I've been researching the 1918 flu epidemic and its effects in Oregon. Businesses had to close at 3:30, flu masks had to be worn, public gatherings were prohibited, and households infected with the flu were quarantined for ten days. What were the penalties for disobeying these regulations?

  • Narrowing it to Oregon might make it really tough. I did find mention of St. Louis arresting business owners who violated the quarantine orders. Perhaps that's what they did there too.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 24, 2017 at 0:14
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    From my research I found it was a state decree. A search of the Oregon state archives might dig up the order.
    – Schwern
    Mar 24, 2017 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


Keep in mind that the world was at war, one of likes no one had ever seen and most of the effort was being given to support that war. So the organizations that were started a few decades before the epidemic were crippled in trying to keep the men on the front lines fighting.

During 1918–1919, in a world divided by war, the multilateral health surveillance systems, which had been laboriously built during the previous decades in Europe and the United States, were not helpful in controlling the influenza pandemic. The ancestor of the World Health Organization, the Office International d’Hygiène Publique, located in Paris (31), could not play any role during the outbreak. At the beginning of the pandemic, the medical officers of the army isolated soldiers with signs or symptoms, but the disease, which was extremely contagious, quickly spread, infecting persons in nearly every country. Lessons From History

In Portland Oregon,

The City Council passed the resolution, placing influenza on the list of quarantineable infectious diseases. Portland police and the county guards were called on to help the health department’s twenty officers enforce the quarantine, although private physicians were warned that they did not have the authority to forbid patients to leave their homes. The next day, health inspectors and police officers were busy placing the white and red placards on the homes of the ill. The penalty for violating quarantine – either leaving or entering a placarded home – was a fine of $5 to $300 and five to ninety days in prison. Influenzaarchive.org

However, in Chicago I found an article that states the following

Despite his hesitation, Health Commissioner Robertson did ask Chief of Police John Alcock to have his officers stop all persistent sneezers and coughers who did not cover their faces with handkerchiefs. Those violators who promised to obey instructions in the future would be let go, but anyone who gave the officer a difficult time would be arrested, given a lecture on the dangers of influenza, and sent before a judge for arraignment.7 Robertson also warned theater managers and owners to ensure patrons used handkerchiefs or he would shut down their establishments. Churches, schools, theaters, restaurants, streetcars, and other places where people congregated were ordered to maintain proper ventilation.8 For the time being, these were the extent of Chicago’s control measures. Both Robertson and the Illinois Influenza Advisory Commission agreed that no closure order should be issued, arguing that the epidemic was “practically at a standstill” in Chicago and the northern part of the state.9

And in Mississippi they had the following code that went into effect March 28th 1918:

Any person knowingly violating any rule or regulation promulgated by the state board of health, under the authority of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by fine or imprisonment or both. The Annotated Mississippi Code

  • 1
    Got to love when you provide a well documented answer for the bounty and you never get it... :)
    – EvanM
    Mar 27, 2017 at 14:59

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