In 1918, Facemask Orders a Cause for 'Mirth'

A different pandemic swept across the world a century ago, killing about 60 million people.

Schools and businesses closed, and many cities required people to wear face masks to slow the spread of the devastating influenza outbreak of 1918. And back then, just like today, some people balked at the idea of the government telling them what to do.

Some protested and openly defied local orders as World War I raged in Europe, J. Alexander Navarro, assistant director at the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine, wrote this month for The Conversation.

About 2,000 members of the so-called Anti-Mask League gathered in San Francisco in 1919 “for a rally denouncing the mask ordinance and proposing ways to defeat it,” Navarro wrote.

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