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LISTEN: Learn About the 1918 Flu Pandemic And Dancing Bans of the 1920s

Hannon Family
These two caskets held Shannon Miner’s great, great grandmother, Amanda Johnson and her sister Hilda Peterson. The women were buried in a double funeral. Another sister would join them in death just days later. All three were victims of the flu.";

While schools are closed, we're creating a series of "Talk of Iowa" episodes that will be fun and educational for learners of all ages. Every Tuesday, we'll learn about Iowa wildlife, and every Thursday, we'll learn about Iowa history.  

Our series continues with a difficult time in Iowa history. With COVID-19 spreading world-wide, you’ve probably heard people talking about the flu pandemic of 1918 – also referred to as the Spanish Flu. 

Our guide through Iowa History is Leo Landis, the curator of the State Historical Museum of Iowa. Landis describes how Iowa was hit hard by the flu pandemic. Nearly 7,000 Iowans died of the virus including, many soldiers preparing to go fight in World War I. 

We also hear from Shannon Miner of Iowa City. Miner’s family was living in Iowa 100 years ago and had a tragic encounter with the flu pandemic. Her great-great grandmother, Amanda Johnson, died of the flu shortly after giving birth. Two of Johnson's sisters died of the flu just days later. 

Later, we discuss Iowa in the 1920s. After World War I ended and the flu crisis lifted, a number of Iowans started worrying about something else that was spreading like wildfire – jazz music.

The sound was new and it made people want to move in new ways. Concerned citizens and policy makers tried to ban this style of music, and dancing, in many Iowa towns.

Vocabulary from this podcast: 

  • epidemic, adj. affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time
  • pandemic, adj. occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population
  • ban, verb to prohibit especially by legal means

Conversation questions for this podcast: 

  • What’s the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?
  •  How do you think "social distancing" or "quarantine" has changed over the last hundred years? 
  • Do you think there is any way to really ban a kind of dance?
  • Is there a dance you think your parents would like to ban? 

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Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa