November 13, 1918: With the Crescent City defenseless from the influenza epidemic, a philanthropic infant asylum comes to the rescue with its remedying resources.
Fever dreams and helplessness stalked New Orleanians a century ago. The global influenza epidemic docked itself at the port of New Orleans on September 16th, 1918, and by November had made death all too familiar.
Not only did the city run low on food supplies, but toddlers and other small children were left orphaned with the rapid onset of death of their caretakers. St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, a charity shelter that was no stranger to epidemics, once again performed a familiar role during the 1918 epidemic, taking in tendered-aged children orphaned by the influenza outbreak. Located at 1507
Magazine Street, funded and founded in 1861 by the Sisters of Charity order of nuns and by the beloved New Orleans’s philanthropist Margaret Haughery, the orphanage prided itself in good works by taking in parentless children and attempting to keep them free of illness that had claimed the lives of their parents. The founding of the asylum itself also stemmed from an earlier global epidemic, Yellow fever, that devastated New Orleans beginning in the early 1800’s; disease was no stranger to New Orleanians anymore. Affected by the epidemic personally after both her husband and child died from it, “mother of orphans” Margaret Haughery helped found the asylum to help others alleviate their pain from the detrimental effects of any rising epidemic. Unfortunately, the St. Vincent’s Asylum was not alien to influenza outbreaks within its sanctuary walls. At this time, 1,946 cases of influenza were reported in the city in late October of 1918, with new cases increasing this total every day. In early November 1918, about 50 children of the average 160 at St. Vincent’s between the ages of 2 and 5 were infected with the flu along with a few nurses and sisters. Mrs. George Denegre, President of the Board of Directors of the Asylum during this time, affirmed that while the influenza outbreak was detrimental to both health and food supplies, the orphanage became free of illness shortly afterwards due to volunteer nurses and other generous individuals who contributed to the immediate needs with monetary gifts. Both the foundlings and workers of St. Vincent’s Baby Asylum were free from illness once again and comforted with donations from the charitable public.
The asylum served a greater purpose rather than just housing individuals who were left without caretakers. It demonstrated the unmatched sympathy of New Orleanians and acted as a platform that emphasized the ongoing seriousness of the epidemic. Beginning from October 1918 and ending in April of 1919, a staggering total of 54,809 cases of influenza devastated the city with a total of 3,489 deaths. Nowhere was safe, and everywhere was contaminated; if it had not been for places such as St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum that welcomed babies and small children from the epidemic, the city would have found itself in an even more grave depiction. The asylum left an impact on both the city from the past and until the present.
Today, the St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum building still stands tall as a guest house for those wanting to experience the supernatural while learning about its historical significance. Still located at 1507 Magazine Street, the property is now an attraction for both locals and tourists, always seeking more visitors for its alleged lurking phantoms that reside there from afflictive times, eager to carry on its legacy of being an asylum open to all who seek it.