1918 Influenza Pandemic on the South Plains

The past two weeks of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal’s Sunday series “Caprock Chronicles” have featured articles that outline the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic on the South Plains. Part one, written by Chuck Lanehart, provides an overview of the flu as seen in AJ articles. Yesterday’s article, written by this author (Elissa Stroman, AV department Unit Manager), highlighted some of the Southwest Collection’s oral histories that discuss the flu.

Little research has been done diving into the impacts of the flu on the South Plains, and so this blog is meant as a guide for SWC holdings that have been found thus far. If you know of other resources in our collections, or if you find this interesting and would like to add onto this, please let us know.


Our dspace has newspapers dating back to 1918 (and earlier). A careful search of issues from that time period uncover many stories of daily life in times of global pandemic. In addition to general reports about the flu across the world, these papers also have death notices, business/church/school closures, as well as advertisements purporting miracle cures.

It should be noted that for the city of Lubbock specifically, the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History has 18 issues of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal from 1918. Direct link to those issues here.


On October 25, 1918 the Colorado Record (of Mitchell County) discusses lifting their quarantine. http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12255/188426


This small notice from the Texaco-Farwell State Line Tribune News, December 20, 1918 seems to suggest that news of the virus was often delayed in some areas of the South Plains. http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12255/142075

Oral Histories

Many of the Southwest Collection’s earliest interviews include mention of the 1918 Spanish flu—it was a common question asked of early 20th century settlers to this region (in addition to questions about childhood traditions and home life, transportation, World War I, the Great Depression, Dust Bowl conditions, etc.) The flu became a milestone event much like subsequent generations who discuss their experiences of World War II, Vietnam, the moon landing, or 9/11. While I have found no interviews focused solely on just their flu experiences, some interviews discuss healthcare in greater detail. Particularly notable interviews are as follows. (Please note: these interviews have not been transcribed and are only available to listen to in our Reading Room.)

  • Mrs. W.W. Anthony and Annie Bailey were nurses during the pandemic.
  • Fern Cone and Dr. H.E. Cone, whose father was Lubbock mayor in 1918.
  • Mose Hood was a railroad worker in Amarillo who got very sick with the virus.
  • W. Hamilton Wright also worked on the railroad and saw the virus first arrive in Abilene.
  • Mrs. C.G. Bloom lived in Thurber at the time. Her husband was a doctor, and her entire family was ill (including her 6 month old infant). Similarly Thelma Sechrist Caudle gives insights into taking care of sick relatives at home.
  • Blanche Bean Wilson and Robert Bean separately tell their family’s 1918 experiences.
  • Edith Courtney Sanders, Floydada resident, tells of the particularly rough Christmas Day 1918.
  • A few interviews feature interviewees whose fathers were doctors and detail differing treatments: Mrs. George B Long and Harry Kelley.
  • Finally, an interview of Kurt and Margaret Keidel from Fredericksburg tells of an eerily similar 1918 scene to what was seen during the black plague and more recently in Italy: church bells had to stop tolling for the dead because it was panicking the community.


Healthcare on the South Plains

For researchers interested in medicine especially in Lubbock, a 1979 thesis by William Rush Dunnagan gives early history (including the suggestion that only five individuals died of the 1918 flu in Lubbock). The “Establishment and Growth of Lubbock, Texas as the Medical Center of the South Plains” can be found on the Texas Tech libraries’ digital repository for TTU thesis and dissertations.

Finally, thus far, one photo has been found that shows the first ambulance and first class of nurses in front of the new Lubbock hospital in 1918. It is found on our dspace in three iterations. Link in caption. If you know of any other images from this time period, or images relating to this region’s response to the 1918 influenza pandemic, please contact us!


Newspapers Update

Note: This week’s blog is written by Austin Allison, Section Supervisor of our Cataloging and Technical Processing department. Like last week’s blog on oral history remote work, he provides us an update on newspaper preservation efforts from home.

Newspaper digitization still trudges along during the COVID-19 pandemic! Even though being unable to work from the office and limiting social contact has temporarily halted new digitization of historic newspapers, we are slogging through our backlog of already digitized newspapers that had been awaiting online publication. Over the past few weeks, we have been processing and uploading newspapers to several collections including The Big Spring Herald, The Midland Reporter-Telegram, The Floyd County Hesperian, and others.

Working from home to keep the newspapers rolling has been a relatively easy transition. The only thing we need is computers with Adobe Photoshop capabilities and a connection to the internet to transfer files and access our work computers to process the completed files. The bulk of newspapers being processed and uploaded these days are microfilmed newspapers, since we cannot scan physical, hard copies in the office. Fortunately, microfilm yields the largest volume of newspapers, so we are still making great progress on many of the projects we have been working on.

Of course, this remote arrangement presents new challenges to preserving West Texas history. Occasional slow connections, problems with monitoring remote processes, and other intermittent distractions top the list of things plaguing the current state of the project, but the transition to a work-from-home environment has proven to be effective at reminding us of the importance of West Texas newspapers. While we still are making a lot of progress on the projects we are focused on, being able to take a step back and actually read some of the newspapers is beneficial to understanding the context of their place in West Texas history.

While processing pages of The Floyd County Hesperian from the 1930s through the 1970s, I took note of the annual “Old Settler’s Reunions” that took place in Floydada, among other communities, to celebrate the history and residents of the county. Floydada often associated this celebration with the yearly rodeo, but these particular newspaper issues contain the names of many early residents of the county along with many local businesses that sponsored events. The May 25th, 1966 issue of The Floyd County Hesperian, soon to be available online, urges residents to adopt a “Western mode of dress” to get into the spirit, and the succeeding issue reported the winners of contests for Best Antique Window, Best Old Fiddler, and Oldest Man and Oldest Woman at the celebration. One of these issues is a great resource for researchers; a year-after-year collection of them available freely online is a treasure trove that documents not only the Old Settler’s Reunion celebrations but the history of the county through time.


The Floyd County Hesperian, May 25, 1966 issue

About the Project

From Spearman, Stratford and Pampa in the northern Texas Panhandle to Sonora, Ozona and Brackettville near the U.S.-Mexico border, the Southwest Collection digital newspaper project covers over 60 counties across Texas and includes over 120 different newspaper titles. Each of these individual, text-searchable newspaper issues is available to download in PDF format for free from the collection’s website, http://newspapers.swco.ttu.edu. As of April 2020, the project contains over 266,000 issues of newspapers with more becoming available online every week.


Our newspapers can be found on the SWC’s digital repository. Visit http://newspapers.swco.ttu.edu

Oral History Remote Access and Update

Full disclosure: the author of these COVID-19 blogs is Dr. Elissa Stroman, the Audio/Visual Unit Manager. And so this week, she wanted to take a moment to explain what her department is doing during our work from home times, as well as provide an expanded explanation of oral history remote accessibility.

Overview of Our Oral Histories

The Southwest Collection’s oral history collection of over 6,500 recordings has traditionally been abstracted only, wherein our staff listens to interviews and generates a list of topics and keywords. Thousands of these abstracts have been placed on our oral history wiki. In 2013, the Audio/Visual department shifted to create full-text transcripts of all new interviews conducted, and since that time, over 1,000 interviews have been transcribed, many of which are available on our dspace.

In 2013, this blog featured a three-part overview of our oral history holdings, discussing the collection generally, our shift to transcripts, and the various recording formats of our interviews. Since those blogs were published, in Fall 2018, the A/V department completed digitizing all SWC oral history interviews in our holdings. This was especially advantageous in COVID-19 times, because mp3 copies of the entire collection can be backed up to a portable hard drive and easily worked on remotely.

Working from Home and Expanding Operation

In early March 2020, as the Southwest Collection realized that remote work was a matter of “when” not “if,” the A/V department began making arrangements for remote oral history transcription work. We recognized early that transcription was a task any employee could take with them, whether or not they had an internet connection. It is also work that can be soothing—the act of transcribing allows transcribers to focus on the interview at hand and tune everything else out. But more importantly, our researchers frequently ask for transcripts from older interviews, and we have been unable to keep up with the demands—until now. Because of all this, the Texas Tech libraries administration realized this opportunity and made this a priority project of our building: let’s see how many transcripts can be created in this time.

Typically, the A/V department consists of three or four part-time student transcribers and one staff member editor. In the days leading up to the Texas Tech campus shutting down, more and more USB drives with mp3s were disseminated, as were links to a shared onedrive folder. At last count, almost thirty Texas Tech library and SWC employees have been assigned to remote oral history transcription work (whether it be their only assigned task or just an extra project). The interviews prioritized for remote transcription work are interview series with release forms, under-represented voice projects, important themes/collections from the SWC’s holdings, and some of the earliest oral history recordings in our collection that document pioneers of the South Plains region.

What This Means for Our Researchers

The first thing researchers will notice is a wave of new transcripts put onto our dspace. Our department had a backlog of hundreds of transcripts that needed final edits and uploading. We now have the staff and time to do that. These transcripts are more recent interview series and projects that were transcribed by our students over the last few years. We also plan to expand our oral history wiki, which at this time only has about half of our interviews represented.

The interviews that are being transcribed remotely will not go on dspace immediately. They will still need to go through our editing queue, which takes time. Further, many of these older interviews have release restrictions that means they are only available in-house. But in the long term, it is notable that while we transcribed 1,000 interviews in about seven years, we have over 2,500 interviews queued to be transcribed during this quarantine time. Consequently, potentially in the post-COVID-19 world, over half of the Southwest Collection’s oral history collection will be transcribed (and with potential for more to be done if there’s time and people needing more work).

Oral History dspace page

Our oral history transcripts can be found on the SWC’s digital repository: http://collections.swco.ttu.edu , scroll down to “oral history interviews.”

Accessing Oral Histories Online NOW

Many people ask about accessing our oral histories online, right now, today, from home. Here is the short response:

  • No audio is available to stream or listen to online.
  • In “normal” times, we can provide audio copies of interviews to family members ONLY. However, because our building is closed, we cannot fulfill patron requests for physical media at this time. We can put your request on file and fulfill it when we are back in the office.
  • If you are working on an immediate research project, we highly suggest you look to our dspace transcripts first, as that will provide you full-text versions of our interviews that you can cite directly.
  • If you are planning a future research trip, then look to our wiki for other interviews and research topics that may only be available for listening in our Reading Room.
  • If you find a particular interview you are interested in that does not have a transcript, feel free to contact us, and we can look into release restrictions. If the interview is from the 1990s onward, there is a good chance that its transcript can be placed online. You can make a request for it to be transcribed, and it will be prioritized it in our transcription queue. I anticipate that it will take about six weeks to get the transcript onto dspace.
  • See previous blogs for more information generally about digital holdings and our policies during our COVID-19 closure.

Keep your eyes on our dspace and wiki sites in the upcoming weeks/months, as we continue to expand our digital holdings of our oral histories.

Screenshot 2020-04-13 14.11.09

Our oral history wiki will also be expanded while we are working from home. The site contains general information and abstracts of our interviews. http://swco.ttu.edu/ohc

Southwest Collection Digital Remote Resources Overview

Since our Reading Room is closed, we wanted to take a moment to provide an anchoring blog post for researchers interested in continuing their work remotely. Below are some links and general guidelines for accessing Southwest Collection materials from the comfort of your home.


Though our Reading Room may be closed, many archival materials can still be accessed on our digital repository.

Digital Collections:

Our digital repository contains materials from all special collections in our building: Southwest, University Archives, Crossroads of Music, Rare Books, the Sowell Family Collection, and Oral History. Click on any “community” to browse collections generally, and then there is the option to browse “sub-communities.”  https://collections.swco.ttu.edu

Specifically regarding newspapers: Our dspace contains over 126 different newspaper titles from across West Texas that encompasses 264,000 text-searchable issues, with more added daily. The direct link for these newspapers is: https://newspapers.swco.ttu.edu (click the community “newspapers” for a full list of titles).

Tips for navigating dspace:

  • Each community will display the most recent submissions first at the bottom.
  • Sub-communities allow our departments to group archival material by collection or topic. They are incredibly helpful if you are trying to find specific thematic materials.
  • For more general research, the search bar on the right side allows you to search the entire digital repository. Once you click on any community, you can further narrow your search to the specific community you are currently browsing.
  • The search function crawls titles of files, as well as any text-searchable documents.
  • Further, the tool bar on the right allows you to filter or narrow the material you are viewing by author, subject, and date within the community.
  • Because of the variety of ways to describe archival materials, we highly recommend searching utilizing different keywords and terms. Alternative phrases might allow you to find information in multiple collections that you would not have anticipated. Also, sometimes it is helpful to just browse entire collections—with extra time at home, you never know what gems may be lurking in our digital repository!
  • Once you click on an item, click on the “view/open” link below the thumbnail to access the file. Most materials are either .pdf or .jpg format, and your browser setting will determine if the file opens in a new window or if you are prompted to download.
  • For more information and metadata on each file, scroll down on the page and click on “show full item record.”
  • The URI link on each item page provides a permanent web link if you need to access the file again. We recommend you use that link for any research citations.

Many empty tables await researchers for when our building reopens!

Digital Resources for Collections Accessible Only In-Person

If you want to jump-start your next research trip to Lubbock, here are a few places you’ll want to check out to get started.

TARO Finding Aids

The Texas Archival Resources Online provides finding aids for collections throughout the SWC/SCL. These materials will not necessarily have been digitized, but they do provide detailed inventories and general information on collections housed in our building.

More information on how to use finding aids can be found in this previous blog post.

Manuscript Guide

The Southwest Collection also has many collections without TARO finding aids at this time. More general information about those collections can be found here.

Reference Files

The Reading Room has over 14,000 files with general information about West Texas and the greater Southwest region. These reference files contain news clippings, brochures, inventories, and oral history information. They can normally be photocopied in-house, and provide an excellent starting point for researchers.

Oral Histories

More information on the Southwest Collection’s prodigious oral history collection of over 6,500 interviews can be found on our oral history wiki. These recordings have traditionally been abstracted, which are included on this site. If an interview has been transcribed, it will be housed on dspace.

The SWC also has donated oral history collections (with thousands of recordings); a preliminary list is found here. Any links to finding aids or other information are given when available.

Catalog Generally

If a more traditional card catalog is your preferred method of research, here is the direct link to the Texas Tech University Libraries online catalog.

Tip: if you want to search for just SWC/SCL materials, click the “advanced search” link to the right of the search bar. It will allow you to limit the scope of your search, and from there you can choose either “Southwest Collection/Special Collections” which focuses on physical materials in house (books, collections, oral histories) or “Southwest/Special Collections Digital Content” which focuses on our dspace holdings.


As always, our Reference Staff is a phone call or email away with any questions researchers have. Feel free to reach out to them, as well as any employee of the Southwest Collection. Our contact information can be found here.

The SWC Staff, Working from Home

With our archival work all being done from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have asked our staff members to reflect on their work and the role of archives in this time. They are supplying with their response a photo of their new coworker(s), a laptop selfie, and other photos of their WFH set up.

This blog post will be updated weekly, aggregating our staff profile posts.