In the face of this unprecedented worldwide coronavirus pandemic, I am reminded of two periods in history when the Hudson community united and overcame similar challenges.
Hudson in World War I
Just over 100 years ago, on the morning of November 11, 1918, as Hudson was receiving news of the end of World War I with the signing of the Armistice, the world was fighting another global crisis: the influenza pandemic or "Spanish flu." And while the Hudson community would come together to celebrate the end of the war with a great gathering on the Village Green and a parade up Oviatt Street that ended with a ceremony at Western Reserve Academy’s Chapel, the influenza epidemic had dramatically altered life in Hudson and across the country.
It is estimated that 50 million people worldwide, about 3% of the world population, died as this disease spread with ruthless efficiency. About 45,000 American soldiers were killed by the influenza virus and not by a mortal enemy in combat (53,402). In the United States alone, over a quarter of the population would become infected and about 675,000 would die because of the disease.
The Akron Beacon Journal would report 3,114 deaths in Ohio alone during the months of October, November, and December 1918. The influenza epidemic sweeping across America was described as "the deadliest scourge that ever had invaded the United States."
The flu was rapidly spreading through the Hudson community with public events postponed or canceled and schools closing and reopening on a weekly basis for months, to control the spread of the flu. On Oct. 10, 1918, a month before the signing of the Armistice, one of Hudson’s physicians, Dr. J. Edgar Allport, delivered a speech at Western Reserve Academy for students and faculty, called "The Flu, and How to Avoid It."
Accounts in the local newspaper reported that Dr. Allport made house visits to as many as 40 people a day who had the flu.
Hudson physician and WWI veteran Dr. George A. Miller (1875-1935), a graduate of WRA (1897), was among thousands of doctors and nurses who were the first ones to be sent home from Europe after the signing of the Armistice, to help their communities battle the influenza epidemic.
Martha C. Clark (1879-1946), a Hudson schoolteacher, was the only Hudson woman to serve in the Great War, and at the age of 38, joined the Red Cross as a nurse. Clark was sent to Camp Upton in Yaphank, N.Y., on eastern Long Island, where she cared for New York State soldiers who were stricken with influenza. She also served overseas for about six months as a Red Cross nurse.
David Hudson Lee (1893-1919), a fifth-generation descendant of Hudson founder David Hudson, was one of 81 WWI veterans from Hudson. He contracted influenza in the winter of 1918 while serving with the American Expeditionary Force. While he survived the virus, it left him weakened and susceptible to other illnesses. On June 6, 1919, at the age of 26, Lee passed away in Koblenz, Germany, from lobar pneumonia, the only casualty from Hudson in the First World War.
David Hudson Lee’s passing occurred less than a week after the dedication and unveiling ceremony of Hudson’s WWI Memorial bronze tablet on the Clock Tower, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1919. During the dedication, Dr. W.I. Chamberlain said that "the 81 veterans whose names appeared on this tablet were but following the often-repeated example of patriotism and sacrifice when they offered their lives in the Great War."
He went on to say that "Hudson had been blessed in not losing a son either on the battlefields of Europe, upon the high seas or in camp, where thousands had died from disease, a record which would be hard to duplicate in any town in the United States."
Hudson in World War II
While the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 appears to have isolated countries, communities, and individuals around the world, it was during WWII that we united as a nation, working collectively to support one common goal.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States was thrust into WWII and everyday life across the country was dramatically altered. Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. The country sold war bonds or "Liberty Bonds" that were marketed to play on Americans’ sense of patriotic duty, with slogans such as, "If You Can’t Enlist, Invest. Buy A Liberty Bond" and "Defend Your Country with Your Dollars."
Communities conducted scrap drives, collecting metal, aluminum cans and rubber, all of which were recycled and used to produce armaments. In September 1942, Hudson’s American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464 led the scrap metal drive and donated, among other collected items, a German 6-inch long-range gun/cannon, which weighed 1,320 pounds and was mounted on top of Hudson’s WWI Memorial, located in front of the Boy Scout Cabin on the southwest Green.
To help build the equipment necessary to win the war, women were employed in defense plants in positions that had been strictly for men. People were encouraged to plant "Victory Gardens" as they had done in WWI, to supplement rations and boost morale.
The unprecedented mobilization of funds, people, natural resources and materials for the production and supply of military equipment and military forces during WWII became part of daily life on the home front and was a critical component of the war effort.
Late in World War II, warplanes dropped bombs on the dikes that protected an island in southern Holland, flooding towns and leaving residents devastated. Among those was the tiny village of Wester-Souburg – and Hudson came to the rescue.
In the 1920s, Western Reserve Academy Historian and Special Assistant to the Headmaster, Helen Kitzmiller (1888-1955), discovered that the bell in WRA’s Chapel had been cast in a foundry in Wester-Souburg in 1611. Upon hearing of the disaster in the Dutch village in 1944, Hudson residents came together to host events – clothing drives, dinners, teas, a play, dance, and bazaar – to raise funds for the relief effort. Hundreds of CARE packages, blankets and children’s essentials were shipped from Hudson to Holland in 1945.
In 1948, the town was still struggling to recover. The first "Wester-Souburg Day" was established in Hudson on March 20, 1948. A committee of six supervised 110 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who made 1,500 paper tulips for a campaign to raise $1,000 for the small Dutch town. A ringing of the WRA Chapel bell, appropriately enough, marked the start of ticket sales in Hudson. Colorful red and yellow tulips decorated Main Street store windows and the windows of private homes throughout Hudson. The event raised $1,500.
Newspapers across the country noted this "spontaneous program by which American towns are ‘adopting’ needy European towns and villages, sending them relief goods and, more important, developing a kinship with their Old-World counterparts."
Hudson’s effort was notably mentioned as one of the first in the United States to develop this "town-to-town" relationship.
Wester-Souburg, which was incorporated into the city Vlissingen in the 1960s, still has a street named "Hudsonstraat" that honors the humanitarian effort and generosity of Hudson’s residents during WWII.
In October 2018, HHA featured an excellent presentation from longtime Hudson resident Molly Logan, who told the remarkable story of how this unique connection between Souburg and Western Reserve Academy inspired Hudson residents to organize and launch a community-wide effort to provide aid and relief to the small village across the ocean.
When the HHA program was announced, past co-president Don Husat poignantly noted that, "It’s important for Hudson residents of today to learn about and celebrate the righteous deeds of our forefathers, whether it was working to end slavery or coming to the rescue of a suffering village in Holland. ... Our compassion and sense of community in Hudson are just as unique and inspiring as our town’s historic buildings and architecture."
Today, while we cannot physically come together and have been forced apart by a state-wide stay-at-home order, social distancing and self-isolation, there are overwhelming signs of humanity, of people coming together in our community. The City of Hudson, churches, community organizations, institutions, corporations, and individuals are all thinking about our community, businesses, and the importance of providing aid and relief to people in need.
Community initiatives are responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and its impact on our community, "Hudson OH Helps" and the Hudson Community Service Association’s "Helping Hands" are doing critical work for those experiencing hardships right now, by helping Hudson residents with essential needs, resources, shopping and errands.
The Hudson Community Foundation is also committed to match up to $10,000 in community donations to the "Hudson NOW Fund" to support other local non-profit organizations serving the Hudson community.
It is encouraging to see the support of our neighbors, businesses, and our community. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to monitor ways in which we can collectively support our community. Thanks to all of you who have volunteered, donated, or checked in on friends and neighbors. Then as now, as Hudson dealt with the Spanish flu and provided aid to the people of Wester-Souburg, we will get through this together!
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Hudson Heritage Association’s April Newsletter and is being reprinted here. The Hudson Heritage Association (HHA) was founded in 1962 to preserve the Western Reserve Community of Hudson and its historic character. For close to six decades, HHA has promoted civic awareness of Hudson’s rich history and fosters a responsible approach to preserving its unique architecture and Village Green.