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1918 Pandemic Impacted San Francisco Business Women

This guest post is by GaGa Sisterhood member Diane Levinson who gives us a perspective of the pandemic that affected her grandmother’s life in 1918.

The photo of my grandmother, Hattie (left,) taken in November 1918 complete with mask, tells a lot of her story in the early 1900s – even though she never mentioned the “Spanish Flu” that killed an estimated 50,000,000 worldwide. (Remember there were no antibiotics back then to medicate victims who developed pneumonia.)

Hattie and her cousin, Pearl, were single “businesswomen” – rare in their day at age 30. They both worked in the clothing industry. Hattie was a buyer for a large Emporium style department store and Pearl worked at Sommer and Kaufman’s, a premier shoe store in San Francisco. Hattie, eventually went to New York to buy for S & N Woods and would eventually meet her future husband there. Pearl had a twin sister Martha, who was developmentally delayed and chose to forgo marriage in order to be able to continue life protecting her sister at home.

In this photo, they must have been going to some kind of fashionista event as they were “dressed to the nines.” They are wearing the latest in furs. I remember that “Foxes” were very popular for that generation. However, for me, the fox eyes were just “over the top” disturbing. Floppy large hats must have been all the rage. Notice, too, the white gloves, indicating a trip “Downtown.” I found the photo in my family’s oldest album and there is no companion one without the masks.

The fact that Hattie and Pearl posed for the photograph with masks, indicates to me that they took the admonition to wear masks quite seriously. Most people have seen photos of the flu era as hospital scenes. This photo appears to be rare. I’ve shared it in the hope that it goes viral (no pun intended) with the message in 2020: “Wear a mask!!!!”


1 thought on “1918 Pandemic Impacted San Francisco Business Women”

  1. Interesting article, Diane! And fantastic photo of the times. Lovely women. (I’m with you on the fox eyes. So glad our culture now frowns on raising and killing animals for their furs.)

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