Modern Mistrust of Medicine

The Re-Emergence of Folk Remedies in the 1918 Pandemic

  • Kate Kemp Boston College
Keywords: Spanish Flu, Folk Medicine, Superstition, Pandemics


This paper explores the history of remedies that arose to cure and prevent the ‘Spanish’ Flu of 1918-1919, focusing on alternative medicines and folk remedies. It connects ancient Jewish traditions, medieval scientific practices, communal wisdom, and superstitious signs as all ways people combated their fear of the mysterious disease that killed over 50 million people and baffled scientists. This paper examines what about the ‘Spanish’ Flu allowed alternative methods of dealing with plague to flourish at the beginning of the twentieth century. Through revealing ancient reactions to plague at the formation of modernity, we can also better understand continued mistrust of medicine within the 2020 pandemic.