Submitted by the Outdoor Art Club and written by Lynda Chittenden with research provided by Melissa Kurtz.
Looking at the 1918 image at left of a few Mill Valley residents waiting for the train on Miller Avenue, we imagine their world was similar to ours today. An Influenza pandemic had made it necessary to wear protective masks. And like now, resistance by some resulted in an ordinance requiring masks.
However, we need more imagination to grasp how different the lives and preoccupations of the members of The Outdoor Art Club were during those years. Before Influenza became a pandemic in 1918, the women of the OAC were already mobilized as American boys had been sent to the European war front in 1917 to fight what was then called “The Great War.”
Founder Agnes Cappelmann was President and wrote at the time, “This terrible, chaotic state through which we are passing today makes women want to play a part in that which is ‘self-sacrifice’. How they can best serve their fellow man is through the medium of the Red Cross and War Relief work.”
This Anti-Mask League ad appeared in January 1919 in the SF Chronicle. Mill Valley ordinance #202 required wearing masks to avoid fines ( $5 to $100) or jail (up to 90 days).
Beginning in the fall of 1917, the Club discontinued their “Literary and Musical Sections” so the ladies could focus on the crisis which had galvanized the whole town. Instead they established a “War Service Section” to sew or render what service was needed. They assembled “comfort kits and filled them with necessary articles.
Dozens of layettes were made for expectant Belgian mothers … tobacco was sent to the base hospitals in France,” etc. Locally the Club adopted the YMCA at Fort Baker, and the ladies’ embrace of those soldier boys was complete. They curtained the building’s windows and added “many other homelike touches.” The ladies entertained the boys, once with a Vaudeville performance, and also at a Christmas party with “fifty home-made cakes. … The men from the forts have also been our guests at the two dances given during the year.”
In 1918, the Mill Valley Record informed town citizens about both the war and the flu with lengthy columns. Descending headlines in the October 19, 1918 edition urged readers to commit to reading the entire column: “UNCLE SAM’S ADVICE ON FLU — U.S. Public Health Service Issues Official Health Bulletin on Influenza — LATEST WORD ON SUBJECT — Epidemic Probably Not Spanish in Origin—Germ Still Unknown—People Should Guard Against ‘Droplet Infection’—Surgeon General Blue Makes Authoritative Statement.”
Subsequent weekly editions of the Mill Valley Record continued to educate readers about influenza as well as offer drug therapy. Every edition of the newspaper during that time contained this advertisement from a pharmacy that many of today’s oldtimers still remember. Harriet, Edna, Violet and Lucinda Lockwood were all members of the Outdoor Art Club.
In their War Service Section, the OAC ladies saw themselves as guided by the Red Cross, then a highly esteemed organization. Every M.V. Record edition contained news and views.
An image of a Red Cross nurse published in Illustrated Current News, 1918.
“The Red Cross is the great mother of humanity, therefore allegiance to her should never slacken.” In addition to sewing and knitting garments, the ladies and the whole town were urged to “gather much-needed fruit pits and nut shells required for the making of carbon which is to protect our men overseas from German poison gas.”
In the U.S. the influenza began at an army training camp in Kansas. The majority of those killed by the 1918 flu were in the prime of life, often in their 20s, 30s and 40s, rather than older people weakened by other medical conditions.
The reality of U.S. doughboys having to face poison gas was was food aid. never far from the thoughts of those at home.
Today’s fearful atmosphere, surgical masks and avoidance of public gatherings were also present in 1918. However, rather than worry about the economic ramifications of what was happening, U.S. citizens provided aid to their soldiers and to the people of Europe who had been at war since 1914. Money was, of course, a component of U.S. aid to Europe, but equally important.
In August of 1917, Congress created a Food Administration whose purpose was to educate Americans and “to provide further for the national security and defense by encouraging the production, conserving the supply and controlling the distribution of food products.” Headed by future President Herbert Hoover, this volunteer body consisted primarily of women, charged with helping to feed the Allied Forces.
Consumption of sugar was not only frowned upon, it was rationed.
The M.V. Record often carried Hoover’s messages to the masses: “The recent victories do not increase our food supplies. On the contrary, peace will add to the burden thrown upon our resources because the people who make the peace must be fed…We must curtail our own consumption in order to increase our last years’ food exports to the allies…Even peace, which may not come quickly, would not alter the demand for food, for European storehouses are largely empty and winter will soon be upon us…While sugar is scarce, some foodstuffs may seem temporarily plentiful. …Self-denial has grown a bit tiresome. The fad of food saving is no longer a fad. WE MUST NOT STOP.”
Despite the community’s worries about the war and their curtailing of food consumption, it was the Influenza epidemic that brought grief to the town. The first Mill Valley boy to die in the war was the son of OAC member Beulah Barber. Her boy, 18 year-old Lytton, did not die on a European battlefront, but died at a stateside army training camp, “… ere his overseas orders had come.” The whole town mourned and later chose to honor him by naming the village center, Lytton Square. At the 1918 Memorial Day festivities “One of the beautiful wreaths of roses which adorned the tables at the Outdoor Art Club breakfast given Thursday was placed over the tablet at the base of the Lytton Square flagstaff.”
Lytton Square – named in honor of Lytton Plummer Barber, the 1st Mill Valley boy whose life was given in the service of his country.
In the summer of 1918, 22 year-old Oscar, the only child of OAC Founder and then-President Agnes Cappelmann, enlisted in the army and was sent to Camp Kearney in San Diego for training. However, after being in the camp only a few weeks and just days before the Armistice ending the Great War was signed, Oscar B. Cappelmann died of Influenza. His obituary stated, “He was of a happy, cheery nature and wherever he was, there was brightness and cheer. He was taken ill at the camp, and was able to be up, but was taken with a relapse. His father and mother responded to a telegram and were with him when he died.” It is poignant to realize that adolescent affection for Mt. Tamalpais is not new. Before leaving for camp, Agnes’ boy spent his last night in Mill Valley camping on Mt. Tam.
The communal grief of the loss of those young men became almost unbearable when late in 1918 OAC Founder Eva Finn—mother of eleven children, active member of the Red Cross and part of the local suffragette movement—died of Influenza only days after nursing her dying daughter-in-law. Her Mill Valley Record obituary evidenced heartfelt affection: “In the home, as a Club member and as a citizen she radiated an influence for good. Throughout long years of residence in Mill Valley, her home was a center of hospitality, which she shared impartially with all who entered. Her memory will be cherished by unnumbered people who were the recipients of her quiet courtesies.”
That heartfelt affection was most poignantly expressed by Founder Carrie Klyce in her history of the OAC written in 1940: “With the passing of Mrs. John Finn, our beloved friend and founder, the flag in Lytton Square stood at half mast October 26, 1918. Her memory will be cherished by unnumbered people who were recipients of her loving courtesies. … Mrs. Finn once said that she thought it right during the First Great War time for our Club to be the sheltered cove of refuge in which to meet so as to forget the terrible happenings of the outside world; just to have friendly gatherings, thoughts of gladness and rest for that hour, that we would be stronger workers at home or elsewhere from that sheltered hour of relaxation.”
During this distancing time of the Covid virus, we fondly remember many OAC hours of friendship and learning, and eagerly await the time when once again our treasured historic building and our grounds will be a sheltered cove of refuge in which we can gather and forget the terrible happenings of the outside world.