University of Idaho student’s journal from 1918 flu pandemic ‘frighteningly relevant today’

U of I student Esther Thomas was a very social lady, according to her diary. That is, until the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic shut down the Moscow campus.

MOSCOW, Idaho — While researching for an article for Blot Magazine, University of Idaho journalism student Riley Haun found a diary belonging to a young college student in 1918.

Esther Thomas was a home economics student at the University of Idaho in 1918.  According to her diary, she was a very social lady, until the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic shut down the campus.

“She writes, ‘Still nothing doing. I am almost desperate. Make some sheets.’ And then the next day, the 23rd, ‘Make some more sheets. Desperation increases. What will become of me?'” Haun read of her journal entry dated Oct. 22, 1918. 

“There’s really only one line per day that she wrote, but she packed so much feeling and snarkiness, honestly, about her day-to-day life just in the couple of sentences she writes each time.”

Haun said that during her research, she found that once the first big flu outbreak made it to Moscow, it happened within the Student Army Training Corps members on campus.

“So they quarantined the campus off from the rest of the town,” she said.

Thomas wrote about passing the time by sewing sheets for the Student Army Training Corps infirmary. Eventually, she moved on to making masks. 

“They were requiring the student soldiers to wear masks whenever they were in the barracks,” Haun said. “There was a big push. She was a home economics student so her and the other home economics students were asked to sew masks.”

As each day passed, Thomas’s diary indicated just how lonely the pandemic was becoming.

“The sentiment that she’s expressing of loneliness and boredom and cabin fever, it’s just all so frighteningly relevant today,” Haun said.

Esther’s beautiful, old-fashioned cursive handwriting looks entirely different than what’s typed on the digital pages of the Idaho State Historical Society. But the stories chronicled there of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic are just as revealing.

“And if you go through and read them one after another, you get the feeling that there was an incredible fear and uncertainty back in March.  And then there was no toilet paper. And then kids were excited to be out of school,” state historian HannaLore Hein said.

RELATED: Historical society wants you to help write Idaho’s COVID-19 history

For Haun, reading about the past is comforting. She says that it’s helping her understand that we’ll eventually make it through this pandemic, just as Esther did in 1918.

“I thought that was so relatable for right now,” Haun said. “How things seem to stay the same no matter the circumstance.”

And by knowing the past, HannaLore hopes future generations will be in a place to make better decisions.

She told us that capturing history is just as important as preserving it. That’s why the Idaho State Historical Society continues to collect stories from Idahoans, their personal accounts of

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