The Grand Lodge of New York and 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The COVID-19 epidemic is not the first epidemic the New York brethren have faced.

In 1918, the first World War and the influenza worldwide pandemic were happening at the same time. The Grand Lodge of New York’s War and Relief Administration Committee aimed to aid the brothers and/or their sons who were sick from influenza or wounded from the war. The Grand Lodge of New York organized the Visiting Representatives, consisting of volunteering brothers assigned to the hospitals across New York State. The volunteers frequently visited the hospitals to search and aid the brothers and/or their sons in need.

The influenza was mentioned several times in the Grand Lodge Proceedings during the years of 1918-1920. In 1919, RW William J. Wiley, the superintendent of the Masonic Home in Utica, reported that 124 children had gotten sick with influenza, and all had recovered under the care of the Masonic Home. RW Horace W. Smith, the Grand Lecturer at the time, reported that the influenza had interfered with his itineraries, causing postponement and cancellation of many events.

Also, in 1920, several foreign correspondence reports mentioned other Grand Lodges that lost their members to the influenza epidemic and their efforts to help with the cause. For example, the report from the Grand Lodge of Alberta stated that, “The several lodges there at once co-operated with the result that an office was provided for them in the nursing headquarters, telephones were installed and a voluntary office staff of six or eight brothers from different lodges took charge of day and night work, and as the result hundreds of volunteers were placed on duty, helping the nurse or working alone. This was continued until the pressure relaxed so that schools, churches, and theatres were re-opened.”

MW William S. Farmer, the Grand Master of New York at the time, addressed the influenza pandemic as follows:

“For our brethren who have been and are confined to their homes on account of illness, either of themselves or families, we bespeak a goodly measure of sympathy, fraternal greetings and good cheer, and assure them of the kindliest thoughts of the brethren of this Grand Lodge. May they and theirs speedily recover.”