1918 Flu Pandemic in Rockford, Illinois

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Date: Sep 1918 to Nov 1918
Location: Rockford Illinoismap
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1918 Spanish Flu in Rockford, Illinois

Camp Grant

Camp Grant, built as a training center for World War I soldiers in 1917, was the epicenter for a deadly outbreak of influenza in Winnebago County, Illinois in October of 1918.

The camp was built to house 40,000 people and at one point had a population of 57,000.

In September 1918 there were 40,000 men at the camp. Fearing the men would suffer from cold, the new commander, Col. Charles Hagadorn, against the advice of Army medical officials and Army Health regulations ordered the men housed in tents to be moved into already over crowded barracks.

On Oct. 1, 1918 there were 8 cases of influenza recorded at Camp Grant. On Oct 2 there were 50 cases and 800 cases on Oct 3. By the next week there were over 10,000 cases. Soldiers were dying at a rate of 75 to 100 a day. [1]

The 400 nurses were not enough to care for the sick men. Segregated housing was built to bring in Black nurses (who up to now had been denied positions at the camp) to care for Black soldiers.

Civilian volunteers like Rockford High School teachers Blenda Kjellgren and her sister Anna came to help after the schools were closed. Both sisters contracted the disease and died within a day of one another.

Colonel Charles Hagadorn

Col. Hagadorn was so distraught over his inability to stop the deaths, he shot himself in the head on Oct. 7.


The outbreak soon spread to the nearby city of Rockford. By the end of the first week there were 2000 cases reported, with likely much more unreported cases.

Mayor Robert Rew, suffering from the flu himself ordered schools, churches, dance halls and theaters closed and no public gatherings were allowed. But still the virus spread. On Oct. 10 , 218 people died of influenza in Winnebago County, the highest number who died in one day.

Twenty-seven undertakers were transported in from Chicago, Aurora and other places to try to keep pace with the number of bodies waiting to be embalmed.

By the end of October the outbreak had subsided, coming to an end about as quickly as it began. In a span of five weeks, Influenza had killed 1400 at Camp Grant, 323 civilians in Rockford and about 100 in the rest of Winnebago County.


  1. Pumilia, Janine. it was only the flu. Northwest Quarterly, Winter, 2018.

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