The 1918 Flu Pandemic at Clemson

The 1918 Flu Pandemic at Clemson

In October 1918, the South Carolina State Board of Health in ordered all educational institutions closed until further notice. A dangerous strain of influenza, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Flu, was spreading through military encampments and bases, into the general population, and overseas with the American troops. When followed by pneumonia it particularly was deadly for young men.

Nearly 675,000 Americans died of influenza or related pneumonia in 1918-19. Worldwide estimates are between 20 and 40 million casualties. Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them died from illness and not from enemy fire.

from The Tiger, November 13, 1918


from The Tiger, 13 November 1918


from Taps, 1919

In the midst of World War I, many of Clemson’s nearly 1000 students had left campus to join the military.  The few hundred regular students who remained in October 1918 were joined by over 400 young men training as officers and technical experts through the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) program.

from Walter Merritt Riggs Presidential Papers

At Clemson, influenza spread through the SATC ranks and into the local community with over 150 cases within a couple of weeks. All healthy non-SATC students were sent home, where some then contracted the disease anyway.

Faculty and staff members’ wives and daughters, local Red Cross volunteers and a few of the students’ mothers helped care for the sick on campus. The Textile Building, Chapel and Trustee House all were used as temporary hospitals.

Two of four pages.  From Walter Merritt Riggs Presidential Papers


Marching in front of the Trustee House, c1918

While Clemson lost a number of alumni and students serving in the military to influenza or pneumonia,  due to the preventative measures there were only a couple of deaths on campus. One was author Ben Robertson’s step-mother, Hattie Boggs Robertson, who had helped care for sick students.

A plaque was hung in the campus’ Memorial Chapel commemorating the women who helped care for the sick during the 1918 pandemic. The plaque still hangs in Tillman Hall today.


For more information about this era, see the online exhibit:

World War I and the Clemson Community