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ENCORE: 1918 Diary Of Idaho Student Paints Picture Of Life In The Last Pandemic

Riley Haun
University of Idaho
The diary of Esther Thomas, a University of Idaho student who lived through the 1918 Spanish flu.

This interview originally aired Nov. 30, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn't the first pandemic in recorded history. In fact, personal stories of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic exist deep in the archives. For college students today struggling through quarantines, strained social dynamics, new academic demands and the politics of visiting home for the holidays, it might be comforting to know that young adults their age went through — and survived — all of this before.

Riley Haun is a senior at the University of Idaho studying journalism. She's the associate editor of U of I's literary magazine Blot and is a freelance reporter. Her recent article, "History Repeated" appeared in Blot and the Idaho Statesman. It pulls from the diary of Esther Thomas, a University of Idaho student from 1918.

Haun says the archived diary gives her some historical perspective about what she and her peers are going through during the coronavirus pandemic.

“[Thomas] wrote earlier in the diary about being so excited to go downtown and buy these new clothes for the start of the semester," says Haun. "And then three weeks later, she’s not even going on campus anymore [and] just complaining about that.”

Haun says Thomas's diary includes stories that are very relatable to a college student in 2020: from boredom in quarantine, disappointment about cancelled dates and parties, and enthusiasm after exams were cancelled.

“In fact, after the second day of her being in quarantine, she starts complaining about ’no dates, no parties…I am almost desperate now.’ Within a week, she goes off and becomes a nurse in the sick bay out of sheer boredom.”

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Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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