Disease & Healthcare in Utah History: A Resource Guide

Holly George History Main Blog, UHQ Blog

By Shavauna Munster & Holly George

Death certificate of Gladys Craghead Buck, a Cache Valley woman who died in January 1919 of influenza—at 18 years old and only three days after the birth of her first child. Utah State Archives and Record Service.

When considering the history of illness, signpost pandemics such as the Justinianic plague, black death, and Spanish influenza often come to mind. However, intermittent waves of disease can only be expected in a species of 7.5 billion. The cultural response to bouts of infectious disease is just as important as the scientific research necessary to combat them. Through an examination of past pandemics, we can gain a better understanding of cultural values and beliefs.

As an institution dedicated to preserving and interpreting the past, the Utah Division of State History has many resources that provide context for the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you’ll find an annotated list of some of those resources.

Influenza

The Red Cross unit of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, May 1918. As today, the work of healthcare providers during the flu pandemic was truly heroic. Utah State Historical Society.

Thomas G. Andrews: The Great Epizootic of 1872-73 and the Deep History of Humans, Equines, and Influenza. Andrews’s keynote address at our 2019 conference is exceedingly relevant to the present. A version of his address is forthcoming in Utah Historical Quarterly

Several UHQ articles discuss the influenza pandemic touched off by World War I and the war itself. 

Our friends at the Mountain West Digital Library and the University of Utah just posted the 1918 Flu Pandemic Newspapers, a collection of over 1,000 articles published in Utah from 1918 to 1920 documenting the Spanish flu. 

Disease, Healthcare, and Sanitation in Utah

A number of UHQ articles document healthcare and sanitation practices in Utah and provide insight about how Utahns have reacted to infectious diseases—including influenza and polio. 

A ringside shot from a boxing benefit sponsored by Salt Lake City newspapers for the relief of polio, January 1945. Utah State Historical Society, photograph no. 1308.

COVID-19

Finally, our experiences during the current pandemic matter. A record of even the most mundane efforts to thrive during this time—making sourdough and face masks, learning to garden, or juggling work with homeschooling—will help future generations make sense of life during COVID-19. Here are resources and inspiration to help us all document what we’re living through: