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Some Good News, Archives Edition

April 15, 2020

Borrowing John Krasinski's idea of reporting "Some Good News" during these troubling times, here are some historic news clippings from past pandemics or epidemics that have affected Nashville. But instead of including news articles about the actual devastation from the illnesses, these are more positive stories during the same time frame or at least examples of positives from the desolation.  


The past couple of weeks of at-home-working, I've been looking daily for articles from past epidemics or pandemics that have hit Nashville - hoping to uncover some happier news clippings from the same time frame of the tragedies. But it's almost like finding a needle in a haystack; especially since the time frame for the last major pandemic to hit the United States was also during World War I, so mining happy thoughts from those newspapers is more than wishful thinking. Also, especially since news articles during this era were incredibly blunt, often even including graphic details of murders and deaths in the area, so you get what we're working with.

But it wasn't a total loss and I'm working with the glass half-full mentality here, so borrowing John Krasinski's "Some Good News" idea — here are some good or positive stories, or even, as a stretch, distracting stories that pertain to the illnesses. Like mentioning some interesting medicine that was prescribed to cure some of the symptoms (like laxatives to prevent a cold, go figure). Or even some of the positive lessons learned after dealing with these debilitating illnesses, such as learning that cleanliness and proper water-source conditions lead to helping prevent illnesses, such as cholera. 

A doctor and nurse working on a patient, during the Spanish Influenza pandemic in the early part of the 20th century.

Going in chronological order from the epidemics that have hit Nashville over the past 200+ years, starting with the Cholera Epidemic that throttled Nashville through a large portion of the mid-19th century...

Cholera Epidemic in Nashville

During the 19th century, the state of Tennessee suffered several Cholera epidemics, specifically between 1834 - 1893 (specific years include 1834, 1849, 1873, and 1892). And one of the most notable casualties of the epidemic was President James K. Polk, just after he left office and came home to Nashville, in 1849.

If you're not familiar with what cholera is or what causes it, it's an illness that relates to cleanliness or proper potable water since it spreads through unsanitary water. It's an illness of the intestines that causes really unfortunate symptoms such as vomiting, excessive thirst, diarrhea, and fever (among many other things). It was quite catastrophic throughout the state, especially in Memphis in 1873, where they also experienced an outbreak of Yellow Fever. 

Where's the good or positive in this, you ask? I'm getting to it. This is not so much a good story, but an example of the good that came afterward. 

With so many outbreaks throughout the 19th century, it would appear drastic measures were needed. So, after or even maybe before the epidemic occurred in 1873, the city of Nashville voted to establish a board of health. Throughout several articles I read, cleanliness (or lack of) was debated as a possible catalyst of the illness. A board of health, having successful development in other cities, could at least help keep the city in a cleaner state. 

Clipping from the Nashville Union and American from 1874.

And instead of going into a long explanation of what the Board would handle, here's another clipping from June, 1873 that explains in detail. The first section merely discusses who will be appointed to the board, but the rest of the clipping talks about the board's duties, which from the sounds of it, are meant to be taking preventative measures for future epidemics. Ironically enough too, I found clippings from 1874-1875 that talk about how people wanted to get rid of the board of health after the epidemic had ended. Not sure of the reasons there though — perhaps they thought it was ineffective or not worth the tax money. 

Clipping from the June 13, 1873.

However, based on statistics from 1875, it would appear the Board of Health provided services that were improving the conditions around the city, albeit another epidemic occurred in 1892. Which just goes to show that a lack of proper cleanliness around the city was not the only cause of cholera. 

Clipping from the Union and American newspaper from February, 1875.


Spanish Flu Pandemic

Whiskey to cure the Flu?

Clipping from the Nashville Banner from October, 1918.

Now this is something that's a positive or at least can give you a laugh. Apparently, whiskey was considered a temporary relief for the cold symptoms that come with the flu. Even today, some treat it as a homeopathic way of alleviating cold symptoms. 

What perfect timing to have a large supply of confiscated whiskey at the police station then too, since during the time of the Pandemic (roughly 1918-1920), there were Bone Dry Laws in Nashville and many other areas. 

When I Googled how whiskey helps cold symptoms, I then learned about a drink called a "Hot Toddy" which is a combination of whiskey or bourbon, honey, lemon juice, and boiling water. I'd heard that name before, but nope — never actually heard of what it included. 

Though I'm not sure they had this specific drink back in 1918 — maybe — the whiskey would've been helpful because it allows you to relax and fall asleep, among other ways it's supposed to help.

What People Had to Live Without

I know this isn't a positive per se, but it's a positive for our current time and situation. Currently, some of the things we're asked to live without to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 include: physically visiting our friends and family (so no hugs), live sports (or any sports really) for the time being, going out in public for anything other than absolute necessities, and vacations. And as tough as these are, these aren't even the worst being asked of us. Some people are losing their jobs and means for paying bills, while others must face this illness head on as front line care providers. 

But 100 years ago, during the spread of the Spanish Influenza, in a time without televisions or other electronic means to occupy time, people were also asked to limit their phone calls. That's something we're all using today to stay in touch with loved ones with, get work done, or again — occupy our time. But similar to now, schools and large gatherings were also asked to be canceled or otherwise not held. Church services were also asked to be suspended until things got better. So some things have changed in 100 years for the better, and some things follow right in step with a pandemic's impact on everyday life. 

Sorry, I know I said this would be a positive post — but the following  "Notice to Telephone Subscribers" clipping is meant to be more educational, showing what people in our communities were dealing with 100 years ago. 

Clipping from the Nashville Banner from October, 1918.


Suggested, Yet Questionable, Preventatives and Medicines

Before Tamiflu or other drugs used today to help clear up flu symptoms, there doesn't appear to be one medicine that doctors used in 1918 to help infected patients — that I can find at least. Of course I'm not a doctor, and I'm working strictly with newspaper records. What I have found are a variety of different drugs that were advertised throughout the newspapers — both during and after the pandemic. 

But that was a common thing for that era — there are plenty of advertisements and various drugs included, sometimes even with testimonials from people who used them. Here are a few of the most memorable ones...

Ad from the Nashville Banner for Bromo Quinine, from October, 1918.

Ad from the Tennessean from December, 1920.

Ad from the Tennessean from December, 1920.

Ad from the Tennessean from October, 1920.

A Beautiful 1920 Christmas

After a rough couple of years with both the First World War and the Spanish Influenza pandemic in the forefront of everyone's minds, a happy and stress-free Christmas was in order. So there's some good news for the end of's to looking forward to my favorite holiday at the end of 2020! There's no reason not to start celebrating early, in my opinion. 

Clipping from the Tennessean from Christmas, 1920.

Clipping from the Tennessean from Christmas, 1920.

Clipping from the Morristown Gazette for Christmas, 1920.


'Til next time, 


lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.