An Epidemic’s Strawman: Wilmer Krusen, Philadelphia’s 1918–1919 Influenza Epidemic, and Historical Memory
- The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 144, Number 1, January 2020
- pp. 61-88
- Additional Information
The present article challenges the popular perceptions that historians, documentarians, and policy advisors espouse with respect to the role that Philadelphia’s director of public health, Dr. Wilmer Krusen, played during the city’s uniquely catastrophic outbreak of influenza during the pandemic of 1918–22. The article analyzes the autumn 1918 outbreak and suggests that the portrayal of Krusen as a public health amateur or bumbling incompetent by various authors and multimedia documentaries is misleading. Furthermore, as the threat of epidemics by respiratory viruses—for instance, HPAI H5N1, H1N1, SARS, MERS, and Nipah— appears to increase, public health officials and policymakers may look to history in their own efforts to fashion responses to future urban outbreaks. Historians must take care to avoid incorrect conclusions concerning the failures of Philadelphia’s response to the great influenza epidemic if they wish to make competent suggestions for combating future outbreaks.