The Carolina Quarantine of 1918

Remembering The Days Podcast – Bonus Episode

Today's COVID-19 landscape of quarantines and sickness bring to mind another pandemic — the 1918 influenza outbreak that hit hard on the University of South Carolina campus. One young student, Gadsden Shand, answered the call of duty and helped keep many of his classmates alive.



The Carolina Quarantine of 1918

Schools, churches, businesses … closed. Mass gatherings … prohibited. Fear of contagion … widespread. 

Those are the watchwords of our lives these days in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also describe what was happening just over a hundred years ago during the 1918 flu pandemic.

I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and this episode is about the perseverance of one student during that century-old pandemic. It’s a story that took place right here on the campus of the University of South Carolina.

A wave of the 1918 flu pandemic began in the spring of that year, the first cases popping up in Kansas in the United States along with a smattering in Europe and Asia. The influenza then picked up steam and hit hard in the fall, just as the final battles of World War I were drawing to a bitter end. Cases of the Spanish Flu, as it was called, became rampant, and eventually one-third of everyone living on Earth at that time — some 500 million people — became infected. An estimated 50 million died. 

At the University of South Carolina, 86 cases had been reported by October. The campus was quickly quarantined to try to slow the spread, but more than 300 of the university’s 900 students got sick. 

That student population of 900 included about 400 trainees in the War Department’s brand new Student Army Training Corps. These would-be soldiers couldn’t defend themselves from the potent strain of flu that would end up taking the lives of 10 times more Americans than were killed during World War I.

Gadsden Shand was one of the student trainees. Shand was just 15 years old when he enrolled at the university and 16 when the flu pandemic hit.

He was captain of one of the training corps companies, and when most of his comrades fell ill, it was up to Shand to take care of them.

When he was 99 years old, Shand recalled that experience with University archivist Elizabeth West. He told her, quote, “Oh, they got deathly sick, and the amazing part about it was, it all happened in one day. All of them. Except two of us.” 

The university had a small infirmary back then, across the street from what is now the Women’s Quad. University administrators turned Woodrow College and the college gymnasium (what we now call Longstreet Theater) into makeshift quarters for sick students. They gave Shand some dormitory space to tend to his trainees.

“I couldn’t even find a doctor, they were all so busy,” he said. “So, I looked after the whole company, had to feed them and clothe them and everything else. I managed to get by with it somehow.”

Pause for a moment and think about what that must have been like. Day after day attending to dozens of sick young men, all of them coughing, wheezing, running fever. Night after night of wondering when it would all come to an end,

Shand hoping all the while that he would not get sick himself.

Doctors and nurses on the frontlines of today’s COVID-19 pandemic no doubt feel the same, doing their best to take care of, in some cases, too many patients. And praying they won’t fall ill themselves.

Sadly, six of the student trainees on the University of South Carolina campus died because of the 1918 flu, but all of the men in Shand’s company survived.

The Student Army Training Corps was disbanded just about a month after it was launched — the sudden end to World War I had all but eliminated the need for more young Army officers. But when nearly all of his fellow soldiers-in-training were deathly ill, fighting for their lives against an invisible enemy — one young man at the university, Gadsden Shand, answered the call of duty and kept his men alive.

That’s all for this episode of Remembering the Days, a production of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of South Carolina. From everyone here, be safe, stay well and remember that in times of crisis, there are always heroes among us. 

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