Teaching in the Archive: Rutgers First-Year Students and Popular Culture Collections, Part Two


By Christie Lutz, New Jersey Regional Studies Librarian and Head of Public Services

This is the second in a short series featuring final projects from the Rutgers Byrne First-Year Seminar I taught in Fall 2020, “Examining Archives Through the Lens of Popular Culture.” You can read about the course and the final project, in which students envisioned their own pop culture archives, in this post.

This project, entitled Archiving Goodness, is by Sarah LaValle, Rutgers Class of 2024. Sarah’s archive, like our previously featured student’s archive, Domination of Face Masks in 2020, is another timely project that came out of this course.


Public Event: Exploring Special Collections and University Archives: Black History Resources


Announcing Exploring Special Collections and University Archives, a new webinar series from Rutgers–New Brunswick Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

Image from Rutgers Photograph Collection: Student Life: Black Student Activism

The webinars will feature talks, virtual tours, and demonstrations by our curators and scholars showcasing the rich resources of our historic and cultural collections.

You’re invited to the first webinar of the series, “Black History Resources.” Curators Erika Gorder and Christine Lutz will discuss Black history resources in Special Collections and University Archives.

Event Details:

Wednesday, February 17, 2021, via Zoom

4:00-5:00pm (Eastern Time, US and Canada)

Register: go.rutgers.edu/SCUABlackHistory

Questions? Contact Special Collections & University Archives


Color Our Collections 2021


For the past few years, Special Collections and University Archives has been creating coloring book pages based on our collections. The annual #ColorOurCollections week (usually the first full week of February) was created by The New York Academy of Medicine Library (NYAM) in 2016 and is a way for libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world to share their coloring pages.  In 2018, the NYAM created a website to bring together all of the pages and allow people to download images throughout the year.

This year Special Collection and University Archives decided to focus our coloring pages on the work of the New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project (NJDNP). The NJDNP is a collaboration of the Rutgers University Libraries, the New Jersey State Archives, and the New Jersey State Library to make New Jersey Newspapers available as part of the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project.  This project is funded by a grant for the National Digital Newspaper Program, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

You can download our NJDNP inspired 2021 Color Our Collections.  You can also check out our other coloring page here or you can check out the coloring pages from other New Jersey institutions:


Teaching in the Archive: Rutgers First-Year Students and Popular Culture Collections


By Christie Lutz, New Jersey Regional Studies Librarian and Head of Public Services

For the past two fall semesters, I have taught “Examining Archives Through the Lens of Popular Culture,” a course I developed for the Rutgers Byrne First Year Seminars. In the course, students engage in active, hands-on learning to explore archives and special collections and how they can be used for research. We examine popular culture collections in Rutgers’ Special Collections and University Archives and elsewhere that document a wide range of topics such as the New Brunswick music scene, video games, cookbooks and restaurant menus from around the Garden State, zines representing a variety of subcultures, Women’s March and other protest movement posters, and Jersey Shore memorabilia.

The goals I set for students in this course include developing an understanding and appreciation of archives and special collections; developing primary source research skills and becoming careful interpreters of documents, images, and objects; understanding how critical factors such as ethnicity, race, gender, and class are documented and perpetuated in popular cultural materials; and to learn to think about what is included and excluded in archives and special collections, and why. We also learn from each other as we share, debate, and think creatively about expressions of popular culture.

I will be sharing some of the students’ final projects (some anonymously) for the Fall 2020 course, in which they envision their own pop culture archive, and present their concept for an archive, in narrative form or in a slide show.

Here is our first student project, a very timely archive, entitled Domination of Face Masks in 2020.

2021 Greetings


By Christie Lutz, New Jersey Regional Studies Librarian and Head of Public Services

Happy New Year from Special Collections and University Archives. In early 2021, we are reflecting on the fact that that 2020 was a difficult and challenging year for so many. Like most of our colleagues in archives and special collections around the country, and indeed around the world, Special Collections and University Archives (SC/UA) faculty and staff have had to redirect our efforts to increase remote services. In summer and fall 2020, we scrambled to enhance access to digital materials, offer Zoom research consultations, and provide remote classroom instruction. We probably made more PDF copies of materials for researchers than any year to date!

While we look forward to the day we can reopen our reading room to researchers near and far, we continue to provide research support, instruction, and information for enjoyment and edification as our faculty and staff work (primarily) remotely. To that end, we’d like to share a few highlights of the work we have been doing to support Rutgers faculty, students, and staff; researchers around the state of New Jersey; and students and scholars from all corners of the world.

Digital Resources

We are excited to share a new digital resource, “Special Collections and University Archives Primary Source Highlights,” a site that makes accessible a trove of images we have scanned for researchers over the years. The site also features images from an ongoing project to scan the Sinclair New Jersey Postcard Collection. While “Primary Source Highlights” is still in its infancy, we are adding images regularly, so we encourage you to check back periodically.

“Primary Source Highlights” will be included in the SC/UA Digital Resources Guide we created in the fall. This guide continues to serve as a one-stop-shop for centralized, easy access to SC/UA’s digitized resources.

During the fall semester, we started a project to revamp and update the content of our subject guides. These guides serve as a useful gateway to our collection strengths, and are a particularly good resource for students looking for paper topics, or to see what materials SC/UA holds on a particular topic.

The New Jersey Digital Newspaper Project is continuing to digitize historical New Jersey Newspapers for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website. Recent additions include the Gloucester County Democrat (1878-1912), Morris County Chronicle (1877-1914), Pleasantville Weekly Press (1892-1911) and The Pleasantville Press (1912-1914).

The NJ Digital Newspaper Project blog provides further information about the project and links to all NJ newspapers digitized to date. These newspapers have been digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Reference and Instruction

We will continue to provide instructional support this spring. If you’re looking for resources for your course, or would like a curator or archivist to provide instruction for your class, feel free to send a message to scua_ref@libraries.rutgers.edu and your request will be directed to the appropriate faculty or staff member. For general requests or questions, feel free to contact Christie Lutz, New Jersey Regional Studies Librarian and Head of Public Services at christie.lutz@rutgers.edu.

Looking for a quick way to introduce your students to the mission and work of SC/UA, or add a video to your Canvas course? We’ve compiled our videos, including a brief overview of SC/UA aimed at undergraduate students, and a couple of fun quizzes which in one spot. Check out https://libguides.rutgers.edu/scuavideos

You can always write to our reference account at scua_ref@libraries.rutgers.edu with questions and scanning requests. We are continuing to waive our reproduction fees this semester.

Exhibits and Events

2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) granting women the right to vote. Explore our most recent exhibition, On Account of Sex: The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage in Middlesex County or listen to a talk by Ann D. Gordon, “Bringing the Story Home: Agitating for Woman Suffrage in New Jersey.”

Photographer and author Barbara Mensch delivered the 34th annual Louis Faugères Bishop III lecture, “In the Shadow of Genius: The Brooklyn Bridge and Its Creators,” in November, 2020. Mensch was inspired by SC/UA’s Roebling collection to create her recent book by the same name (Fordham University Press, 2018).

What else is happening?

We’re starting to roll out a new look and feel to our finding aids, via ArchivesSpace, a platform that will provide easier searching of our manuscript collections and a uniform look and feel.

Along with the rest of Rutgers University Libraries, we are developing a new website that will be more user-friendly and feature updated content.

You can always check the SC/UA website and social media feeds (links in the column to the right, plus the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive on Facebook) for the latest news, events, and changes in operating status and/or services.

Douglass in Fluxus


By Rachel Ferrante

In these uncertain times, can I offer you Douglass College Arts History from 1945-1975?  

I want to start with a story called “Cumberland Street,” which was published in the Anthologist literary magazine in 1950. I believe that the controversy surrounding this short fiction underscores how different Rutgers culture was at the beginning of this period. Reflective of American culture of the time, Rutgers in 1950 had strict standards for the behavior of its students. For many years, the Douglass College student handbook (the Red Book), listed “willfully breaking social code” as grounds for suspension or expulsion. “Cumberland Street” follows three students who are not just breaking rules but laws, and doing so to commit what some New Jerseyans felt was an obscene attack on morality: abortion. The correspondence between angry New Jerseyans, religious leaders, and reporters spanned three university presidencies, and resulted in a few pauses in publication. Rutgers President Mason Gross was the one to put a stop to it by issuing an official endorsement of the magazine on September 11, 1960. In his letters to business leaders and reporters, Gross was respectful but emphasized his duty to defend students’ freedom of expression. Although the focus of my research has been to illustrate the impact of women artists on the university’s arts programming, I felt like this story was worth retelling because it portrays Mason Gross as a supporter of the arts and free speech. Supporting one without the other, I think he would agree, is insufficient.  

Portrait Mason Gross, 1962

Therefore, his name is rightfully attached to Rutgers’ school of the arts. However, the foundation that Mason Gross School of the Arts (MGSA) was built upon is quite literally dependent on female artists, and one microbiologist, Mary Ingraham Bunting. During Bunting’s tenure as dean of Douglass College from 1955 to1960, she made several important changes to the curriculum. Prior to Bunting, Margaret Trumbull Corwin had been the dean of what was then known as New Jersey College for Women (NJC) for 21 years, from 1934 to 1955. Some accounts of her tenure portray her negatively; however, her focus on internal improvements to the college through the World War II era laid the foundation for the vibrant Bunting years. Here are some of Corwin’s contributions:  

  • Developing an annual lecture series that would lead to renowned figures in all fields visiting Douglass, including artists.  
  • Expanding experiential learning so that by 1937 one third of all courses had field trips.  
  • Dissolving the clothing major and replacing it with Costume Design housed in the Fine Arts Department.  
  • Expanding interdisciplinary study opportunities by allowing students to create their own majors.  
  • Developing a recruitment program to draw students during and after the war.  
  • Using connections between NJC and Rutgers to have a university-funded student center built.  
  • Holding showcases of faculty work, specifically within the Fine Arts Department.  

 These showcases continued after her tenure. In 1956, Douglass art professor Robert Watts, then in his third year at the college, displayed his work to a crowd that included a chemist from Johnson & Johnson named George Brecht. Brecht, who had been exploring “the art of chance,” approached Watts, and soon was introduced to Allan Kaprow, a Rutgers College art professor who also began teaching in 1953. A key influence on Brecht and Kaprow was John Dewey. Dewey’s theories of education were also part of the ideology of Black Mountain College (BMC), a short lived but progressive institution that emphasized the importance of art-making in a liberal arts education. Following the 1950s, Dewey’s ideas of a democratic, individually-driven education were growing in popularity as social codes were also changing. At Douglass, Kaprow, Watts, Brecht, and their cohorts continued the legacy of BMC by using the college’s space for inter-media art installations, one of the first of which took place taking place in College Hall, the administration building.  

The genre largely associated with these artists is Fluxus, an interdisciplinary movement including composers and performers, which focused on the artistic process rather than the supposed quality of the final product. Fluxus played a large part in changing how art was being taught and practiced at Douglass. The events that resulted from this movement, Happenings, expanded the importance of art in campus cultureattracting students who were not just interested in art, but radical art. Taking over for Corwin in 1955, Mary Bunting’s time at Douglass, as one author put it “saw the glitter and flamboyance of the [Dean] Douglass years return.” In 1960, her successor Ruth Adams worked closely with President Gross to develop the precursor to the school of fine arts. With these women at the helm, Douglass was able to provide an equitable arts education to women who would go on to become innovative artists themselves.  

Portrait Ruth Adams, 1962

 Well into the sixties, art courses took place on the top floors of Recitation Hall, now the Ruth Adams Building. These courses became increasingly popular as the college grew. In 1961, the Mabel Smith Douglass Library was built, freeing up space in Recitation Hall for more courses. In 1964, liberal arts courses moved to the newly built Hickman Hall, and in 1965 Recitation Hall was renamed the Arts Building. Among the Douglass women studying there were Rutgers MFA students. This period was one of exciting growth at Douglass. One of Bunting’s early goals had been for the student body to reach 3,000 by 1968, which it did, expanding from only 600 students in 1942. With these new students came more diversity and therefore a need for more collaborative and progressive approaches.  

Recitation Hall aka Ruth Adams, undated

These developments occurred both from the ground up and from the top down. While coeducation was never the priority of Douglass College, it started to become a university necessity to accommodate the growing student body. By the late sixties, although men’s degrees were from Rutgers and women’s degrees from Douglass, men and women could attend classes at either campus and in 1969, at the new “urban” Livingston College. One of the ways the University began to integrate was through the “Arts Section” created by Ruth Adams and Mason Gross in 1960. The section consisted of members of Douglass, Rutgers, and Newark visual arts programs and was the official precursor of the School of Fine Arts, as stated in Section II of the document. Section I outlines the primary intent: to paraphrase, the Arts Section was created to strengthen and unify the visual arts curriculum at the university and guide the development of arts programming at other Rutgers’ colleges, including Livingston and Camden. In a letter to the members of the Art Section dated March 10, 1960, Gross writes that “unnecessary duplication must be eliminated,” and that “Douglass and Rutgers can no longer operate separately.”  

Douglass Art Department, ca. 1960s

Touching on a common cultural connection, Gross acknowledged the proximity of New Brunswick to the art scene in New York and cited it as advantageous to Rutgers arts programming. He did make it clear, however, that he wanted Rutgers to have an arts program of its own significance. Gross also expressed a desire for the arts to be integrated into academics and the New Brunswick community at large, seeing the university as a cultural center, and Rutgers having an obligation to the state of New Jersey to develop its own cultural output. With growing interest in Fluxus/Happenings and the “New Jersey School” of art, Brecht and Kaprow began taking classes at the New School for Social Research in 1959. This marked a turning point for the artists. By the mid-sixties, they were well known outside of Rutgers for the movements they pioneered, and therefore became “New York Artists,” no longer associated with New Brunswick. As it turned out, New Jersey influenced New York arts rather than the other way around. In 1965 Brecht stopped working as a chemist, using his education at the New School to inform his art career. Kaprow worked at Rutgers until 1961. Watts would continue at Douglass until 1984, alongside artists Geoffrey Hendricks (1956-2003) and Roy Lichtenstein (1960-1964). The first female faculty member, artist Carolee Schneemann, wasn’t hired until 1976, as an adjunct. 

The arts section had a number of policies. I will focus on two. The first is policy number four–that art museums, exhibition programs, and galleries will be integrated into buildings, no longer as separate spaces. The second, policy number seven, called for an expansion of facilities for the arts. These policies are still being enacted universitywide, especially on the Douglass Campus. An example of how these policies manifested on campus is the Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series housed in the Douglass library. The series, which is the oldest continuous exhibition series showcasing women artists in the United States, remains a fixture of the Mabel Smith Douglass Library. 

Prior to the founding of the Women Artist Series, Douglass students participated in events and installations on the campus. By the 1950s, there was no shortage of women artists at Douglass, just a shortage of female role models. According to Women Artist Series founder Joan Snyder in a 1992 article, “the faculty consisted of some old blood, some new blood–all male blood. The irony of this was inescapable for the MFA program which was on the Douglass Campus, a women’s college never having had a woman teaching a studio course. These were the years right before the dawning of the women’s/feminist art movement.” Snyder is one of the many Douglass graduates who eventually got MFAs from the co-ed master’s program. Another is Letty Lou Eisenhauer, who graduated from Douglass in 1957 and Rutgers in 1962. Eisenhauer is one of the earliest students who gained prominence in the art world particularly in performance art. She first appeared in Kaprow’s Spring Happening, which subverted an old Douglass tradition of the Maypole dance. Eisenhauer continued performing in Happenings through the sixties while building her own Pop Art career. While attending the MFA program from 1961 to 1962, she also acted as the department secretary.  

Loretta Dunkleman (DC ‘58) would go on to get her MFA from Hunter College in New York City and, like Eisenhauer, became a prominent figure in the New York art scene. Dunkleman was also important in the feminist art movement of the seventies. In 1972, Dunkleman co-founded A.I.R. Gallery, the first allfemale artist-run gallery in the United States. At this time, the need for female-exclusive spaces, especially in the arts, began being filled. Especially in New York, many of the women who initiated these changes were Douglass women, once again illustrating the symbiotic relationship between the New York and New Jersey art scenes. Dunkleman sat on the board of the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists with fellow alumna Joan Snyder in 1972. The Ad Hoc Committee was founded two years prior as a coalition of feminist artist groups such as Women Students and Artists for Black Liberation, Women Artists in Revolution, and Art Worker’s Coalition. The group’s primary purpose was to protest under-representation at the Whitney Museum’s Annual Exhibition. While Snyder and Dunkleman both sat on the Ad Hoc Committee, a prompt was sent to 800 artists asking about their experiences with gender-based discrimination. The result was a series of letters called “the Rip Off File,” which was displayed at the Douglass Library the following year. The exhibit was in good company, as the space showed the work of 31 artists during the 1973-1974 school year.  

“The Rip Off File,” was displayed at the library as part of the newly established Women Artists Series. This ongoing series began as a result of Snyder’s frustration with the marginalization of women in the gallery system. The series was founded in 1971 through Snyder’s collaboration with Douglass librarians, and was a solution to a variety of issues that Snyder, her classmates, and colleagues identified. First, the series provided gallery space to women artists, and secondly the gallery space provided female role models to students. She recounts the story of the series founding in her article “It Wasn’t Neo to Us,” for the Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries. Sandwiched between Ad Hoc and AIR, the founding of the Mary H. Dana Women’s Artist Series is an important part of feminist art history. The series continues to represent the values Mason Gross advocated as the president of Rutgers. It integrates art into academic space, uplifts the community beyond New Brunswick, and showcases diversity in artistic voice. Thanks to Snyder and ongoing support of the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities, Rutgers University Libraries, and Douglass College, the Mary H. Dana Women Artist Series maintains these values at Douglass today and reminds us of its history as the place for women in radical art.  


 More information can be accessed at The Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). Online at:  https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/scua 

The Miriam Schapiro Archives, https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/scua/women-artists-about houses materials about female artists, educators, and much more.  

About the Author: 

Rachel Ferrante, DRC ‘19, has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers and currently serves as the Historic and Architectural Preservation intern for Histoury, a subsidiary of On Location Tours a nonprofit heritage tourism company.  

 Works Consulted: 

Beryl K. Smith, “The Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series: From Idea to Institution,” The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), p. 4-5. 

Hendricks, Geoffrey. Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958-1972 (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2003). 

“History.” Mason Gross School of the Arts, www.masongross.rutgers.edu/about/history.

 Joan Snyder, “It Wasn’t Neo to Us,” The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 54.1 (1992), p. 34-35. 

“Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series.” Rutgers University Libraries, Exhibits. Online 

Marter, Joan M., and Simon Anderson. Off Limits Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963. Newark Museum, 1999. 

Marter, Joan M. Women Artists on the Leading Edge : Visual Arts of Douglass College New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019. 

Olin, Ferris., and Joan M. MarterArtists on the Edge : Douglass College and the Rutgers MFA New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2005. 

Schmidt, George P. Douglass College; a History. Rutgers University Press, 1968. 


Archival Sources:  

Inventory to the Records of the Rutgers University Office of the President (Mason Welch Gross), 1936, 1945-1971 (RG 04/A16), Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Inventory to the Records of the Dean of Douglass College (Group I), 1887-1973 (RG 19/A0/01), Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries. 

Archives at Home: Transcriptions


While Special Collections and University Archives has been working from home, we have been trying to get as many images and collections online as possible.  Thanks to our Graduate Assistant, Ilya Slavutskiy, we have been able to provide some transcriptions to images.  Please understand that we do not always have the full document.  We will continue to add more transcriptions as we create them.

Van Fleet Transcription:  https://sinclairnj.blogs.rutgers.edu/2020/04/archives-at-home-van-fleet-transcription/

English Miscellany:  https://go.rutgers.edu/pcpviin

Committee of Secret:  https://go.rutgers.edu/ts7xh1tx

Letter-DeWitt to Officer of the Jersey Brigade:  https://go.rutgers.edu/qv772uq1

Hance and Outcalt regarding a slave named Dinah: https://go.rutgers.edu/ab3av7td

Letter-Charles Olden to RB Bradford:  https://go.rutgers.edu/276sn3eb

Tax Book 1 for Middletown, NJ Images: https://go.rutgers.edu/3lvccfks

Tax Book 2 for Middletown, NJ Images: https://go.rutgers.edu/rawu4is9

Native American Deeds:  https://go.rutgers.edu/8r6a9xsx

Love Letter:  https://go.rutgers.edu/ayoft7qg

Miriam Schapiro’s Christmas List: https://go.rutgers.edu/3r22ibw3

Rutgers During WWI and the Flu Epidemic of 1918


by Alexandra DeAngelis

With all campuses closed, students sent home from their dorms, classes migrated online, and the cancellation of commencement activities due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, 2020 is turning out to be a memorable year in Rutgers history. But this is not the first time Rutgers has endured hardships that have altered the ways students lived and learned on campus.

A little over a hundred years ago 1918 took Rutgers by storm.

By 1917 Europe was deep in the throes of World War I. On April 6th, 1917 the United States joined its allies Britain, France, and Russia, to fight on the battlefields in France. Back home in New Jersey, Rutgers was beginning to feel the changes brought on by the unresting war.

The 1917-1918 academic year saw a substantial reduction in attendance at Rutgers, as 67 men had already left college to join troops overseas at the end of the previous year.

At the start of the 1918 fall term, the total number of undergraduates had dropped from 513 to 286 undergraduate students. Now, over 200 men were enlisted in the War effort.

Rutgers became a part of the War Department’s Students Army Training Corps (SATC), which prepared men from Rutgers and other institutions, including Princeton and Harvard, to be trained for officers’ positions with the directive that in a few month’s time they would take their places in the command of companies stationed in the fight abroad.  (William Henry Steele Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924 (New Brunswick:  Rutgers College, 1924, 536-38.)

The SATC instituted a new order of college life. Dormitories and fraternity houses were outfitted barrack style to house the men. Military regulations overtook daily activities, instruction in military procedure and training took the place of normal college life. Though studies were reconfigured to fit within the regime of military training, the usual curriculum was largely sustained. (ibid.)

A formal ceremony was held on October 1, 1918 instituting the SATC and swearing in about 400 college men as soldiers of the United States.

Photograph of the Raising of Service Flag. ca. 1918. Rutgers Photograph Collection, Military Functions, R.O.T.C. Folder. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

To maintain contact with Rutgers men fighting abroad, President William H.S. Demarest and assistant Earl Reed Silvers, “Sil”, implemented the War Service Bureau of Rutgers College in August of 1917 with the aim to keep Rutgers alumni in contact with the college and each other during the war. As acting director of the Bureau, Silvers sent letters to Rutgers men serving in the armed forces, soliciting responses about the experiences in the service. Silvers also sent out issues of Rutgers Alumni Quarterly and notified Rutgers alumni of government job openings. The Bureau resulted in a collection of over four thousand letters documenting the experience of Rutgers alumni during World War I (http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/ead/uarchives/warservicebureauf.html).

This adjustment to normal college life was not long lasting. On November 11, the armistice was signed. Shortly after, the SATC was disbanded and student soldiers were discharged on December 14. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Rutgers felt the effects of the disturbances of war for a year or two after the student soldiers returned. Many men took a long time to return to attain credits for a degree. Undergraduates who were active in the service received half a year’s credit towards a degree upon their return to their studies. Some, however, never returned. (ibid.)

After this brief period of disruption in the fall of 1918, Rutgers was prepared to return to the regular curriculum, but the semester found itself marked again by the epidemic influenza, known as the “Spanish Flu,” “the grippe,” “Spanish Influe,” and “the bug.”

The influenza of 1918 ranked as one of the deadliest epidemics in history- exacting a higher toll in a year than in four years of the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague. Between spring of 1918 and winter of 1919, the influenza killed as many as one in every eighteen people.

One theory is that the influenza began in Haskell County Kansas. An outbreak in the county was recorded in January 1918. The direct cause of the influenza is still unknown, although two potential influences have been identified: Haskell County was a prevalent hog farming community. The county also sits on a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species, including sand hill cranes and mallards. “Scientists today understand that bird influenza viruses, like human influenza viruses, can also infect hogs, and when a bird virus and a human virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.” (John M. Barry, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America,” National Geographic (November 2017), accessed April 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.)

The first reported cases of the influenza virus were documented in Haskell County. Haskell men who had been exposed to the virus went to Camp Funston in central Kansas to train for World War I. Within two weeks, 1,000 soldiers from the camp were admitted to the hospital, while many remained sick in the barracks. Thirty eight men from Camp Funston died. It is believed that infected soldiers from Funston transmitted the virus to other Army camps across the United States; out of the 36 US camps, 24 reported outbreaks. The soldiers continued to spread the virus across the nation and eventually overseas at their arrival in France. (Barry)

At the height of America’s involvement in World War I, between September and November 1918, nearly 40 percent of American servicemen were infected. (“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”, 23)

Photograph “On the Way to War.” New Brunswick, NJ. Undated, ca. September 1917. Note the entrance to “Old Queens Campus” in the top left of the image. Pictorial Collection. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

The influenza was dubbed the Spanish Flu, not because it originated in Spain, but because Spain was a neutral country during the War. While the Allied and Central Powers suppressed any mention of the influenza in the news as to not weaken morale, the Spanish press freely reported on its progression. Many other countries underwent a media blackout, so their only sources of detailed information came from the Spanish media. This led to the assumption that the influenza began in Spain. In Spain, however, believed the virus had come to them from France (which may be partially true given the American Army’s stations in France), and they called it the “French Flu.” (Evan Andrews. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History, January 12, 2016, https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.)

Even those spared the influenza during the war in Europe were not free on their return to the United States. Elmer. G Bracher, stationed at a convalescent camp in France wrote to Earl Reed Silvers as part of Rutgers’ War Service Bureau. In one letter from 1918, Bracher expresses the “hard luck” about a mutual acquaintance, Jill Jackson. Despite all the chances of catching some infectious disease while serving aboard, Jackson had returned home unscathed, only to catch “the ‘flu’” upon arriving home. (https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/52450/JPEG/read/#page/46/mode/2up)

Indeed, the influenza of 1918 was the most serious and wide-spread sickness the student body of America had ever known. It affected almost all colleges and universities, some experienced large numbers of student illness and death. William H.S. Demarest, President of Rutgers College from 1906-1924, only includes a small mention of the influenza in his 1924 book, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. Demarest reports that only about seventy-five students fell ill from the influenza in the fall of 1918, all at various points in time. Despite these low numbers, Rutgers responded to the epidemic by transforming the Ivy Club (“Fraternity Houses Being Used,” The Targum, October 23, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.) into an infirmary where one student died. (Demarest, A History, 539) Three other Rutgers students died in their homes. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Various campus activities were cancelled due to the influenza. Rutgers was set for a football match against Lafayette College on October 12, 1918. Earlier that week, there was an outbreak of the influenza at Lafayette and the college went into quarantine, ceasing all athletic activities. (“Lafayette Game Cancelled,” The Targum, October 9, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up.)

The newly opened New Jersey College for Women (later Douglass College) was forced to close less than a month after welcoming students, due to an outbreak of the influenza that had made victims of “the Dean and nearly half of the student body.” (“Spanish Influenza,” The Targum, October 16, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2upThe college reopened its doors on October 21st, just two weeks after shutting down. Students embraced their arrival with a welcome party. (“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.)

On October 16th, 1918 Rutgers published an article in The Targum advising students on how to best weather the storm of the influenza. Their advice for preventing the spread of the 1918 influenza are similar to the practices we must follow in the wake of COVID-19, including covering mouths when you cough or sneeze (though The Targum suggests one should cover their mouth with their ubiquitous handkerchief. We’d be hard pressed to find a student who carries a handkerchief today! Maybe we should bring them back?) and to avoid contact with anyone with symptoms including, fever, sneezing, a bad cough or cold, sore throat, pain in the chest, or general weakness or chills. Most importantly, the article in The Targum reminds students to limit their time spent in crowds– social distancing 1.0! The article asserts that “if we all observe these precautions, the epidemic will soon be a thing of the past.” (“Spanish Influenza.”)  A student’s poem submitted to the “Targumdrops” section of The Targum provided a bit of levity during this hard time:


I now must write a line or two,

As all good poets sometimes do.

Of all sickness, I am glad

“Influ” I have never had.

I never mind a chimney “flue,”


Or an army cot, just broke in two;

But of all the birds that ever fly,

This “flu” bird simply takes my eye.

So take a bath, and never doubt

The “flu” will get you,

If you don’t watch out.

(Poem from “Targumdrops,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.)

Rutgers University has weathered many storms over the 250+ years of its existence. The bonds of Rutgers’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni have never wavered and times of disruption have only made us stronger. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 will go down in the annals of Rutgers history. We must keep the enduring spirit of our Rutgers predecessors in mind as we continue to adjust to learning and living away from campus and remember that as Rutgers has persevered through the hardships of war and influenza, we too shall forge our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Works Cited:

Andrews, Evan. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History. January 12, 2016. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” National Geographic. November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Bracher, Elmer G. Letter to Earl Reed Silvers. December 1918. Box 9, Folder 5, RG 33/C0/01 Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Archives.

Demarest, William Henry Steele. A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. New Brunswick: Rutgers College, 1924.

“Fraternity Houses Being Used.” The Targum. October 23, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.

“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”: New Jersey in the Great War. 2017. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

“Lafayette Game Cancelled.” The Targum. October 9, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up

Poem from “Targumdrops.” The Targum. October 30 , 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.

Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. RG 33/C0/01. University Archives, Rutgers  University Libraries.

“Spanish Influenza.” The Targum. October 16, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2up.

“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students.” The Targum. October 30, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.