The 1918 Flu Epidemic by Florence Coberly Sanger, Published in 1984 “Images of an Age, Clovis”

Pioneer Doctor Milton McMurtry (1880-1962) practiced 57 years. (Clovis Museum)

Florence Coberly Sanger’s (Dec. 23, 1909 to Nov. 1, 1997) parents Joseph and Charlotte Coberly were early pioneers. Isaac Coberly (we believe her grandfather) was an early day Justice of the Peace.

The population of Clovis in 1919 was 1,500; it was still 1,500 in 1922 with a 6,000 rural population recorded.

“Image of an Age, Clovis” was published by the Clovis Unified School District in 1984. We quote: “A sharing of reminiscences, illustrations and photographs of the historical development of the Clovis Community, its people, schools, organizations, churches, and its surrounding rural areas.”

Among his acknowledgements, Peter G. Mehas, Ed.D, Associate Superintendent Instruction recognized Clovis Community Bank, President Don Bruegman and the Clovis High School Student Body, Principal William Contente, Jr., and Assistant Superintendent Dale Stringer for sponsoring the book.

The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic prevailed until 1922. Florence Sanger shared the following in 1919 (third wave of four waves of the flu):

“The flu epidemic hit in 1918.The schools and churches closed. On December 29, both my mother and I got sick. I recall having the worst headache and fever I’d ever had. The next morning, Dad had Dr. Pendergrass (Note: Dr. W.C. Pendergrass (1863-1919), Clovis Doctor (1912-1919) come out.

The doctor advised that I stay away from Mom, who was seven months pregnant. He wasn’t sure Mom had it, but he knew I did. Dad obliged, of course. He brought my crib down from upstairs and put it in the living room. He then put a double bed in the opposite corner for himself and Bernice. She had it too. Elizabeth was O.K.

Mrs. Foster, who lived next door, came to take care of us. She kept Elizabeth in the kitchen during the day and took her to her home each night. Every morning and evening, Mrs. Foster put a mask around Elizabeth’s face and carried her in to see us. She never got sick.

Mother had a terrible time the night of December 30. Dad called Dr. Pendergrass, who said he’d begun to doubt he could save her and suggested another doctor he consulted. Dr. McMurtry (Note: Dr. Milton S. McMurtry (1880-1962) Clovis doctor 1904-1962) was but a phone call away. He arrived in minutes.

Dr. Mac was appalled that we had no source of heat—and no electricity—other than a kerosene stove. Cecil, my father, protested that kerosene fumes might not be good for a pregnant woman. Dr. Mac prevailed, the stove was moved into Mom’s room.

Around midnight, Lily Lorene arrived—two months early.  Mama did have the flu. Dad took one of her long black stockings around his head tight as he could.

Dr. Mac asked him what he was doing and Dad explained that he had a headache. Mac immediately ordered him to bed and announced he, too, had the flu.

Lorene was yellow as a grapefruit. Three weeks passed before all of us could get up. I wasn’t too sick, as it turned out, but my fever lingered around 99 to 100 for a long while. Until it returned to normal the doctor feared a relapse.

You have to endure all sorts of things to get well. Mrs. Foster asked me to do her “a great big favor” and I naturally agreed, since she had taken care of us. She promptly came back with a glass full of orange juice and castor oil. I downed it and it stayed down. I got a cup of coffee to chase it, which was unusual for me.

Since all of us but two-year-old Elizabeth were bed-ridden, we ran out of food in a hurry. Mrs. Foster helped make a list of what we needed and she got around to asking me what I’d like to have. Anything I wanted would be all right with her. I looked at Dad and he nodded. “Oyster Soup”, I cried. Dad liked it, too.”

Florence and her family are a part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.