‘Great is the modern press, and great the misjudgement by some of its members…’: Newspapers, doctors, and challenges to Southern Californian medical expertise during the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


The 1918-19 influenza pandemic engendered distrust in medical expertise on a global scale. Doctors imbued with confidence from late-19th century germ theory successes faced a pandemic of disputed aetiology and origin, all the while watching as treatments proved ineffective and people died in their thousands. Debates over the cause and treatment of flu dominated national medical journals. However, in California – where almost 30,000 people died of flu between October 1918 – March 1920 – concerns over the influenza pandemic were secondary to a doctor-led crusade for medical authority dating back to California’s 1850 admission to the Union.
Much to the chagrin of the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA)- the foremost medical authority in Southern California by 1918 - those they saw as quacks and charlatans (including non-Western practitioners, Christian Scientists, and chiropractors) not only regularly challenged the authority of the state’s doctors but were often also better received – courtesy of a hostile press - by LA residents wary of epidemic prevention measures. This paper explores LACMA’s attempts to retain and bolster medical authority by controlling the definition, contents, and character of medical knowledge in California in both medical circles and the popular press. By showing who was granted authority, both officially by the Association and unofficially by citizens’ choices of care providers during the pandemic, this paper will also comment on the strained relationship between doctors and newspapermen in early twentieth century California and discuss its influence on trust in medical expertise and receptiveness to pandemic prevention measures in 1918-19.
Period30 May 202431 May 2024
Event titleMedia and Epidemics: Technologies of Science Communication and Public Health, 20th-21st Centuries
Event typeConference
LocationBucharest, RomaniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational