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Abstract

The influenza epidemic of 1918-19 devastated populations all over the world, and because no scientist could figure out influenza's pathology at the time, public health officials and local governments could exercise an overwhelming amount of control over their populations. In particular, San Francisco mayor James Rolph, Jr. and San Francisco Board of Health official William Hassler took advantage of the crisis to portray their city as the healthiest, and thus most progressive, in the United States. As part of their effort to illustrate the city's strong commitment to progressive ideals, they used public health measures to incorporate immigrant communities into the rest of San Francisco's community. In trying to assimilate immigrants this way, they constructed a new social fabric based on progressive and nationalist ideals that equated the American and San Franciscan identity with good health. In essence, the influenza epidemic of 1918-19 was one of the greatest medical failures in history, but it reveals how San Francisco public health and civil authorities aligned medical and national interests to construct a new and more reputable social order.

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