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Influenza hit Arizona in late September. The disease probably reached Phoenix first, spreading outward to the rest of the state during the end of September. By October 11th, Flagstaff, Winslow and Holbrook were reporting epidemics. As influenza spread, public health officials were quickly overwhelmed. The epidemic peaked in the state during the first week of November; that week, the state reported deaths from influenza which were four times the state’s annual average.

City officials and residents reacted to the spread of the disease with alarm. Many Arizonans insisted that the disease was spread by dogs. In Phoenix, as police and city residents killed dogs in an attempt to prevent the spread of influenza, the local paper reported that “Phoenix will soon be dogless.” Schools, theaters and other public areas were also closed for three months.

A pink telegram sheet reads “Lucy Antone ill with pneumonia following influenza seems serious.  Please advise her mother Catherine Antone at Santan.”
When the pandemic struck, many Indian children were at boarding schools. In the absence of cheap long distance phone service, officials sent telegrams such as this one to notify parents about their child’s condition. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

In both Tucson and Phoenix, police arrested residents who ventured out in public without a gauze mask. Officials believed that masks prevented the spread of the disease and had required people to wear these to prevent the spread of the disease. When they passed these requirements, city officials and scientific experts were unaware of the fact that influenza is spread by a virus which is small enough to pass through a gauze mask.
The disease struck the Navajos especially hard. Joseph Schmedding, a trader, who entered a Navajo reservation a few weeks after the epidemic had erupted said that he found 30 Indians, young and old, lying dead in abandoned hogans. In Tuba City, the school was converted into a hospital and the wife of a Navajo trader wrote “for miles around every good winter hogan was deserted [because people feared the infection]. The living moved out into the rain and found what shelter they could in temporary camps.”

The economy also suffered. By late October, reports indicated that mining productivity for the state was off as a result of the pandemic.

After peaking in early November, the disease slowly waned during the late fall and early winter. By the late spring, it had begun to disappear from the state.

Population in 1920:

Most of the states residents lived in rural areas. There were no cities over 70,000.

First Official Report of Influenza:
The Public Health Service did not require states to report influenza before September 27th. Arizona first reported the presence of influenza on October 12th but the disease was undoubtedly present in the state before that date.

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