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MOHAI History at Home 

From the Archives: Seattle's First Pandemic


The directive from Seattle’s public health authorities was uncompromising: “In the event the disease appears here, and it likely will, we will isolate the first cases and thus prevent it from becoming epidemic.” The aim was clear: to calm fears and build confidence in the public health system. The date: September 20, 1918. The message from Seattle’s newly appointed Commissioner of Health, Dr. J. S. McBride, was the opening salvo in Seattle’s first battle with pandemic over a century ago.

The parallels between the influenza of 1918 and today’s Coronavirus crises are striking, as are the lessons. Seattle’s early, strong and unified action, led by an emerging public health program, allowed the city to blunt the flu’s impact and shorten its reign over the region. Seattle fatalities were less than those of other urban areas where action was more muted or public response less cooperative. 

MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield goes into the MOHAI collection and looks back 100 years to a time when Seattle was a booming city, emerging from World War I, and suddenly facing the greatest health crises in modern history. 
Read the full essay on the MOHAI website.
This 1918 photo shows a newspaper boy, wearing his flu mask, standing in front of a closed theater. A sign over the box office reads, "All theatres closed until further notice at request of Mayor." Photo Credit: MOHAI Collection. 

MOHAI Programs on Demand

Explore these MOHAI programs and discover something new at your convenience. 
Community Conversations
Our Community Conversation series fosters dialogue between civic leaders, historians and community members, coming together in a Town Hall setting to explore changes impacting our region. Watch past conversations that draw on lessons from history and explore possibilities for the future. 
Watch now
History Cafe History Cafe 
Catch up on MOHAI's monthly conversations that uncover unique Seattle stories relevant to our changing community. History Café talks focus on local history, both popular and obscure, and have something for everyone. Each conversation features a different topic, speaker, and program partner. History Café is co-presented with MOHAI and HistoryLink.org. Listen now

Word of the Week
Pandemic | pan·​dem·​ic | \ pan-ˈde-mik

1. Noun. An outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. 

2. Adjective. Occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

The novel coronavirus has now been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19 Community Resources 

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Health Seattle and King County
Washington State Department of Health
World Health Organization (WHO)
Guidance for Travelers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


2020 Merriam Webster Dictionary 

Smithsonian Affiliate Connections

MOHAI is a Smithsonian Affiliate. There are over 200 Smithsonian Affiliate organizations in more than 45 states, Puerto Rico and Panama, all working together to preserve our heritage, expand knowledge, and inspire learning. 

School may be closed, but the learning continues. The Smithsonian and its network of Affiliate partners are committed to supporting caregivers and their kids around the globe as we face unprecedented new challenges. We will share resources weekly that are available for your use as we work together to expand learning at home. 
Talking with Children about COVID-19
If the young people in your life ask about cornoavirus, how do you respond in an age appropriate way? It can be challenging to explain why we have to change our routines, stay inside, or stop going to school. Explore this resource on ways to talk to the young people in your life about the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more
Photo credit: CDC on Unsplash

MOHAI Close-Up

Take a closer look at an artifact in MOHAI's collection. 
John Grade's Wawona sculpture hangs in MOHAI's Faye G. Allen Grand Atrium extending into the lake waters below the museum. This photograph places us inside the sculpture looking up to the sky. Did you know that this artwork has historical roots? It is made from the repurposed wood of the historic 1897 schooner of the same name. That predates the Spanish Flu! The Wawona was designed to undulate and creek just like an old ship at sea. You can almost hear it in this MOHAI close-up view. 

Your continued support during the museum closure is critical.

If you are able to make a gift to the museum during this time, we deeply appreciate your contribution. Gifts made now will help continue MOHAI's service and sustain the museum during the inevitable financial loss we face due to the COVID-19 closure. 
Make a Gift
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