Symposium 2018: The History & Future of Public Health in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Beyond

Photo credit: Center image courtesy of Robert Lussier | Lussier Photography

Funded in part by Mass Humanities.

Date: Saturday, April 7, 2018
Location: Everett Mills, 15 Union Street, Lawrence
Proposal Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2017
Contact(s): Susan Grabski, Lawrence History Center,; Professor Robert Forrant,

This symposium is designed for exploration and dialogue, thinking broadly about public health issues through the perspectives of the humanities. The day-long effort will look back at one of the most significant health crises in the history of the United States and open the door to considering contemporary health crises in the country and most particularly in greater Lawrence. Childhood obesity, asthma, diabetes, homelessness, poverty, the opioid crisis, etc. all require civic responses. Taking a careful look at what was done in 1918 and 1919 with respect to the influenza, as well as other important advancements made in sanitation, water filtration, disease control in Lawrence in the early 20th century, allows us to think about how we handle the health crises we face today.

Background: In the spring of 1918, the United States was embroiled in World War I, fighting alongside the English, French, and Russians against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In total, 70 million people were at war on multiple fronts across Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. The tide was finally turning for the Allies after a crushing offensive by German forces mere weeks earlier. Then, a fierce enemy intervened—an outbreak of influenza that would decimate entire regiments and towns, kill civilians and soldiers alike by the millions, and rapidly become a global pandemic. This disease weakened forces on both sides, changing not only the course of the war but also the economies and population stability of every affected nation. In the long term, this particular outbreak would inspire research on an unprecedented scale and lead to advances in science and medicine, forever altering our understanding of epidemiology. From the spring of 1918 to early 1919, no aspect of life remained untouched by the pandemic for Americans at home and on the front. (

Almost as quickly as the influenza pandemic appeared in the spring of 1918, the rate of new cases slowed by the end of 1918, then faded away by the spring of 1919. Estimates vary, but the most widely accepted world death tolls reach 25 to 50 million worldwide, with more than 1.5 million of these on American soil, in addition to military losses abroad. In Lawrence, around 2,000 Lawrencians died in 1918 (compared to 1,391 in 1917 and 1,280 in 1919). Many steps were taken to combat this mysterious and deadly epidemic, including the establishment of the Tent City to quarantine the victims.

The Call for Papers/Participation may be found at:

We are currently evaluating submissions and will post the program details and registration in early 2018.

Questions? Please contact:

Susan Grabski, Executive Director
Lawrence History Center
tel. 978.686.9230

Robert Forrant, PhD
Distinguished University Professor 2016-2019
Professor of History and Graduate Program Coordinator
University of Massachusetts Lowell
tel. 978-934-2904


Tue–Fri: 9am-4pm
Sat: By appt
Sun-Mon: Closed

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6 Essex Street
Lawrence, MA 01840

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Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.