How club navigated pandemic of 1918-19

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Eighteen members of the Six and Twenty Club met for a second time this summer in the green space of Peterson Place on Sept. 18. Members gathered together, seated in their own lawn chairs, while following social distancing and masking guidelines on the beautifully sunny, though cool and windy, afternoon.

Mrs. Judy Johnston presented the Historical Minutes for Sept. 22, 1995. That meeting was held in the restored octagonal barn of Mrs. Janet Williams. Mrs. Williams focused her program on barns and their history, including the story of the restoration project of “Nothin’s Plumb,” the aptly named Williams’ barn. Members remembered many pleasant summer picnic meetings from past years in this special place.

President Mindy Henson presented the program for the day. In March when the COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home order was put in place and the officers tried to figure out a way forward for the Six and Twenty Club, Mrs. Henson was curious as to how members of the club navigated through the Spanish Influenza pandemic a century ago.

She obtained the Minute Books of the club from their archives at the Wilmington Public Library when they reopened to patrons in late spring. After reading through the minutes from 1918-1919, she found that the dates of Oct. 4 and Oct. 18 of 1918 were marked as “No meetings on account of Spanish Influenza.”

The minutes of the following meeting date of Nov. 9 read: “It seemed good to meet again after our enforced recess and the meeting was full of interest for all.” Later in that day’s minutes, the Corresponding Secretary read letters from two club members acknowledging letters of sympathy sent to them on behalf of the club, as both had deaths in their homes since the last meeting. Perhaps the deaths were due to Spanish Influenza, but this was not confirmed in the minutes.

Other than these references, there was little direct information in the minutes about the effects of Spanish Influenza on the Clinton County community. However, materials borrowed from Suzanne Madison, who had done research on the pandemic for its centennial, provided a great deal of information from the Wilmington Daily News.

Spanish Influenza tore through Wilmington in October and early November 1918 and eventually made its way into the rest of the county as well. The scourge continued well into December. Schools, theaters (including the Murphy Theatre), the library, and Wilmington College were closed at times during this period. Church services were cancelled. Public meetings and all kinds of collective gatherings were to be avoided. It was suggested that funerals be private as much as possible to avoid the assembling of crowds. There were several references in the news that featured people who were club members at the time or related to future members which was interesting.

Additionally, Mrs. Henson also searched for information regarding the passage of the 19th Amendment in the Minute Books of 1919-1920, prompted by a question from a current member. She found no information regarding its landmark ratification that gave women the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920.

Several current events were noted and wishes shared for those with upcoming birthdays before our next meeting. The members enjoyed seeing each other at our outside meeting.

Submitted article