Epidemic! Disease on Campus, 1918-1938

My next five posts highlight sections of the new Student Life & Culture exhibit “Epidemic! Disease on Campus, 1918-1938″ located at the Archives Research Center.

J. Howard Beard came to the University of Illinois in 1912 as Instructor of Physiology upon graduating from Johns Hopkins University College of Medicine. Three years after his arrival, he became Medical Examiner and in 1916 was appointed University Health Officer.

Postcard of the President's residence, the old Health Services Station, circa 1930

Postcard of the President’s residence, the old Health Services Station, circa 1930

Beard’s services to the University resulted in the development of a Health Services Station as a medical examining, advising, and consulting location for students and staff. In 1917, he established the Isolation Hospital with the help of Dean Thomas Arkle Clark. Prior to this hospital, students ill from contagious disease stayed in a primitive community “pest house.” With the arrival of the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Isolation Hospital quickly expanded to a 50 bed emergency hospital that became the center of various epidemics throughout the early 1920s until it was replaced by McKinley Hospital in 1925.[1]

Isolation Hospital Supply Form, 1919
Found in Record Series 33/1/20

J. Howard Beard’s greatest service to the University community was his role as a public health officer.  He worked unceasingly for the improvement of health conditions through inspections of food services and housing,  food handler examinations, inoculations, stockpiling emergency hospital equipment, and insistence on modern hospital and health service equipment.

He repeatedly anticipated minor epidemics, prepared for them with emergency hospital units, and occasionally opened these units with complete success.  He directed the community through the influenza pandemic of 1918, several serious outbreaks of scarlet fever, the constant threat of tuberculosis, and the smallpox scare in 1938.[2]

Frequently during J. Howard Beard’s tenure at the University, practical jokers distributed cards with forged signatures asking freshman to report to the Health Services station regarding personal ailments or exposure to communicable diseases.  Students appeared at the Health Services station terrified that they had everything from barber’s itch and trench mouth to typhoid fever and syphilis. After dealing with the predictable confusion, Beard reminded students that it is a violation of federal and state law to send forged statements through the mail, adding “I should greatly appreciate it if this sort of joker would exercise his pathological sense of humor in some other way.”[3]

J. Howard Beard worked at the University in various medical capacities until his death on April 5, 1950.


[1] Memorial, J. Howard Beard Papers, Record Series 33/1/20, University of Illinois Archives.
[2] Campus Health Service Director’s Office General Correspondence, 1916-1963, Record Series 33/1/1, University of Illinois Archives.
[3] “Dr. Beard Decries Joker Who Mails Forged Statements,” Daily Illini, March 17, 1934.

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