UW Disease and Closure

When was the last time the UW closed due to disease?

Abe

The COVID-19 closure is a historic moment for the UW, but it’s not entirely unprecedented. A little more than a century ago, during the influenza pandemic of 1918–19, the UW also looked at ways to encourage social distancing (though they didn’t use that term). Called “Spanish flu” at the time (though the disease didn’t originate in Spain), influenza hit campus hard in the fall of 1918. Hundreds were infected at the UW, and dozens died. The UW canceled “large lecture courses and recreational gatherings of students” from October through the end of the year to try to halt the spread of the disease. By June 1919, Wisconsin Alumni Magazine was content to speak of the epidemic in the past tense. The university didn’t have a complete shutdown, though the disease certainly altered campus life. And it created an odd alliance of public health officials and local prudes, who declared that male and female students would no longer be allowed to dance together — all in the name of prophylaxis. Photo by University Communications/Jeff Miller