Love in the Time of the Spanish Flu MyHeritage July 15, 2020

I saw this on MyHeritage – Love in the Time of the Spanish Flu

 by Esther July 15, 2020 History

Over the past several months, it’s become clear that the coronavirus pandemic will change our lives in many ways — not least of which, the way we connect to our loved ones. Experts say that social distancing is the only effective weapon humanity has right now to slow the spread of the pandemic. In many places all over the world, leaders have called on their citizens to express their love for others in a way that is the complete opposite of what we are used to: instead of increasing our physical closeness, we’re supposed to stay away from each other and avoid contact, including hugging and kissing.

Kissing is one of the most common ways humans show affection for each other. Norms differ from culture to culture: in some places, friends kiss each other as a greeting, whereas in other places, kisses are reserved for lovers and close family members. Throughout history, people have kissed the hands or feet of their leaders and elders to show respect, and this is still practiced in some parts of the world. Whatever the norms, the gesture is a universal expression of love and admiration.

Unfortunately, kissing is also one of the most surefire ways of spreading infection.

So what does it mean to outlaw kissing as a way to protect our loved ones from the virus?

We are not the first generation to cope with this dilemma. The MyHeritage Research team dug into the digital archives, including our extensive collection of historical newspapers, to learn how people related to kissing during the Spanish flu pandemic 102 years ago. Just like today, social distancing was key to fighting the spread of the disease, and people were forced to take a new attitude towards kissing.

Here are the team’s findings:

Stop kissing already

By January 1919, it had become abundantly clear that kissing was “no laughing matter.”


From Denmark to Mexico

The United States was not the only place where people were dealing with the problem of kissing — just like it is a global issue today. The MyHeritage Research team also found some articles from newspapers in other countries weighing in on the matter.

This article from a Danish newspaper, Middelfart Avis, published December 8, 1918, is titled “Dangerous kisses.” It discusses how critical it is to avoid kissing, bringing an example of a ship from Spain that brought the fever to the coast of Florida. Crew members were forbidden from going ashore, but one man snuck out to meet his girlfriend in the town. A few days later, she got the flu, and 200 of the town’s 1,500 people ended up dying from it.


A world without kissing

How do we cope in a world without kissing? A world where we can’t express our love and affection for one another in such a natural and human way?

There’s no doubt that this and the other social distancing restrictions are difficult for many, especially those of us who are relatively isolated and don’t live in the same household as our loved ones. Humans are a creative species and we have come up with many ingenious ways to connect despite the distance. But nothing can truly replace being able to touch, hold, and kiss the people we love.

While we wait for this difficult time to pass, we can at least draw comfort from the fact that people all over the world dealt with these same restrictions a century ago, and though it was surely hard for them — it didn’t last forever. Things went back to normal after a few years. And they didn’t have the technology and advanced medicine we have today.

Learn more about drawing comfort and inspiration from the stories of our ancestors in our earlier blog post, Drawing on Your Ancestors’ Resilience Can Help You Get Through Tough Times.

You can also find fascinating stories about your own ancestors in our newspaper collection.


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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