Unlike those islands, which the United States controlled as territories—the Philippines gained independence in 1946—Cuba was to be granted independence after a brief period of American occupation (1898–1902). The United States, then under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, was not about to allow Cuba true independence, however. Cuba’s size, agricultural wealth, and strategic location—the island provided a vital shipping and defense link between the United States and the future Panama Canal—encouraged the United States to maintain its dominant influence in Cuba. The Platt Amendment outlined limited Cuba’s limited ability to enjoy diplomatic and economic independence and gave the United States the right to establish what is now the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Cuba is Free
The Ocala evening star-May 21, 1902

These issues were not on the mind of Florida governor William Sherman Jennings when he was invited to attend the inauguration of Cuba’s first president in May 1902. Elected as a moderate progressive in 1900, Jennings was a hardworking, ambitious governor who focused on balancing Florida’s budget and creating plans for the drainage of the Everglades that his successor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, would ultimately undertake. A competent but rather bland figure, Governor Jennings benefited from his relationship to his cousin William Jennings Bryan, one of the most captivating and influential turn of the century American politicians.

Bryan, a youthful congressman and outsider, won over the 1896 Democratic Party convention with his fiery “Cross of Gold” speech in which he lambasted corporate interests and pushed for free silver coinage as a way to grow the economy in favor of farmers and workers rather than the gold standard, which he believed benefited the wealthy and big business. Bryan won the Democratic nomination for president in 1896 but lost that contest and the one in 1900 to Republican William McKinley. Despite these defeats, Bryan, known to his supporters as the “Great Commoner,” remained immensely popular and continued to dominate the populist-anti-imperialist wing—Bryan opposed American control of the Philippines and other conquests from the war with Spain—of the Democratic Party.

Happy to see the United States allow Cubans their independence, Bryan enthusiastically attended President-Elect Palma’s inauguration. He did so as a private citizen in the pay of Collier’s Weekly magazine, which wanted to cover the inaugural events for its readers through the eyes of the Great Commoner. Governor Jennings and his family accompanied the famous man on the journey, but unlike Bryan, Jennings did so in his official capacity—he was the first sitting Florida governor to travel overseas—and hoped to show his state’s support for the new nation by ending Florida’s annual summer quarantine of travel from Cuba, a policy enacted to prevent the spread of yellow fever from the island to Florida.

Arriving in Havana from Miami on May 15, 1902, Jennings headed a large delegation from Florida. He and Bryan spent the days before the inauguration in a series of meetings with American and Cuban officials, touring Havana, and giving interviews to reporters. The governor was quick to point out to the press that the main purpose of his visit was not the inauguration, but the inspection of the progress of sanitation measures in the fight against yellow fever. During its occupation of the island, the U.S. Army, under the command of General Leonard Wood, undertook sanitary work in Havana and other cites to combat yellow fever and other diseases. President-Elect Palma assured Jennings that his government was committed to continuing the sanitation improvements made by the Americans: “. . . you people in Florida need have no fear that yellow fever, that dreaded scourge, will find any foothold again in this island . . . I intend to spare no pains or expense in keeping Havana and other cities free from it.” Palma, as reported in the Titusville Florida Star, also praised Florida for its support for Cuban independence: ‘“The history of Cuba’s success was written on the Florida sands, and the Florida keys opened the door to Cuban liberty. Key West is a ward of Havana, being nearer to Cuba in point of time than it is to the mainland of Florida.”

Governor Jennings to Cuba
The Florida star-May 16, 1902
UF00094876
Scrapbook from UFDC

 

Governor Jennings reciprocated in this outpouring of good will. He praised Palma’s leadership and was confident that the Cuban people would soon develop the habits of democratic government: “The loyalty and patriotism of this people has been well tested and established and I have every confidence that they will see to the interests and public welfare of the new republic.” While preferring to wait unit he returned to Florida to evaluate his impressions of Cuban sanitation facilities, Governor Jennings said that it was likely that Florida would end its annual quarantine of Cuba now that the island had the yellow fever problem under control. After attending Palma’s inauguration on May 20, Jennings and his party returned to Florida confident that Cuba had made a good start in its independence.

Last Resort of Yellow Jack
The Pensacola journal-August 9, 1905

That independence was conditional, however. The Cuban government had to enshrine the conditions of the Platt Amendment in its constitution and in a treaty with the United States. It was clear that the United States would not tolerate any foreign or domestic threats to its influence in Cuba. When opponents of Palma contested his reelection in 1905 and engaged in violent acts against his government, he called on the Unites States to protect his regime. In 1906, President Roosevelt sent U.S. troops back to Cuba, beginning a second period of occupation that lasted for three years. The United States continued to dominate the island until 1959, when the victory of the Castro-led revolution led to the break in relations that did not resume until 2015. As it did during Governor Jennings’s time, Florida continues to play a pivotal role in U.S.-Cuban affairs.

Citations and Additional Sources

Murphree, Boyd. “William Sherman Jennings, 1901–1905.” Unpublished chapter for a forthcoming book on Florida’s governors with the University Press of Florida.

William Sherman Jennings Papers. Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Extra! Extra! More pages of historical Florida newspapers added to Chronicling America!

Extra! Extra! More pages of historical Florida newspapers added to Chronicling America!

That’s right, in the past week almost 16,000 new pages of content from The Florida agriculturalist, The Lakeland evening telegram, and our new paper, the Key West citizen, were made available for your viewing pleasure. Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll encounter in these papers.

First, we’ve completed our run of The Lakeland evening telegram so the entirety of this newspaper is available on Chronicling America! This batch covers January 1, 1921 through August 31, 1922. We’re absolutely thrilled to complete this title.

Air Fleet Rum Runners LET 02201922
The Lakeland evening telegram-February 20, 1922

The Florida agriculturist (Deland) may sound vaguely familiar if you’ve spent time on Chronicling America. That’s because until now, November 1905 through August 1906 were available on this platform. The recently uploaded batches add May 15, 1878 through December 15, 1889 as well as the years 1890, 1893, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1899, and 1906-1911. What’s with all the gaps? Other years of this paper are available in the Florida Digital Newspaper Library and Hathi Trust. This paper also reports on agriculture in general, shipping and railroad schedules, and other topics of interest to Florida’s farming communities.

FA cover April 1 1910
The Florida agriculturalist-April 1, 1910
FA Economic Insects 07121893
The Florida agriculturalist-July 12, 1893

We’re particularly excited to search though the Key West citizen because it includes February-August 1926, October-December 1932, and January-August 1933 which is our first foray into post-1922 content. Selected issues of this paper are also available in the Florida Digital Newspaper Library.

Roosevelt Elected

The Key West citizen-November 9, 1932

Air Race for Lady Birds
The Key West citizen-June 23, 1933

These are just the first two batches of content in Phase 3 of our project, and we have plenty more coming!

The Governor, the Swamp, and “Fake News”: Napoleon Bonaparte Broward’s Battle to Drain the Everglades and His War on the Press

UF00102917_00003_00001
Photograph of Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward from UFDC

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

American politicians have always had a love-hate relationship with the press. The current presidential row with the media, while extreme, has plenty of historical antecedents. Thomas Jefferson, a resolute defender of a free press, was not so complimentary to newspapers of his day when he was president. Dismayed by attacks on his administration, he lamented, ‘”Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”” Florida history also has many examples of conflict between chief executives and the media. John Milton, governor during the Civil War, accused unfavorable newspapers of treason and recommended to the legislature that “no Yankee of doubtful character be permitted to edit a public journal at the South. An editor can insidiously influence the minds of thoughtless men against the good of the country.” A much more publicized example of a clash between a Florida governor and the media came forty-six years after Milton’s newspaper flap when Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, angry over opposition to his plan to drain the Everglades, called for censorship of the state’s press.

One of the most colorful characters to sit in the governor’s chair, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward—his name proclaimed ambition and action—fought to transform Florida by draining and reclaiming the vast wetlands of the Everglades for agricultural and homestead development. Like his contemporary Teddy Roosevelt, Broward was a supremely energetic and charismatic leader—both were strong, sturdy men with large mustaches—who thought big. Roosevelt had his Panama Canal while Broward dreamed of dredging “the Swamp” to transform Florida’s economy. They also had large families: Roosevelt had six children and Broward had nine kids.

Born outside of Jacksonville on April 19, 1857, Broward, like Teddy Roosevelt, led an adventurous early life. Broward was a sailor, steamboat captain, and lawman, serving for several years as the sheriff of Duval County. His exploits in that position made him a leading figure in Duval Democratic politics, where he was a leader of the progressive or “Straightout” faction of Democrats who opposed the influence of corporations, especially railroads, in Florida politics. Broward became a statewide and even nationally recognized name in 1896, when he captained a large tugboat named the Three Friends on gunrunning or filibustering voyages to Cuba in support of the revolution against Spain. Press accounts of his Cuban exploits made him a popular if exasperating figure—in 1896 the United States was trying to remain neutral in the Cuban conflict that eventually led to the Spanish American War—who ended his gun running days as a hero to many. Capitalizing on his popularity, Broward was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1900 and won the governorship in 1904.

Filibusters Siezed
The Ocala evening star-June 30, 1896

Broward waged a populist campaign, lambasting the powerful railroads and special interests. His most dramatic message by far, however, was his promise to pursue the drainage and reclamation of the Everglades as a way of transforming South Florida, which had far less population and political clout in those days, and Florida’s economy. Broward even carried a state map to campaign rallies so he could point out to the crowds the boundaries of his proposed drainage district. During his inauguration on January 3, 1905, he reiterated his campaign stand on the Everglades, promising to “convert what is now unsurveyed waste land into a state asset more valuable than all the lands now under cultivation within her borders.”

Broward Inaugural Address
The Pensacola journal-January 4, 1905

After touring the Everglades in February to gather facts and figures for his upcoming address to the legislature on drainage, he delivered his message on the topic on May 3, 1905. The governor detailed the political, legal, and engineering history of past efforts to reclaim the Everglades for development. He argued that railroads and canal companies opposed the drainage plan on land that the state had granted to them in previous administrations: the vast extent of the Everglades was mostly “swamp and overflowed” lands that the federal government had granted to Florida since the 1850s. The state, in turn, granted land to railroads and other companies for transportation improvements, but the companies controlled vast amounts of undeveloped Everglades land that they refused to turn back over to the state for Broward’s drainage effort. Broward insisted that the public good and past court cases allowed the state to drain those lands. He proposed establishing a massive drainage district across much of South Florida to raise revenue to pay for the drainage project, which would be placed into law through a state constitutional amendment.

Governor Broward devoted most of his time during the rest of his term to establishing the drainage district and began dredging the Everglades. He campaigned hard to get the public to pass the drainage amendment. Although there was public and political support for his drainage plan, as the months went by, opposition to the project gained strength as critics challenged the cost and questioned the feasibility of the undertaking. Broward debated the merits of his plan with opponents and spoke across the state to win over the public; however, voters turned down the constitutional amendment in November 1906. The Governor was still able to pursue drainage through legislative bills, but he was disappointed and angry that his project had not been made “permanent” through constitutional amendment. For this failure, he did not blame the public, but pointed to his old corporate enemies and the newspapers they influenced—he would have said controlled—as the real culprits responsible for railroading his amendment.

Broward-Beard Debate
The Pensacola journal-August 21, 1906

As a result, during the 1907 session of the state legislature, Broward delivered an attack on those newspapers that he believed had used false and slanderous stories to convince voters not to support the drainage amendment. In what he called “The Right of the Public to Correct Information,” the governor pointed to Jacksonville’s Florida-Times Union and a handful of other newspapers as the puppets of the railroads and the main publications responsible for spreading false information about his drainage project. He described newspaper cartoons ridiculing him and his drainage plan as uncalled for, untruthful, and malicious: one cartoon depicted a bloated, gun-toting Broward taking the public school fund from a little girl in order to pay for his depleted “Drainage Scheme.”  Unamused, Governor Broward called for legislation to combat this scourge of “fake news” though appropriate punishments for newspapers, owners, editors, and reporters who intentionally published false information. He appealed to “that great jury, the people,” as the only opinion that mattered, and who should not be allowed to be misinformed and deceived by false information presented as fact.

VID00006_00004
The Florida times-union-October 4, 1906

The press, of course, was not enthusiastic about Broward’s call for censorship. Newspapers across the state denounced his message as unconstitutional and even deranged. The Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat compared the governor’s stance to that of a schoolyard bully, “overgrown and loudmouthed.” While the Tampa Tribune (quoted in the True Democrat) called his message on newspapers “full of the evil intolerance and despotic utterances of a czar.” The paper went on to question the governor’s sanity: “That any sane man with the liberal and democratic environment of the twentieth century should be capable of a deliberate attack upon the freedom of the press is, we confess, quite beyond our powers to understand . . . Is it possible that the Governor allows a petty vindictiveness to control him?” The massive reaction against his censorship proposal encouraged the legislature not to pass any of Broward’s recommendations on punishing the press. Governor Broward continued to push his drainage plan for the rest of his term. After leaving office, he ran for the Unites States Senate in 1910, winning the primary but dying of illness brought on by exhaustion before he could take office. As the Ocala Evening Star observed, “A Mighty Man Has Fallen.” Successor administrations built on Broward’s drainage efforts, oblivious, until too late, to the tremendous environmental damage that development caused. Broward’s battle to “drain the Swamp” had long-lasting negative and unforeseen consequences.

Citations and Additional Sources

Jefferson quoted in Ryan Mattimore, “Presidential Feuds With the Media Are Nothing New,” History, January 26, 2018 (accessed on June 22, 2018, at https://www.history.com/news/presidents-relationship-with-press).

John Milton quote in “Special Message of the Governor,” December 5, 1861, Florida House Journal, 1861, p. 183 (accessed on June 22, 2018, at http://sb.flleg.gov/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm$vid=House:all).

On Broward’s life, including his relationship with Teddy Roosevelt, see Samuel Proctor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward: Florida’s Fighting Democrat (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1950).

Broward’s message on newspapers is in “The Right of the Public to Correct Information,” in “Message of the Governor, April 2, 1907, Appendix, Florida House Journal, 1907, 64‒70 (accessed on June 22, 2018, at http://sb.flleg.gov/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates&fn=default.htm$vid=House:all).

The cartoon, map image, and photos of Broward are located in the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Papers in the University of Florida Smathers Libraries Special and Area Studies Collections (http://web.uflib.ufl.edu/spec/pkyonge/Broward.htm). Digital copies of these items and much more from his papers are in the University of Florida’s Digital Collections under The Floridians.

For a popular history of the Everglades see Michael Grunwald, The Swamp (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).