In 1918, People Protested Having To Wear Masks and the “Anti-Mask League” Was Born

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If you’re a person who studies and knows your history, this article probably isn’t going to surprise you. There really is nothing new under the sun, and the majority of human beings don’t evolve all that quickly (or at all). We’re very similar to those who founded democracy in Greece, to those who conquered the world for Rome, to those who kidnapped and sold men into slavery – and to our forebearers who did great things, and made good decisions, too.

We’re in the middle of a burning, deadly pandemic right now, but we’re not the first human beings to find ourselves in this situation – we’re not even the first Americans, of course, because in 1918-1919, the Spanish flu (a strain of H1N1) decimated the country.

Many of the same social distancing techniques we’re undertaking now were recommended at the time – and, like today, people quickly grew tired of being told what to do.

In early 1919, people in San Francisco were cautiously optimistic that they were coming out the other end when they learned that a second wave of the influenza was choking the city. Authorities were once again requiring the use of masks in public in order to stop the growing spread of the disease.

While most people in San Fran got back to work organizing mask-sewing events and wearing the required PPE in public, there were some who stubbornly refused – even though police were handing out fines and even putting people like John Raggi in jail.

Read the article in the San Francisco Chronicle,

“John Raggi, arrested on Columbus Avenue, said he did not wear a mask because he did not believe in masks or ordinances, or even jail.

He now has no occasion to disbelieve in jails.

He is in the city prison.”

Oof. Stone cold journalism right there.

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We should be diligent and learn from history, this was the Spanish flu of 1918 and lasted over a year. The second pic is what happened when people decided to ignore the precautions. #history #spanishflu1918 #spanishflupandemic #learnfromourpast #covıd19mood #awareness

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Out of people’s frustration at the return to required face coverings, the Anti-Mask League was born. Emma Harrington, a lawyer (and San Fransisco’s first female voter in 1911), chaired the league, which saw two thousand people attend the first meeting.

They struggled to come up with common, actionable goals – some wanted to organize a petition, some wanted government health officials to be fired – and the fact that the mask-wearing seemed to be helping really did nothing to further their cause.

The day before the renewed decree to wear masks, there were 510 new cases and 50 deaths, but after just 11 days of proper PPE, the numbers had fallen to 12 new cases and just 4 deaths.

The league never got off the ground, with their last meeting dissolving into such chaos that someone had to shut off the lights to put a stop to the nonsense.

It didn’t matter much in the long run, since on February 1 – not even a month after the second round of mask decrees – the requirements were lifted once and for all.

The message? Just hang in there, y’all. Don’t lose your heads.

If history has consistently taught us anything, it’s that this, too, shall pass.