Masquerade, Part One of Two

A Blog Addendum to “En Mask” (FACCCTS: Fall 2020)

            In the fall of 1918, Columbia University Professor John Dewey delivered the Mills Foundation Lectures in Philosophy at the University of California. Dewey had delivered the West Memorial Lectures at the Leland Stanford University prior to traveling to the more tuition-friendly Berkeley campus. Less than a year before both lecture series, the California State Assembly passed the Ballard Junior College Act, which authorized trade studies—but not separate community colleges—at the University of California. Dewey subsequently scheduled dual lectures for new University Extension students in San Francisco and Oakland, as well as a lecture on “Philosophy and Democracy” for the University Philosophical Union. He had recently become entangled in an extramarital relationship with Polish-Jewish novelist Anzia Yezierska, which coincided with his requests for federal intervention in Polish-American politics—all in order to advance the social democratic platform of the Polish Committee of National Defense.

            James Raphael, a premedical student at the University of California, helmed the campus student newspaper, The Daily Californian, in autumn days before the UC journalism major. In addition to expected accounts of wartime student life, Raphael hoped to hire more female editors and planned extensive coverage of the much-anticipated lectures by the famed educational philosopher. Instead, Raphael and his staff found themselves editing issues that increasingly entwined separate columns on Dewey’s ideas and wartime society with feature stories on what was then known as the Spanish influenza. In the present day, epidemiologists classify this pathogen as an H1N1 Influenza A Virus, more akin to the swine flu than COVID-19, with an unknown geographic origin and similar airborne potentials. Initial cases were reported in Kansas, but media portrayals of the virus focused on its alleged devastation of populations in Spain.

            This blog addendum to “En Mask,” an article that appeared in the fall 2020 edition of FACCCTS, contributes to, and reconfigures, previous studies on the H1N1 influenza crisis in California by focusing on the role that gauze masks played in student print as well as material cultures, campus governance, and educational ideas. Raphael and his staff contributed to myriad student print as well as material cultures that appropriated masks for the negotiation, and dictation of, institutional responses to the H1N1 influenza crisis in California higher education.

            During the first week of October 1918, Lieutenant J.G. Littel, a member of the Leland Stanford University’s Naval Unit, advised editors for the student newspaper, The Daily Palo Alto, to distinguish an outbreak of influenza (“la grippe”) in the Student Auxiliary Training Corps barracks from the worldwide Spanish influenza. At first, Albert Leeds, Dorothy Driscoll, and the rest of The Daily Palo Alto editorial staff complied. But they also began to promote the donning of masks, as well as University governance of such masks, in student print cultures. Codes for “governing the wearing of gauze masks” required students “to wear gauze masks in lecture rooms, laboratories, libraries, on the Quadrangle, and on their way to and from the same.” Female volunteers for the Leland Stanford University Auxiliary of the Red Cross, under the supervision of Director C.E. Ewell in the “Women’s Club House,” distributed the gauze masks. These women launched the maternal production of gauze masks in California higher education. Despite their best efforts, the influenza claimed the lives of two students by mid-October.

            At the University of California in Berkeley, medical officials seemed to locate the provenance of the influenza outbreak in the barracks of the Student Auxiliary Training Corps, associated in Daily Cal columns with espousals of national consciousness. Editorial synopses of John Dewey’s Mills Foundation Lectures explained that the “spirit of nationality” was “the people…[becoming] conscious of themselves as living bodies” and communities recognizing “themselves as continuous living people.” Dewey distinguished this notion of “nationality” from the “organized state with absolute authority” propounded by Germans “since the time of Kant,” from German abandonment of the “philosophy of liberalism,” and from a “certain kind of pure [Hegelian] idealism and morality which the Germans preserved” for their “nation” alone.

             Instructions for “black triangle” gauze masks advanced the socialization—and sociology—of medical practice. Daily Cal reporters duly explained to readers that “the average time for making a mask is fifteen minutes…the masks consist of four thicknesses of gauze and will be worn in such a way as to cover the mouth and nostrils.” Citing “medical authorities,” the reporters printed and reprinted directions for the “sterilization” of masks: “boil masks for five minutes every night or dip in solution of lisol [or “lysol”]. The black triangle is to be worn to the outside. When mask is taken off, fold with black mark on outside.” An October 22 edition of this last directive added: “…roll up tight. Do not dangle by the strings.”

            The Daily Cal published the University President Benjamin Ide Wheeler’s guidelines as well. Wheeler’s stipulations included the Daily Cal directions (sans the lysol directive), an emphasis to “dry [the masks] thoroughly,” a precaution to “keep the outer side of the mask (marked) away from your face,” a recommendation to obtain or purchase “several masks,” and—most importantly—“provide a receptacle for your mask—such as a piece of cloth, which can be boiled or destroyed.” In one instance, the reporters added instructions for “students and others wearing eyeglasses,” who found a “peculiar annoyance in wearing the influenza mask, due to the vapor from the breath rising and settling upon the glasses.” They suggested a remedy whereby students would place “a wad of cotton under the mask on each side of the bridge of the nose.”

            Student editors for The Daily Palo Alto at the Leland Stanford University deployed print cultures of death to combat the contagion. For example, “Elizabeth Huneke Dies of Influenza” underscored the “unexpected,” “unbelievable,” and “shock[ing]” manner of her influenza-related death at the University’s own Alpha Tau Omega House. The obituary concluded with orders “issued by Acting-President Marx” requiring all students to “provide themselves with masks and wear them when gathered together in groups or when coming into contact with their fellow students.” If a given student could not “provide himself with a mask” as a “preventive measure” against the masculine virus, then “he may obtain one at the Women’s Club House.” The obituary even included instructions for mask production: “…masks should be made of four thicknesses of gauze, five by seven inches square.”

            Students at the Leland Stanford University reacted to the coupling of death and masks in print with hyperbole and ethnic convolutions. On October 24, after publication of extended obituaries in The Daily Palo Alto, Hope Snedden, a student at the University, corresponded with her father about the appearance of masks. She explained that “tonight the campus has suddenly blossomed forth in white gauze masks. Ruling from headquarters. You have to tie them on below your eyes.” Snedden confided in her father that “the girls look as if they had just escaped from a Turkish harem, or an advertisement for Fatima cigarettes. And you can’t imagine the ludicrous appearance of a tall S.A.T.C. man sneaking into the library with one of them on, with the look of a highwayman.” Another student reader, Mary Sloan Wilbur, recalled that “it was mandatory that everyone should wear flu masks; you were fined if found without one. They were bought for ten or fifteen cents apiece and were made of cheesecloth with loops over the ears….it was both difficult and amusing to try to follow a professor who was lecturing through one.” The Stanford Illustrated Review described a surge of masks on campus— as La Torre editors had done for the State Normal School at San José—as an “open-air masquerade.” Less than a month after Snedden wrote to her father, the influenza claimed its sixth victim at the University. Although the outbreak had been “stamped out” in Palo Alto before winter break, student newspapers continued to report on masks in California higher education. 


FACCC blog posts are written independently by FACCC members and encompass their experiences and recommendations.
FACCC neither condemns nor endorses the recommendations herein.

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