New Boston Historical Society
New Boston, New Hampshire
1892 drawing
The Influenza Fiend from The Illustrated Police News.

New Boston and the Russian Flu
by Mary Atai

Episodes of flu have been documented as far back as the fifth century in Europe. The French came to call it la grippe, and much earlier, the Italians called it influenza, believing it was brought on by an influence from the stars. It has also been widely known as "catarrhal fever."

In the New Boston Argus newspapers from the 1890s, we learn of an early epidemic of the flu that affected New Boston greatly. This flu first took hold in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the end of 1889, and moved west through Europe to America, reaching New England only 70 days after it began. This became known as the Russian flu, or the 1889-1890 flu pandemic, with recurrences until 1895. Over the next few years about one million people worldwide succumbed to it.

gravestone of Elizabeth Andrews On January 9, 1892, a statement in The Argus revealed, "nearly twenty persons are suffering with [la grippe] in town." (The population of New Boston was about 1,000 people at this time.) Names of the ill and the dead were listed weekly.

One well-known name listed in the obituaries was that of Elizabeth Lull Andrews, wife of Issachar Andrews, his father having been Deacon Issachar Andrews, who was well documented by Reverend Cogswell in his book History of New Boston.

As the story goes, in 1891 both Mr. and Mrs. Andrews were very ill with severe bronchial symptoms. Mr. Andrews rallied, but Betsy succumbed. Both had been born in New Boston and had lived here all their lives. They were planning to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary that week when she died on Christmas day. The newspaper's beautiful tribute included these lines:
The three score years and ten had passed
In honest industry and toil until the last,
In patient watching on the unseen shore,
Thy wife will wait for thee 'till life is o'er.

The names of other well-known early New Boston families affected by this flu included Atwood, Kelso, Chandler, and Hooper.

Gravestone inscription:
DIED Dec. 25, 1891 Age 73 yrs.

In the 1893 text The Cottage Physician, the categories of flu were divided into three types, the first being the "neurotic type," in which it was believed that there might be disturbances of hearing and smelling, "leading to delirium and unpleasant complications of meningitis and insanity." However, the other two types are described as essentially causing inflammation of the mucous membranes, the throat, and the bronchi, with the possibility of pneumonia intervening; and also, there being symptoms of high fever and chills, as well as a rapid lowering of the vitality of the body, which coincides with our beliefs more than 125 years later.

Because the causative organism had not been discovered yet, diagnosis was made based on presenting symptoms. An exciting component of this story is the discovery of viruses in 1892. There had been a finding made around this time that the flu was caused by "the smallest disease germs that have so far been recognized", and the medical world was awaiting the truth of this claim. Of course, this was verified, and Dmitri Ivanovsky's discovery of the existence of viruses was validated.

New Boston doctors
Doctors Weaver and Gould, from The Granite Monthly, 1897

There were two physicians working in New Boston at this time. Dr. Charles Weaver had come to New Boston in 1882. He lived in the large house in Central Square at the foot of Old Coach Road. He worked in town for 30 years and also served as a surgeon at the Hillsboro County Hospital.

Also treating flu patients at that time was Dr. Herbert Gould. A native of Weare, NH, Dr. Gould came to New Boston in 1883 from a practice in Connecticut. He lived in the "Bliss House" in Central Square, later torn down and replaced by the blacksmith shop which became Heidi Palmer's Real Estate Agency and is now offices for an accountant and a veterinarian.

Dr. Gould
A later photograph of Doctor Gould making his rounds

As for treatment, early New Bostonians could have expected bromide of sodium, dissolved in water, to be drunk every two hours for headache, an injection of morphia for the neuralgic pains, and quinine, which is listed as an agent "specific against the grippe germ." Mustard poultices were recommended, to be placed on the chest to break up congestion. Medicated inhalations were made by adding "a scruple of powdered hemlock or henbane, sprinkled in boiling water," with the steam ascending into the throat. Also popular at that time was the use of camphor.

Medications used to fight flu symptoms included quinine and camphor.

Even with our much better understanding of the disease process and with much improved treatments, such as vaccinations and the use of antiviral drugs, the flu continues to kill up to 80,000 people each year in the United States.

Letterhead of New Boston's undertaker, Edmund P. Fox

About the author:
Mary Atai is the Vice President of the Historical Society. Mary worked as a Registered Nurse for 38 years, mostly in Pediatrics.