This is a primary source inquiry connecting past events to contemporary issues. Students research Vermont newspapers to find connections from the past for us today. During the 1918 flu outbreak in Vermont, 2,146 people died in 183 of Vermont’s 246 towns. The cases were highest in railroad centers, cities, and port towns, but rural communities were not spared. Newspapers tell the story.

Grade Level:  8 – 12

Topics: 1918 flu pandemic, World War 1

Compelling Question: What lessons does the 1918 influenza epidemic have for us today?

Historical Thinking Skills: Continuity and Change; Historical Research Skills

Activating Prior Knowledge

Read this background essay on the 1918 flu in Vermont.

Investigation of Primary Sources

Distribute page 6 and page 7 of the December 10, 1918, Barre Times. Ask students to circle articles connected to the epidemic and underline key words such as grip, grippe, flu; Students report out on their articles and class discusses connections or lessons for today. If your goal is to focus on taking notes or summarizing, the primary source analysis could end here.

Historical Investigation:

Choice 1: Listen to oral history interviews and take notes about connections or lessons for today.

Choice 2: Investigate historic newspapers using Chronicling America 

  • Click on Vermont
  • Choose 1918 for the beginning and end dates
  • You can also then sort by date if you want to look at what was happening at a particular time of year, such as in the fall of 1918
  • Search terms to suggest (they should have more terms after practicing reading the Barre Times pages).   

Grippe, Grip, Ill, Illness, Sick, Epidemic, Death Toll

Summative Assessment

After studying the 1918 flu, describe some lessons we might draw from the past for the present and explain what we might learn.  Students could also create a poster of newspaper clippings.

Primary Sources and Worksheets Used in the Lesson

Awful, Awful, The Spanish Flu in Vermont, 1918-1919

The Flu Epidemic, 1918—Oral History Interviews and Transcriptions

Pages from the Barre Times, December 10, 1918

   Page 6

   Page 7

Chronicling America—historical newspaper database

Additional Resources

Example of one student’s investigation 

The Great Influenza: Library of Congress Resources

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