Almost only women: Canadian volunteer response to the 1918-1920 pandemic


  • Joseph Scanlon, BJ, DPA (Carleton), MA (Queen’s)
  • Casey Hurrell (Student)
  • Terry McMahon, BA (Carleton), BEd (Lakehead)



disaster medicine, medical volunteers, pandemic influenza, women, homecare


When pandemic influenza arrived from the United States in 1918-1920 to strike Canada with devastating force, the health system was overwhelmed. Although emergency hospitals were established in public buildings including schools and universities, many sick remained in their homes. Because of the war, many physicians and nurses were overseas. Many of those who were in Canada became flu victims.The result was a massive call for volunteers. Although a few men responded, most volunteers were women.These women, many of whom had little or no training, risked their lives by acting as nurses in existing and emergency hospitals and by assisting sick families in their homes. Many became ill and some died. The result is an incredible portrait of volunteer response to a major medical emergency.

Author Biographies

Joseph Scanlon, BJ, DPA (Carleton), MA (Queen’s)

Professor Emeritus and Director, Emergency Communications Unit (ECRU), Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Casey Hurrell (Student)

Research, Emergency Communications Research Unit, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Terry McMahon, BA (Carleton), BEd (Lakehead)

Emergency Communications Research Unit, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


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How to Cite

Scanlon, BJ, DPA (Carleton), MA (Queen’s), J., C. Hurrell (Student), and T. McMahon, BA (Carleton), BEd (Lakehead). “Almost Only Women: Canadian Volunteer Response to the 1918-1920 Pandemic”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 4, no. 6, Nov. 2009, pp. 331-43, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2009.0046.