SMU and the Spanish Flu

On October 1st, 1918, The Campus, SMU’s student newspaper, led with stories on an upcoming football game between the Mustangs and the Texas Longhorns, a look at how SMU was losing faculty to war work, and an exploration of street car service in University Park.

News about the First World War was found throughout the issue, including a student obituary on the final page.  “Elonzo Sessions Dies in the U.S. Navy” described the passing of a second year Newspaper clippingstudent from Altus, Oklahoma.  He was the third SMU student to die in service.  But he wasn’t killed in action, or during training.  Instead, the newspaper notes that “an attack of Spanish influenza developed into pneumonia, from which he did not recover.”

This was the first record of the 1918 pandemic found in the SMU student publication digital archives. The pandemic appeared in March of 1918, and spread throughout the United States, often moving throughout the network of Army training camps across the country.  By October 1st of that year, the second wave of the pandemic was underway.  This wave began in late August, and is noted for being the deadliest period for the pandemic.  The first wave resembled previous flu outbreaks, with the elderly and children most at risk.  The second wave was when unique pattern of that pandemic became apparent, as young healthy adults represented a higher than expected number of fatalities.

A week later, The Campus noted that the Texas-SMU game would be delayed.  Unlike sports delays in the fall of 2020, this was due to conflicts with military training Newspaperschedules.  A short blurb let readers know that “Spanish influenza invaded the barracks of SMU at the opening of school.  However, every precaution is being used that applies to that disease. The number of cases up to date is about fifty-four. The daily sick list, however, bears about thirty. As yet no serious cases have developed, and because of this the head nurse, Miss Wilson, believes the infirmary will soon be emptied.”

Throughout November, influenza stories were outnumbered by coverage of the end of the war.  There wasn’t a daily count of the number of students and employees testing positive or in quarantine. Yet midway through the month, the tragedy of the pandemic announced itself.  On November 13th, it was reported that Freshman Ora Mae Cox died.  Two weeks later, A.A. Vick, the SMU Registrar, sophomore Monroe Burson, and recent graduate Frank Rye had passed away. This was followed by the deaths of Student Army Training Corps (SATC) members Alvin H. Tolle, a freshman, and Dudley W. Ayres, a sophomore, and Elonzo Harvey.  Issues of The Campus also carried notes of students who fell ill and recovered, and numerous cases of students and alumni who had died from pneumonia.


Newspaper articleThe final story about the influenza ran on January 29, 1919.  “Memorial Services in Honor of S.M.U. Heroes on Friday” described a recent gathering and moment of silence at the university chapel. 473 students enlisted during the war, and 11 died in service.  Among these men, one died during a training accident, three were killed in action, six of pneumonia, and one of the influenza–Elonzo Sessions.


Dallas was largely spared from the third and fourth wave of the pandemic.  If you’d like to read more about Spanish Influenza in the Metroplex, check out the stories below:

Influenza Encyclopedia: Dallas, Texas

In 1918, Dallas and Fort Worth weren’t worried about the flue.  In a month, 1,200 died

Here’s how Dallas managed the 1918 flu pandemic

100 years ago, the deadliest flu of all time devastated Dallas as it swept through the world

 A pandemic devastated Dallas more than a century ago. Here’s why hundreds died


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