Asheville Archives: The Red Cross and Masonic Temple respond to the 1918 flu pandemic

FIGHTING THE FLU: During the 1918 flu pandemic, the Masonic Temple offered its property as a place to house the infected residents of Asheville's African-American community. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

On Oct. 5, 1918, The Asheville Citizen informed readers that “8,000 cases of Spanish influenza have been reported in North Carolina, with known deaths resulting from pneumonia following the influenza exceeding 50.” At the time, Wilmington was the state’s hardest-hit area, with 6,000 infected.

According to the paper, several cases had been recorded in Asheville. Because of this, the city commissioners and health officers ordered schools, churches and theaters closed. Restrictions were also placed on serving drinks at soda fountains and cafés.

By December 1918, The Asheville Citizen reported that the area’s numbers had skyrocketed to 4,498 cases and 138 deaths. According to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, at least 20 percent of the state’s population was infected between 1918 and 1919. The state’s total death toll neared 14,000. Worldwide, the pandemic would claim an estimated 20 million to 50 million lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Oct. 13, 1918, an emergency call for volunteer doctors, nurses, housekeepers and cooks was placed in The Sunday Citizen. It read:

      The Influenza Committee of The
 Red Cross Calls for
Volunteer Workers

      The epidemic of Influenza is sweeping Asheville.
Our people are suffering for lack of attention as never before.
More Asheville people are dying of Influenza at home than are dying from
all causes on the battle-fields of France.
The Red Cross has established this Committee as a clearing house between
workers and patients and this

is issued for Doctors, nurses and workers both white and colored to keep
people in Asheville from dying from starvation and lack of other attention.

Volunteer At Once
Work will be paid for when necessary but we appeal first to your patriotism.

In co-operation with the City Health Office, Headquarters have been established in the City Hall, Telephone 152, where volunteers should call and where assistance should be asked. Office hours 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Red Cross Influneza Committee.

Three days later, on Oct. 16, a more specific call was placed in The Asheville Citizen:

To the Masonic Fraternity
of Asheville:

Your directing officers ask that, if you have not already done so, you will at once begin your co-operation with the Red Cross Influenza Committee.

The Masonic Temple conveniences have been placed at the disposal of the committee, and an Emergency Kitchen is busy preparing nourishing food for the needy.

The call went on to reiterate the type of volunteers needed before ending with the signoff:

Lives Can Be Saved
And suffering relieved by rendering your service now.

On Oct. 22, 1918, The Asheville Citizen reported that the influenza committee had established two emergency hospitals for the sick:

“The executive committee of the Asheville chapter of the American Red Cross devoted most of yesterday afternoon’s session to consideration of the influenza epidemic situation. Following the report of Chairman Raoul of the influenza committee, which was supplemented by statements from Dr. S. Westray Battle (see ‘More than a Citizen,’ Sept. 26, Xpress) and Dr. Carl V. Reynold, the committee reiterated its assurance that the committee was given unlimited power, including the establishment of other hospitals, one for the colored people, who will be, as stated by Dr. Battle, ‘given the same attention as that given white people.'”

The same article included a transcription of a report provided by Mrs. Thomas S. Rollins, commander of the Red Cross auxiliary motor corps, who offered a breakdown of the organization’s activities that week. Rollins noted that on Friday, Oct. 18, “the old city high school on Woodfin street was selected … as the most practical building available [to set up an emergency hospital].” The following day, “it was completely equipped with fifty beds and a patient received.”

At the time of Rollins’ report (Oct. 21), the hospital’s patient count had increased to 25. Rollins predicted that all 50 beds would be filled within the next 24 hours. She also noted that an additional 25 beds might be acquired. Rollins continued:

“No rooms are available for colored patients in the main building of the emergency room and I have just been offered any part of the Masonic temple as an annex to the hospital. I have accepted this offer of the Masons and two wards for colored people are now being established on the second and third floors in the front of the temple. These two wards together will hold from fifteen to twenty patients and there will be about as many beds for colored people as we have for white people in proportion to population …

“We have made no general request for contributions, but Asheville has responded in a wonderful way. We now have collected from voluntary contributions about $2,000. …

“Word cannot express the gratitude the Red Cross and the people of Asheville owe to the Masonic order in our city. As individuals, the members have been generous with their contributions of money, and the order as a whole has turned out to meet this emergency and has practically given over its entire building and equipment to our use. This debt the city of Asheville should never forget.”



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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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3 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: The Red Cross and Masonic Temple respond to the 1918 flu pandemic

  1. Phillip Williams

    I have been in the Temple several times – beautifully constructed and ornately decorated – never knew this part of its history. Thanks for the article! I wonder whose home or what business is next to it in the pic, and when it was torn down? There has just been a parking lot there long as I can remember….

    • Thomas Calder

      Thanks Phillip,

      I remember reading something, somewhere, about the neighboring property being run as a boarding house. I’ll look into it and see if I can’t find something more concrete.

      Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. William Raynor

    Was wondering if this building was where the original red Cross building was? the area where The Masonic Temple or the area surronding. Thanks. William.

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