Students at Wells College have several popular stories about epidemics at the school. During the course of the school’s history, since its founding in 1868, life at Wells has been disrupted due to several epidemics, leading to such popular stories as “The Red Door” and “The Nurses of Main”.

The first medical crisis documented in the Wells College Archives is the small pox scare of 1907. Students were quarantined when one student began to show the symptoms of smallpox. At the time, the Wells College infirmary was located on the 4th floor of Main Building.

In 1918 Wells College was struck by the influenza, then sweeping the world. Wells had 34 cases of influenza. Students were placed in the infirmary on the 4th floor of Main Building, with overflow in Pettibone House when the infirmary was filled. Faculty and students volunteered to nurse the sick, and classes were cancelled from October 14th to November 2nd.

The year 1931 saw one case of poliomyelitis at the school. Although the student was quarantined, classes continued as usual. Students were limited to campus and Aurora, and some chose to return home until the threat had passed.

Another flu outbreak, this time the Asian flu, came to Wells in October of 1957. Once again the infirmary was filled. Pettibone House was evacuated and used as a second infirmary. Out of a total of 379 students, 151 were confined. Tests and activities were postponed for six weeks.

From Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” pages 112, 114, and 188 and the print collection of the Wells College Archives.

Tiffany Raymond ’10 Reference and Instruction Librarian Wells College Long Library

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