Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Effects of the 1918 Influenza Outbreak in Exeter, New Hampshire

by Lara Weed

Lara's essay won the Nancy Carnegie Merrill History Award for the high school division in April 2013. Lara attends Exeter High School.

Lara with her teacher, Molly Stevenson
The Spanish Flu of 1918 was the greatest pandemic of influenza recorded in history. When this flu infected a community, it spread at a rapid rate and killed within a few days. Recovery was long if the infected individual survived. The Spanish Flu started out as a normal flu with symptoms of fever, nausea, aches and diarrhea. What made this virus so deadly was that many people developed severe secondary pneumonia. The dark spots showed up on their cheeks and they slowly suffocated from lack of oxygen. This flu was particularly destructive because it primarily killed people ages 15 to 55 by making the immune system attack the body in a cytokine storm. It was thought to have originated from America but spread through the Army to Europe during WWI. Many European newspapers suppressed the news of the flu except Spain, where the nickname, the “Spanish Flu,” came from. Although, it affected many communities, Exeter, New Hampshire was still hit hard. The devastating Spanish Flu of 1918 changed community demographics, created a new outlook on contagious illnesses, and increased the need for medical doctors.

Exeter was struck by the Spanish flu in mid-September of 1918. By the end of the month, there were hundreds of cases recorded and numerous deaths from the virus. However, the peak of the flu was not until October. Nearly 25% of the total deaths in Exeter in 1918 occurred in that month alone. The Cottage Hospital was overwhelmed by the number of patients and the lack of doctors. The disease was contagious to a degree that even the doctors themselves were contracting the illness, further postponing the progress of helping people become healthy.

Various events in Exeter were postponed or shut down due to the flu. The public schools were closed. Church and club gatherings were postponed. The Rockingham County Farm, a local jail, was quarantined. No visitors were allowed to enter the jail buildings. The IOKA was closed by the State Board of Health, which advised in the Exeter News-Letter of October 4, 1918, “... the prevention of unnecessary public gatherings and the closing of schools and places of public amusement will help much, there can be no doubt.” At this time, not many people could work because of contracting the illness themselves or having to take care of someone who had. This created a downturn in the local economy's productivity.

During this time, Phillips Exeter Academy was one of the few places not closed down due to the illness. However, the students had been prohibited from going to the local soda fountains. If they had closed down the school, the boys, who were from various parts of the nation, would have only spread the disease by going home. The gymnasium of the school was set up as an infirmary to care for the sick. There was a great need for doctors because many had been called off to serve in WWI, leaving few on the home front. 

Obituaries riddled the Exeter News-Letter. Townspeople were dying. The Tewhill family was hit significantly. Three people in the family had died of the flu out of the five who had contracted it. Other stories like this family's circulated. Nearly everyone had been affected by the Spanish Flu. A total of 102 people died in Exeter in 1918 alone. If no one directly related had been lost, a neighbor or fellow community member had.

By November, Exeter slowly started to recover from the outbreak of flu. Public schools reopened October 28th. The community was beginning to move again. Stories of recoveries were being published in place of what had been obituaries. “Chief Elvyn A. Bunker resumed his duties on Monday after a long sickness from the influenza,” stated the Exeter News-Letter. Although, many people died and the town was left to mourn, Exeter moved on but was forever changed.

As a result of the Spanish flu, Exeter had a new community outlook. The local economy was slowed by the lack of healthy citizens. The disease attacked people, mostly in the prime of their life like Paul E. Higgins, who died of influenza-pneumonia when he was just 23, changing the demographics of the area to a population consisting more of the very old and the very young with weak immune systems rather than the typically most productive age class. The seriousness of the disease opened the general population’s eyes to contagions. Lastly, the need for doctors became apparent. The epidemic of the Spanish Flu was a major turning point for Exeter, New Hampshire.


Bibliography Nancy Carnegie Merrill, Exeter, New Hampshire, 1888-1988. (Portsmouth, NH: P.E. Randall, 1988)

"Registered Deaths of Exeter, NH," Exeter Historical Society Archives,1918. Rimkunas, Barbara. "Historically Speaking: The 1918 Influenza Outbreak." Seacoast Online, (2012), http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20121113-NEWS-211130345.

Richard Knox, "1918 Killer Flu Reconstructed," NPR, (2005), http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4946718.

"Deaths from Pneumonia," Exeter Newsletter, October 4, 1918.

"Town Affairs," Exeter Newsletter, October 25, 1918.

State Board of Health, "The Influenza Situation," Exeter Newsletter, October 4, 1918.

Underhill, William B., Norman H. Beane, and George A. Carlisle. Exeter News-Letter. 4 Oct. 1918. Rockingham County Farm Quarantine. Rockingham County Farm, Exeter, NH.

"Improved Conditions," Exeter Newsletter, October 18, 1918.

"Notice," Exeter Newsletter, October 4, 1918.

"Town Affairs," Exeter Newsletter, October 11, 1918.

A.T. Dudley, "Red Cross," Exeter Newsletter, October 11, 1918.

"Health Conditions Somewhat Improved," Exeter Newsletter, October 4, 1918.

"The Influenza," Exeter Newsletter, September 27, 1918.

Pam Carter, “Influenza 1918,” My Maine Ancestery, (2013), http://mymaineancestry.blogspot.com/2013/01/influenza-1918.html

A Momentous Occasion in Exeter

by Emily Williams

Emily's essay won the Nancy Carnegie Merrill History Award for the middle school division in April 2013. Emily attends the Cooperative Middle School.

Emily with her teacher, Neal Matthews.
There are many things in Exeter that have some significance in creating the community. Phillips Exeter Academy has attracted people from everywhere because of the great education the students receive there. The academy has benefited the economy of Exeter and surrounding areas. There is a large use of local businesses because of the academy. The academy’s facilities are occasionally used by the town. The Founding of Phillips Exeter Academy is a very important event in Exeter’s history that has a lot of significance in creating the community even today.

Phillips Exeter Academy’s founder was Dr. John Phillips. John Phillips was born on December 27, 1719 in Andover, Massachusetts. He received a great education. His father Rev. Samuel Phillip’s tuition helped him enter college at twelve years old! The college he attended was Harvard University in Boston and he graduated in 1735, at the age of sixteen! He came to Exeter, New Hampshire in 1741. John was a teacher of a Latin school at the time. He started to participate in trading, and he found it very profitable. He became quite wealthy from this and used some of his wealth to donate funds to the development of the Dartmouth College. He and his brother, Samuel Phillips, founded the Phillips Academy in Andover. John wanted to establish an educational institution in Exeter. He was able to complete his goal before his death. Phillips Exeter academy was opened May 1, 1783. He gave the school an endowment of land worth sixty thousand dollars to develop on. At that time that was the largest sum given to an enterprise! He was able to direct almost everything at the academy until his death in 1795.

On February 27, 1970 the trustees announced that the academy will permit girls and become a coed school. At first there were only 39 girls enrolled at the academy, but by the next September there were 128 girls who had enrolled. The population of girls attending the academy increased quickly because by December 20, 1973 the boy-girl ratio was 3:1!

The academy doesn’t just add to the rich history of Exeter, it continues to benefit the small town economically. The academy employs many local residents, from Exeter and the surrounding towns in order to maintain the growing number of students. In recent years the labor force has risen significantly compared to it in 1933, where there was only 143 staff members. The students and faculty have affected the income of local stores and the local economy. In 1941 it was estimated that $500,000 of the money that the staff and students have spent was spent locally. When the families of the students visit they need a place to stay so that often gives business to the local inns and restaurants of Exeter. The expenditures also benefit the town. In 1985, the treasurer of the academy was Colin F. N. Irving. He estimated that the expenditures and the taxes for the year would be $20 million dollars of that $20 million dollars 50% of that would go to Exeter and surrounding areas.

The town of Exeter has benefited from Phillips Exeter Academy in more ways than one. Over the years, the town of Exeter has benefited from the academy because the academy has allowed local teams and organizations to use its athletic fields and gymnasium. Local organization and teams are able to save money because of that. Also the public is often allowed to go to many events such as lectures, concerts, dramatic performances, exhibitions, athletics, and contests.

The Phillips Exeter Academy has provided the town of Exeter with stability for years. With the academy located very close to the center of town the students and faculty have easy access to the local stores and restaurants of down town Exeter. The academy is also a steady employer for the local area and it is the owner of a large amount of real estate in the center of Exeter.

Phillips Exeter Academy has attracted many people to Exeter. Without the academy the town would not be as prosperous as it is now. There would be a lot less people in town and there would be a lot less tourists coming to see the great architecture of the academy. The town would be almost unknown except that it was once the capital of New Hampshire. The academy has remained a prestigious and prosperous part of Exeter that has helped shape the community for 230 years.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Exeter Athletics

by Barbara Rimkunas 

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Tuesday, ​​​May 14, 2013.

When Marion Tyler attended the Robinson Female Seminary, there were few athletics offered to her. Sure, the seminary had been concerned with physical health since its incorporation in 1867. Principal Cross mentioned, in 1901 that, “all classes are getting regular and systematic exercises in physical training.” Young Marion, attending a decade later, was probably not impressed. In 1910 there were still no team sports, at least none played against other schools, offered.

Improved attempts to bring physical education to the Seminary arrived in 1915, when Esther Watson was hired as a PE teacher. She began a formal program of folk dancing, marching, games, drills with wands, Indian clubs, dumbbells and aesthetic gymnastics – all believed to be quite suitable physical training for young women. Marion Tyler, who had graduated from the Seminary in 1912, went on to the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, a part of Boston University, and received her degree in physical education. There she must have learned the value of team sports because in 1916 she returned to Robinson to teach the girls basketball, tennis, baseball and volleyball.

The progression toward varsity sports moved forward in Exeter’s schools. At the boys’ school – Tuck High School, football and baseball teams were formed by 1910. Inter-class play, what we would call intermural, had existed for years, but the idea of playing teams from other schools was new. Boys in Exeter could always join one of the town teams, but these were mostly for the adults. Baseball had been a popular town sport since the end of the Civil War and football, which required more equipment and a larger field, seems to have only been played at the Academy or in town pick-up games.

During the fifteen years following 1910, baseball and football were the only varsity sports offered to boys at Tuck High School, and these were suspended in 1919 due to World War I and the outbreak of Spanish Influenza.

Basketball became popular just before the war at both Tuck High School and the Robinson Female Seminary – but not at the varsity level. Finally, in 1925, the Exeter School report was able to announce, “a basketball team was organized this year, and, although there were no experienced players on the team, a very credible record was made inasmuch as we won a majority of the games played.” Basketball would remain a staple of the boys’ athletic program from that time on. A Junior High team was formed to train future varsity players.


At the Seminary, basketball caught on after Marion Tyler taught the basics to the girls. Unlike the boys, there were always concerns about young ladies playing team sports - all the rough housing might injure their femininity. In 1920, a gym uniform was introduced consisting of navy blue serge bloomers, a white middy blouse, black stockings and high black sneakers. The costume was so scandalous, that Principal Bisbee would routinely patrol the Lincoln Street train station to make sure the girls wore a suitable coat over their gear to cover up. A student publication, “The Totem Pole,” announced in 1928 that the Seminary basketball team had played Traip Academy and won 50 to 8. The Seminary had begun playing varsity field hockey the previous year and by 1947 there was also a softball team. Much of the growth in sports at RFS had been encouraged by the arrival, in 1919, of Barbara Warren who would remain the director of physical education and athletics until her retirement in 1952.

Track and Field events arrived at Tuck High School in 1948. The school was somewhat limited by lack of suitable playing fields. During the first part of the century, Tuck High School was dependent on sharing facilities with Phillips Exeter Academy. Basketball practices were frequently shortened to accommodate both schools. The girls at Robinson had it even tougher – they had no gym at all.

By the 1950s the value of physical education and team sports were accepted in the public mind. Perhaps it took an event like World War II to bring about this understanding. In Exeter, the opportunities for girls’ athletics were available to a larger degree than in many other towns, probably because girls were taught separately from boys and had their own school and teams. When Tuck and Robinson merged in 1955, there was already a well-established program of athletics for girls. At her retirement, Barbara Warren noted, “During the six years that a girl attends the Seminary she is taught marching and calisthenics, folk, tap, square and ballroom dancing, basketball, field hockey, soccer, speedball, softball, badminton, croquet, ping pong, tennis (when the courts are in condition) and many relay games. From these she can acquire coordination, good posture, and sportsmanship. She will also develop skills which will have a carry-over value in adult life.” We can only hope the boys were able to keep up.

This year, in honor of the town’s 375th birthday, Exeter High School will be highlighting the many participants in Exeter athletics at Hawkfest on May 17th at 7pm at the High School. Tickets are available in advance at the high school or at the door; for more information call: 775-8647.

Photo caption: Robinson Female Seminary basketball team, 1923. The girls are wearing their liberating yet much maligned gym uniforms. Varsity sports at the Seminary were encouraged by coach Barbara Warren (seated 2nd from left in the front row) who worked at the school for 33 years from 1919 – 1952.