No One was Safe

In the early twentieth century, the world experienced one of the deadliest pandemics in history. As with many airborne diseases, the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 affected a wide range of the population. It struck down people in the "top" of society, including politicians and well-known doctors, as well as those at the "bottom," including sharecroppers and domestic servants. The disease affected children and the aged, but unlike other diseases, it also affected teenagers and young adults. No one was safe.

In Americus, the influenza toll included a Douglas Blair Mayes, prominent local doctor. Mayes was born on June 26, 1882 near Plains, Georgia, to Stephen Douglas and Clara Mayes. Death had already shaped and reshaped the family. When Mayes's father died in 1885, his mother remarried Fletcher W. Griffin about one year later. This came with a stepson, born less than year before both single adults with children remarried. Douglas and his sister, Mary, came to have four stepsiblings by 1900, including Leon, Maggie, Inman, and Fletcher Jr. They would have had more siblings. In an age of high infant and child mortality, only five of Clara's nine children were still living in 1900.

Perhaps these early experiences with death pushed Mayes to pursue a career in medicine. After graduating from Plains High School, he studied medicine in Augusta and, later, Vanderbilt University. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1906, Mayes turned to Sumter County to practice medicine at 122 W. Lamar Street. For the next decade, Mayes became a prominent local physician. He became the city physician and, during World War I, medical examinations on men eligible for the draft. He and his wife, Anna Clare, appeared in the social columns of the Americus Times-Recorder. Douglas and Anna Clare Mayes married about 1909 and had three children: Elizabeth, Douglas K., and—born about one-month after his father's death—Walter B. Mayes.

Mayes played a central role in the city's response to influenza. "Physicians will report daily new cases coming to their attention to Dr. D. B. Mayes," the Times-Recorder reported, "and he will advise parents in whose homes the disease appears not o send their children to school. He names of persons suffering with the disease will also be reported to the school authorities and every precaution will be taken to prevent children engaged in their studies." Before the end of the month, his stepsister, Maggie Griffin Walker, died of influenza in Ellaville. Douglas, too, came down with influenza and subsequently pneumonia, only seven days after he announced its presence in Americus. Unlike some of the flu cases, Mayes suffered from the secondary effects of influenza for months. After going through periods of ups and downs, Mayes officially died of Septicemia—a form of blood poisoning caused a bacterial infection—on February 14, 1919, at his home at 1121 South Lee Street.

Douglas B. Mayes's house at the corner of W. Glessner and S. Lee Street, 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Map, sheet 31.

The tragic deaths of Walker and Mayes were not representative of the footprint of influenza in Americus and Sumter County. Their lives were extolled and their deaths mourned by the Times-Recorder, but most families who lost loved ones in the influenza pandemic did so without a single mention in the local paper. This was especially the case for poor white families and African American families who, whatever their economic condition, had no mention in the white newspaper.

The influenza death of Mabel Kendrick (also spelled Kindrick) was only preserved because Sumter County began collecting and preserving death certificates amid the global pandemic. Kendrick was born on June 25, 1902, to Will and Ann Gaines Kendrick. Her mother, born about 1879 in Georgia, had attended school in the 1890s and, like all the other adults in the 1900 household, could read and write. Peter Gaines, Kendrick's grandfather, had been born into slavery in 1844 but—even as a laborer in freedom—owned his own house on Johnston Street in Americus in 1900. Sophia Gaines, Kendrick's grandmother had also been born into slavery in the 1840s, but the stability provided by homeownership meant that she did not have to work outside the home in 1900. The family also earned income from the grown children who worked as laborers, laundresses, and domestic servants in the city.

1950 Census Enumeration District Maps, Georgia, Sumter County, Americus, ED 129-10 to 23, National Archives and Records Administration.

The economic circumstances became more difficult for the children and grandchildren of Peter and Sophia Gaines after 1900. William and Ann Kendrick rented a home on Tripp Street in 1910. William Kendrick worked as a farm laborer; Ann Kendrick worked as a laundress for a private family. Mabel or "Mattie" Kendrick was the family's second youngest child. A decade later, the Kendricks lived at 1021 East Furlow Street, one door down from Ann's sister, Sophia Gaines Berryhill—also a washerwoman. Mabel Kendrick, like her mother and aunt, worked as a domestic servant when she fell ill with influenza on January 24, 1919. A little more than a week later, she died of at age sixteen of pneumonia at her aunt's house at 1023 East Furlow Street—perhaps in a makeshift quarantine.