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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: Ethel Middleton
INTERVIEWER: Rick Alexander
April 29, 1989
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Ethel Welch Middleton
Interviewer: Rick Alexander
April 29, 1989
This interview is part of a series by Rick Alexander on the
Spanish flu epidemic that hit Florida in 1918. Ms. Middleton
relates some of her experiences during this trying period.
Ethel Welch Middleton was born in 1909 in Hastings, Florida.
Hastings is a farming community that was developed by Thomas H.
Hastings, a cousin to Henry Flagler, to supply produce for the
Flagler railroad and hotel employees. As a matter of fact, she
knew William Kenan, Jr., who was the chief electrical engineer
for the Flagler hotels. Kenan's family used to winter at the
Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. Most of the people who
lived around Hastings were farmers. Ms. Middleton's father had
about 100 acres, most of which was in potatoes. There was also
some citrus in the area, particularly oranges. She recounts that
everyone was poor, but they all had what they needed. She had
one sister. Ms. Middleton recalls the big family picnics they
had at an inlet south of St. Augustine beach. Her father died of
cancer when he was only fifty-six years old.
The Spanish flu hit Pensacola first, around September 11,
1918, and then moved to Camp Johnston, which is now the Naval Air
Station in Jacksonville, on September 18. Ms. Middleton recalls
that everyone wore masks, which she conjectures was because it
was thought that the virus was airborne. The people respected
doctors in the area, but she cannot remember how much they were
called on during the epidemic. The Middleton's family doctor was
Dr. Stanton, whom she describes as short-tempered but brilliant.
Interestingly, she wrote a paper about him and his
idiosyncracies. He relied on a Packard auto to make his rounds.
She recalls his sewing up the usual gashes she and her sister--
both tomboys--sustained. Ms. Middleton recalls that two small
children died of the flu, but no adults were stricken. Although
she does not recall if schools or the local theater closed during
the epidemic, Ms. Middleton does remember that there was less
social activity. In particular, people did not enjoy their usual
Saturday night entertainment downtown; they simply stayed home.
"The more people congregated together, the worse it was." Ms.
Middleton recollects that home remedies such as bed rest and
eating chicken soup were generally employed.
A: My name is Rick Alexander, and we are with Ethel Middleton
in her home at Wesley Manor in Jacksonville, Florida. [Dena
Snodgrass is also present and is designated by S:.] Today
is Saturday, April 29, and it is 3:40. Let us begin with
your full name.
M: Ethel Welch Middleton.
A: Where were you born?
M: I was born in Hastings, Florida.
A: What year was that, if you do not mind my asking?
M: 1909. Everybody has to be over a certain age to get in
A: Where is Hastings, exactly?
M: It is about forty-two miles south of this area on State
Highway 207 that crosses from St. Augustine to Palatka.
A: It is in between there?
M: Yes. It is closer to Palatka than St. Augustine.
A: So it is close to the St. Johns River.
M: Yes, it is close to the St. Johns River, about three miles
S: It is very famous for its potatoes.
M: It is a farming community that was established by a man
named [Thomas H.] Hastings, who was a cousin of [Henry M.]
Flagler, to grow vegetables to furnish the Flagler railroad
system down here, of course, and the hotels that he had
established along the coast.
A: Like the Breakers in Palm Beach.
M: Yes, and others in Key West, Palm Beach, Ormond Beach, and
St. Augustine. There were three hotels in St. Augustine,
including the Ponce de Leon. It is a very beautiful
A: What is your first memory of doctors? Did you have a family
M: Yes. His name was Dr. Latin.
A: Did he come out to visit you when someone was sick?
M: Not that I remember.
A: Did you go visit him?
M: Not that I remember. I think he had retired by that time.
The only thing I remember is that he had an ancient little
Ford. The Ford Motor Company bought it back; it was quite
valuable. He was quite old when he died. He left it to his
A: Did he use that to drive around to make house calls?
M: Yes, I guess he did until he could not drive any longer,
because it was--I will say--"stabled" at the time that he
died. He had not used it for some years. There was another
doctor who lived nearby, Dr. Stanton, and he lived on the
same street. He was the one I saw as a child when I was
A: What was the general opinion of the two doctors?
M: Dr. Latin I do not remember. He was just a gentlemen that
we knew, and he had been a doctor. But Dr. Stanton was a
very dynamic individual. He had a short temper, but he was
a brilliant doctor, though. He was brilliant. I wrote a
paper about him and his idiosyncrasies. They were
delightful. For instance, his wife had a chair that he just
despised. It was ebony or some fine, black wood. It was
carved in faces. He came home one night--maybe he had a
drink or two, but I do not know--and pulled out his pistol
and shot a hole in the eye of one of the faces. He did
things like that. [laughter]
A: I guess he had had a rough day.
M: Well, I imagine he was a difficult person to live with.
When we were children, we were never afraid of him, but we
minded him, I will tell you that. When he told us to take a
pill, we took it. He was a delightful character, I think.
A: What did your parents do? Did they work a farm?
M: My father was a farmer. After he died, my mother carried on
with the help of one of her brothers out there.
A: How big was the farm?
M: About 100 acres, I believe. I do not remember for sure.
S: You had to drive through that area going to St. Augustine.
M: Oh, it is beautiful in season. It was, but they have
started digging now.
S: What are they digging?
M: Potatoes. They sell them to some potato chip companies.
M: Yes, and I cannot remember another one of them that was
there. They contract with farmers for a certain amount of
their crop at a certain price. The crop is less this year
because of the cold weather. The yield is exceptionally
good for the crop that is left, however, and they are
getting high prices, the highest prices they have ever
gotten, I think.
A: So your parents were potato farmers.
M: They are no longer living. We sold the farm after my mother
A: But it was mostly potatoes in that area?
M: Mostly at that time. And orange groves. The grove line has
moved downstate; the orange groves keep going further and
further south. It is mostly potatoes and cabbage now.
S: They are moving.
M: The cold weather line is moving farther south.
S: I know about the oranges, but are the potatoes going to the
S: I did not think so.
A: They can grow in cooler weather.
M: They just had a little too much cold this year.
A: When you got sick as a child, did you generally see a
M: Yes, I saw Dr. Stanton, who lived nearby. I cannot remember
being sick so much as a child. I remember I had problems
because I was sort of a tomboy. One time I climbed a post
and fell off, and I got a gash in my head. He sewed it up
without an anesthesia. They did not have them then, I do
A: Not much, anyway. Was it painful?
M: As I recall, it was painful, yes.
S: She screamed her head off, I bet.
M: I bet so, too. I do not remember. I did not scream much
around Dr. Stanton because I had too much respect for him.
S: Well, that tells you something about the man, that you would
not scream around him.
M: That is right.
A: What about your sisters or brothers? Did you have siblings?
M: I had one sister.
A: What about her? Did she ever get sick or hurt herself and
have to see the doctor that you remember?
M: She cut her chin, and he had to sew that up. I think she
pulled something heavy, like an iron, over on herself. She
was more of a tomboy than I.
A: What about your parents? Did they ever go see him that you
recall? Were they ever sick with anything?
M: Well, my mother was hospitalized with typhoid fever, and I
imagine he sent her to the hospital.
A: About when was that? About how old were you?
M: I cannot remember, but I was very young. I imagine I was
about five or six.
A: That would be about 1914. You would not know about the war,
because we were not involved in it at that point, but this
would be before the Great War began.
M: I guess so, just about that time.
A: What about your father?
M: He was sick later on in life. He died at fifty-six with
cancer. In fact, I think Dr. Stanton sent him to a surgeon
in St. Augustine, but he ended up at a medical center in St.
Louis. I cannot remember the name of it now. It was too
late, though. They did not know much about cancer then.
A: There were too many other things at that time.
M: That is right. They have learned.
A: Do you remember anything about the First World War? How did
it affect your family?
M: It affected me in some way, because I remember one of my
uncles was drafted and had to go into service. I remember
that in order to make sure that there was no fighting over
his property, he left it to my sister and me. He was not
married at the time. Of course, when he came back and got
married, it was changed then. I remember seeing the men--
the Home Guard, I guess it was, or something like that--
march up and down the street. That is about all I remember.
A: Do you remember where they went to camp? Did they come up
M: I do not know that Camp Blanding existed at that time.
A: I do not know either. I do not think so. I know there was
S: I think Camp Johnston was in Jacksonville; it later became
the Naval Air Station. That is where most everybody around
here was stationed during World War I.
M: I do not know where he went, but I do know it was far enough
away that he wrote letters, and the time passed.
S: He could very likely have gone somewhere else, then.
M: He might have gone into one of the Carolinas, but I cannot
remember. There are many forts there. His son lives here
in Jacksonville. He might recall, but I do not.
S: On the other hand, Cecil Field, up at Camp Johnston, was far
enough away from Hastings to write. You did not do much
telephoning in those days.
M: Yes, you had to write letters. I do not know whether I have
just read it someplace or if he really came home for a
A: Camp Johnston is where the Spanish flu first came into
M: It is.
A: Camp Johnston is where it first came. It actually came to
Florida in September 11, 1918. I think that was through
Pensacola, but it came to Jacksonville very early that
month, too. It came to Camp Johnston on the eighteenth, I
think. Do you remember anything about the Spanish flu?
M: The only thing I remember is that a lot of people were sick
and we all wore masks. Anytime we went out among people, we
wore masks to protect them and to protect ourselves, I
suppose. There was less social activity. There were whole
communities in that day and age, any place in the United
States, I think, did this. They congregated in town on
Saturday and Saturday nights. They went to the movies and
did things like that. They talked and they walked. They
walked from car to car visiting.
S: And they sat on porches.
M: Well, yes, if they were there. We always went to town on
Saturday nights. I do not know why. But I guess we quit
during the flu epidemic.
A: You stopped doing that.
M: I think we stopped. I do not remember.
A: On whose advice? Did the doctor say the flu was spread
through the air?
M: Undoubtedly, he did. Now, no one told me that, but I was
told by my parents that we would wear the masks when we went
out, and I remember that we did. I do not know how long we
kept them on being kids, but we wore them when we started
out, anyway. I do not remember any of my friends having the
A: And you did not have it?
M: No. I waited until I was grown, when it hurt more.
A: Do you remember any of the adults who had it?
M: No, I do not. I do not recall a one. My parents did not
have it, and I do not remember any adults who did. [There
were two small sons of one of our townspeople who died of
influenza in 1918.]
A: It seems to me from the research I have done that it was a
lot worse in the city areas.
A: The more people congregated together, the worse it was.
M: I expect so.
A: So Hastings was not hit too hard. You said you knew a lot
people were sick.
M: It did not seem to be. Seeing it through a child's eyes, it
was sort of like a game. I was not anything tangible we
could put our hands on. We just would hear the grown people
talk. I do not remember what they said particularly, except
that we had to wear the masks when we went out. I expect we
stayed home more.
A: Was there a theater in Hastings?
M: Yes, there was.
A: And you do not remember if that was closed or not?
M: No, I do not. It may have been. I do not remember if the
school was closed or not. I remember very little about it.
I wish there was something they give you to make you
remember way back.
A: If I could throw out little suggestions, maybe that can help
jog your memory. What about Dr. Stanton? Was he busy at
M: Oh, yes, I am sure he was. I am not sure, but I believe he
was ill during that time. I cannot say that is a fact, but
he kept going. They are all dead now--Dr. Stanton, Mrs.
Stanton, and their son. There are just not many people even
living around Hastings now. They are dead, except for
families like mine. I am the third generation, my niece is
the fourth, and my grandnephew is the fifth in that
A: Do you remember any home remedies for illnesses, or did you
generally see a doctor? When people got sick, did they see
M: I do not remember. I imagine that we practiced home
remedies, like resting in bed and eating chicken soup. But
I just do not recall being very sick.
A: Did you have any farm hands who worked for you?
M: Yes, we always had a family living on the farm--we lived in
town--but I do not recall their being sick.
A: Did you ever go down and visit them?
M: Oh, yes. We had picnics once a year with all of the farm
hands and all of us. In fact, the whole family would get
together, and it was a lot of fun. I had uncles who farmed,
too. I remember one time we went to an inlet place in the
south of St. Augustine beach and had a picnic. The kids all
went swimming, and they had the new baby there from the farm
family. Her name was Martha Welch, named for my sister and
me. That was funny.
Oh, I was talking with John Campbell one time about those
days. He is my uncle's farm family descendant. He is an
assistant principal at the school. He married one of the
children, but not Martha Welch. I think she was a little
batty in the belfry. I am not sure, but I think she was.
[laughter] But they were a good family. The father became
a minister, and his grandson was the first young man from
that community to get his Ph.D.
A: Were they a poor family when they were farming the land?
M: Everybody was poor then. It was standard.
S: But you had everything you needed.
M: Yes, we had everything we needed. Everyone was always
related in that respect. There were a few families that
maybe had more, but I cannot recall that it bothered me in
A: So the doctors were pretty well respected by everyone in the
M: Yes. See, in that day, we did not have much transportation.
I remember when we went shopping, we went on the train to
St. Augustine. The local doctor usually made house calls.
A: Did Dr. Stanton have an automobile?
M: Yes, a big Packard.
A: And he would drive around?
M: He would pay calls all the time. Of course, he had his
office on the porch side of his house. He was an excellent
doctor. Everyone who knew him or knew of him says so even
now. He was a brilliant man.
S: Being a country doctor did not mean that he was not worthy
to work in the city. He simply chose to work in the
M: He chose, yes. I think he had a family connection. His
wife had two sisters who had moved to Hastings. One of them
was married to a man who made the barrels that they used to
ship potatoes in those days. And there was another
connection somehow. So those could have been an influence
in bringing him to Hastings. I do not know why my
grandfather went there. His father had come from Georgia,
and he was a Methodist minister in St. Augustine. I think
they homesteaded. Of course, Hastings was connected to
Flagler at the same time.
A: Was Flagler still alive during that time?
M: Oh, yes. He lived up to 1913. As a matter of fact, when
I worked at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, his partner, Mr. Kenan
[William Rand Kenan, Jr.] came down for the winters. [Kenan
was the chief electrical engineer for Flagler's hotel chain.
S: Did you know Kenan? I knew him very well.
M: He was a very charming old gentleman. I knew his secretary
better than I did him.
A: Flagler was still alive after they built the railroad out to
Key West, right?
S: Oh, yes.
M: Flagler built that railroad. He died before Kenan.
S: Kenan was alive longer than that; he did not die until long
after 1944. [The railroad to Key West was completed in
1912, and Flagler died the following year. Kenan died in
1965. Ed.] When I moved to Jacksonville, he visited Scott
Loftin [general counsel and trustee for the Florida East
Coast Railway, 1941-1953; U.S. senator from Florida, 1936],
who lived across the street. This is a diversion, so please
excuse me. Kenan was quite a farmer back in Maryland, I
think. [The Kenan family was prominent in North Carolina.
Ed.] He had a wonderful farm and highly bred dairy cattle.
M: I worked at the Ponce hotel two winters, and he came both
S: And his sister, Mrs. [Jessie Kenan] Wise.
M: He came with his wife.
S: Right, but his sister came, also.
M: I do not remember her. I remember his wife, but I do not
remember his having a sister.
A: Well, I think that is going to do it. This is a great
S: Such a diversion, is it not? It has been so thrilling to be
along to hear all the different procedures and the way he
pulls these things out of you.
M: Well, good! What are you gathering information for? Can
you tell me?
A: I am doing a paper on the Spanish flu. I am taking a
seminar on the history of science in America, which is a
pretty new field. A lot of the material that is known in
social history is not really known in the sciences, and
there are a lot of questions, like when doctors emerged.
Thank you very much for your time. You have been quite