With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

They Survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust: They Have Some Advice For You

For most of us, it is almost impossible to comprehend the ferocity and regularity with which life was upended during the first half of the 20th century. Plague and conflict emerged on an epic scale, again and again. Loss and restriction were routine; disaster was its own season.

At 101, Naomi Replansky, a poet and labor activist, has endured all of it. Born in her family’s apartment on East 179th Street in the Bronx in May 1918, her arrival in the world coincided with the outset of the Spanish flu. 

The Spanish flu, which claimed tens of millions of lives, many of them children under the age of 5, was hardly an isolated public health emergency. Polio had been designated an epidemic in New York in June of 1916. That year 2,000 people died of the disease in the city. Of those who lived, many would have had all too vivid memories of the typhoid eruption that gripped the city nine years earlier.

Until a polio vaccine came into use in the 1950s, outbreaks occurred somewhere in the country nearly every spring. Public gatherings were regularly canceled; wealthy people in big cities left for the country. By the early 1920s, Naomi’s baby sister was stricken, leaving one of her legs permanently paralyzed.

Read entire article at New York Times