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Mask mandate was unpopular with some during 1918 flu outbreak

Some of the images from more than 100 years ago look vaguely familiar.
Credit: National Archives
Masks worn during 1918 flu pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS — There are people on both sides of a growing controversy over face mask mandates

The pushes and the protests today are intense, but they're not new. 

The images from all the way back in 1918 look vaguely familiar.

Schools closed, businesses were shuttered and Americans socially distanced to slow the spread of the flu pandemic.

But it wasn't the lockdowns that caused angst. 

"It seemed to be the mask orders that were the ones that got people upset the most," said J. Alex Navarro of the University of Michigan.

There were public service campaigns telling Americans it was their patriotic duty to wear one. 

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"The man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker," the Red Cross said at the time.

But getting the masses to mask up wasn't easy. They complained that it was uncomfortable. Others called it an unconstitutional infringement of their civil liberties.

"That the government could not compel them to wear a mask. it was their body their choice to do what they wanted," Navarro said. "It is strikingly familiar to today. There's somehing about the American society and American culture where even though the historic backdrops change, human nature seems to be fairly static when it comes to this issue."

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