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1918 newspapers shared dating advice during Spanish flu pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has meant a lot of changes for singletons who are actively dating, with health experts warning everyone to limit their physical contact with people they don’t live with.

Doctors, epidemiologists, and even government organizations have advised people to think twice about swapping spit, with several going so far as to suggest wearing face masks during sex.

As it turns out, dating safety looked shockingly similar during the world’s last major pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918 — that is, sans the masked sex recommendation — with kissing discouraged and even outlawed in some areas around the world and amorous couples finding creative ways to smooch and still stay safe. 

Deja vu! The coronavirus pandemic has meant a lot of changes for singletons who are actively dating — and singles faced similar restrictions and warnings during the 1918 Spanish flu

Deja vu! The coronavirus pandemic has meant a lot of changes for singletons who are actively dating — and singles faced similar restrictions and warnings during the 1918 Spanish flu

Flashback: Several old newspapers articles reveal that people were warned against kissing during the last pandemic, including this one from The Plattsburgh Sentinel in August 1918

Flashback: Several old newspapers articles reveal that people were warned against kissing during the last pandemic, including this one from The Plattsburgh Sentinel in August 1918

Government warnings to wear masks during sex have made headlines this year — and have generally been met with incredulity.

But the dangers of kissing when an extremely contagious virus is spreading have been clear since at least a century ago, when health experts’ warnings to abstain from mouth-to-mouth contact made headlines as well.

In a 1918 Democratic Banner article, surgeon general Rupert Blue said people should avoid kissing — among other things — in those uncertain times.    

Meanwhile, according to Cosmopolitan.com, a 1918 article in the Tombstone Epitaph that blared: ‘Kissing Is Barred While Influenza Is Lurking About.’ 

The Plattsburgh sentinel, a New York paper, wrote on August 23, 1918 that people should avoid kissing their friends, relatives, or ‘best beloved’ if they have a runny cold. 

An article in the Daily News in Perth, Washington on March 26, 1919 said: 'A kiss should be a sacred rite, only indulged in between people who have for each other a deep and real love

'Let us at least practise care and refrain from that effusive and generally totally unnecessary kissing which is practised in daily by a multitude of people,' it read

Mwah! An article in the Daily News in Perth, Washington, on March 26, 1919 said: ‘A kiss should be a sacred rite, only indulged in between people who have for each other a deep and real love

Mouth to mouth: The Asbury Park Press called kissing an 'unhealthy habit'

Mouth to mouth: The Asbury Park Press called kissing an ‘unhealthy habit’

In a November 2, 1918 issue of The Chat, a line read: ‘Kissing should be stopped these days. If you must show your affection, kiss on the cheek or forehead.’ 

And a January 13, 1919 issue of The Seattle Star noted that in the late 1800s, when Dr. Cyrus Edson said kissing spread the flu, people laughed — but they were no longer laughing as the Spanish flu ran its course. 

Over in Perth, Washington on March 26, 1919, the Daily News opined on kissing during the flu, saying: ‘A kiss should be a sacred rite, only indulged in between people who have for each other a deep and real love.

‘Let us at least practise care and refrain from that effusive and generally totally unnecessary kissing which is practised in daily by a multitude of people… The public should take a firm stand, at least until this devastating epidemic is over, and be contented with a hand-shake and thus avoid the risk of passing from lip to lip the germs of “flu.”‘ 

And an August 17, 1919 issue of the New York paper The Sun offered more practical advice with a headline that declared: ‘If You Must Kiss, Kiss Via Kerchief, is Warning.’

‘Further self-denial was urged upon New Yorkers yesterday as a result of the possibility that Spanish influenza may make its appearance,’ read the article.

Changes: A January 1919 issue of The Seattle Star noted that in the late 1800s, when Dr. Cyrus Edson said kissing spread the flu, people laughed — but they were no longer laughing

Changes: A January 1919 issue of The Seattle Star noted that in the late 1800s, when Dr. Cyrus Edson said kissing spread the flu, people laughed — but they were no longer laughing

Smooches! If people must kiss, experts said, they should at least do it through a handkerchief

Smooches! If people must kiss, experts said, they should at least do it through a handkerchief

‘Dr. Royal S. Copeland, Commissioner of Health, officially advised against kissing, “except through a handkerchief.” Although perhaps distasteful to some devotees of the sport, it was explained in the connection that the precaution would be found both simple and effective as a means of evading the disease.’

Health Department authorities suggested the ‘handkerchief kiss’ be brought into vogue ‘at once.’

While handkerchiefs may certainly have lowered the likelihood of spreading infection, some people found others creative — but less effective — ways to protect themselves. 

An old ad for an ‘antiseptic’ kissing screen ran in the magazine Popular Science Monthly, promising a ‘Pure and Germless kiss.’

‘Scientists warn us that kisses are unhygienic — transmitting all sorts of dangerous disease germs,’ the ad read. ‘Most of us are willing to run this risk, but there are always a few careful ones who strive after the pure and perfect kiss. One of them has invented this kissing screen, which might easily be used as a ping-pong racket in its idle moments.’ 

Seems suspect! Some people found others creative — but less effective — ways to protect themselves

Seems suspect! Some people found others creative — but less effective — ways to protect themselves

Ineffective: An old ad for an 'antiseptic' kissing screen ran in the magazine Popular Science Monthly, promising a 'Pure and Germless kiss'

Ineffective: An old ad for an ‘antiseptic’ kissing screen ran in the magazine Popular Science Monthly, promising a ‘Pure and Germless kiss’

The screen would form a barrier between lovebirds’ lips — but as it appeared to be made of mesh, it wouldn’t have done much to stop the virus from spreading.

Though quite useless, the kissing screen was adopted by several companies that produced versions and advertised in newspapers. 

In some cases, abstaining from kissing wasn’t just good advice — it was the law. 

One old newspaper clip from Cincinnati, Ohio discussed an ‘anti-kissing’ ordinance that the mayor ‘annulled for soldiers coming home from war.’

‘We will look the other way,’ the mayor is quoted as saying.

Roi Mandel, a researcher at the genealogy platform MyHeritage, told Cosmopolitan that he found that in 1920, a man in Madrid was arrested for kissing his wife in the street.

Engaged? People looking to avoid meeting up in person might have phoned one another — but phone companies were overwhelmed by the pandemic, according to a 1918 clip from The Chat

Engaged? People looking to avoid meeting up in person might have phoned one another — but phone companies were overwhelmed by the pandemic, according to a 1918 clip from The Chat

Not much has changed! People are being warned again to limit physical contact, with experts suggesting wearing masks (like the woman pictured; the man's is too low) even during sex

Not much has changed! People are being warned again to limit physical contact, with experts suggesting wearing masks (like the woman pictured; the man’s is too low) even during sex

There were other ways that dating changed in 1918 and 1919, too. With quarantines and other restrictions, it became harder for singles to meet new people.

‘A number of what were considered frivolous gatherings like circuses, local fairs, that kind of thing — many of them were banned during the first and second waves of the pandemic,’ Naomi Rogers, PhD, professor of the history of medicine at Yale University, told Cosmo.

Today, online daters can meet on apps and get to know someone over text message and video chat — which certainly isn’t ideal, but is at least an improvement over a hundred years ago.

Back then, those looking for a partner would sometimes put ads in classified sections of newspapers to get a date or a spouse.

While chatting on the phone was an option, the New York Post points to an article that asked people to ‘Think before you telephone.’

‘Is this a necessary call?’ it reads. ‘Two thousand persons connected with the telephone company are sick, 300 have died in this pandemic. Be merciful.’ 

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