Gilbert has suffered through epidemics before

Gilbert Main Street
Gilbert's "Main Street"—now Gilbert Road—is shown in the years immediately after incorporation in 1920. The town has suffered through several epidemics since then. (Courtesy HD South)

Gilbert's "Main Street"—now Gilbert Road—is shown in the years immediately after incorporation in 1920. The town has suffered through several epidemics since then. (Courtesy HD South)

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 had no effect on the town of Gilbert.

But that is because there was no Gilbert yet. The town incorporated two years later.

But that is not to say the region was not hit by that event or that the coronavirus is the first epidemic since incorporation.

Jerry Wilson, an Encore Fellow with Experience Matters, who is working at HD South for his fellowship, recently researched the town’s experiences with epidemics. HD South houses the Gilbert Historical Museum. Here is a summary of what Wilson found.

1918 Spanish flu

The Chandler Arizonan newspaper noted that the Spanish Influenza had hit the Chandler District with 75 cases reported Oct. 17.

That same edition of the newpaper reported under section called “Gilbert news” that Myrtle Lines and Ada Ware were returning to Gilbert from the Phoenix district and Ruth Burns from Ray because those districts were closing their schools.

Gilbert also was preparing to have “a really and truly up to date moving picture show” but the opening for Mr. Robert Wimmer’s machine would have to wait for “as soon as public gatherings are permissible.”

1942 Measles

The April 3 edition of the Gilbert Enterprise reported a measles outbreak with some families reporting as many as three cases in the family.

1943 Rabies

All dogs in Gilbert, licensed or not, were to be quarantined at home for 90 days because of an outbreak of rabies, according to a June 25 story in the Gilbert Enterprise. All dogs running at large were to be disposed of by town law enforcement officers. Anyone bitten would have to undergo “at least 14 painful Pasteur shots to counteract the bite. Even death is not improbable as the result of a bite of a rabid dog.”

1949 Typhoid fever

The Oct. 21 edition of the Gilbert Enterprise reported that two children and a high school teacher came down with typhoid, the first cases in town since 1930. City Health Officer Dr. George Truman said the practice of washing green vegetables in irrigation canal water was the probable cause and that many farmers did not know the danger of that practice.

The town authorized the purchase and installation of a $2,400 chlorinator for the town water supply, the paper reported Sept. 29, 1950, after the town’s water supply tested positive for a bacteria related to typhoid. The bacteria was believed to have come from an abandoned cesspool.

1953-56 Polio

The July 31 edition of the Gilbert Enterprise reported that Williams Field Air Force Base had initiated a ban on large gatherings on base and the base swimming pool had been closed because of an increase in polio cases. The base had four in the previous week.

In 1955, Gilbert school nurse Marie Yoars was organizing a program to administer the Jonah Salk vaccine for the control of polio to students. Parents would have to sign a consent form, but first and second graders would receive the vaccine at no cost thanks to the March of Dimes program.

Another round of free shots, this time provided by “Uncle Sam, through the State Department of Health,” was given to students in 1956. Additionally, the Enterprise reported June 22, 1956, that the American Legion in Gilbert would host vaccine shots for the public the first Thursday of the month. Maricopa County had reported 25 cases of polio thus far in the year.

1987 Chicken pox

An estimated 30 cases of chicken pox at Gilbert and Greenfield elementary schools were reported by Gilbert schools district nurse Sherry Shinn in the previous month, according to Feb. 11 story from the Gilbert Independent.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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