The ABCs of Lowell History: Q is for Quarantine

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff share how a quarantine related to the 1918 influenza outbreak affected Lowell residents. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

The Lowell Area Historical Museum preserves artifacts that tell the story of Lowell through time. An artifact can tell the story of Lowell and also the world. The museum was gifted two postcards that not only tell of one local girl’s life at college, but they show life in the fall of 1918 and the world events that affected her life.

Thelma Peckham was born in 1900 and by 1918 she was pursuing college studies in Oberlin Ohio during the Influenza outbreak.

On October 14, 1918, she wrote,

“Dear Mother, college was closed last night by State Board of Health and also the whole state is quarantined to stamp out the disease. Maybe 3 days, maybe a week. Can leave only if folks come after girls in automobiles. Can hike and do gym work out in open air – but Library is closed. Breakfast not until 7:30. I am glad cause can get caught up in lessons and then too might as well put a stop to it first as last…Write lots as all we do is watch for the mailman – send anything or everything. Lovingly, Thelma”

As of October 24, 1918, Lowell and vicinity had only a few (influenza) cases so far, and no deaths. Dr. S.S. Lee, Village and Township Health Officer, suggested preventative measures be taken. He gave the following recommendations – “close schools and public places, no visiting, spray nose and throat with antiseptic three times a day. Wash hands frequently and don’t put fingers in nose or mouth. If you do business with the public, wear a gauze mask over your nose and mouth. Do all the business you can by phone.” Dr. Lee was responsible for placing quarantine placards on houses with influenza. The sickness was to get worse, but on Christmas Day, 1918, the Village of Lowell was declared influenza free.

Influenza was not the only thing happening in the world. Rumors had been circulating that the Great War, what we now call World War I, was about to be over.

In a post card dated November 8, 1918 Thelma writes,

“Dear Mother – Just announced at dinner that Dean Bosworth’s has found the report about Germany signing armistice, not official so can’t have bonfire; we paraded all P.M. even faculty and Cleveland has celebrated all day too. I wonder if the news got all over the country. The telegraph said this noon that the report came direct from Washington. Anyway everyone predicts that the signing will come in a few days. We walked so many miles in the snake parades all over the campus that I am dead tired and have a lot of work to do. All the girls were sending out registered letters of congratulations today so that was why I did. Hope the official word will come tomorrow – Thelma”

Indeed, on November 11 the signing did come and the November 14, 1918 headlines in Lowell screamed “GREAT WAR IS OVER” and over the following weeks celebrations were held and the whole world celebrated too.

Two postcards can tell quite a story of one girl’s place in history. The Lowell Area Historical Museum is honored to be able to protect and preserve these artifacts for Thelma Peckham Hahn, the Lowell community, and the world.

The photo above of Thelma Peckham was from her college days.

Thelma met Robert D. Hahn on a blind date while attending the University of Michigan. They were married. Their children were Gurney P. Hahn, Roberta Jones and Gretchen Hawley. Thelma’s mother to whom she wrote the postcards was Hattie Mae Wilson Peckham. We also remember Thelma as the researcher and writer of Lowell’s early history.

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