Politics and Pandemic in 1918 Kansas City
Sykes Berry, Susan Debra, 1953-
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The 1918-1919 Spanish influenza was the deadliest pandemic in history and citizens of Kansas City died in larger numbers due to politics. Kansas City government was under the control of two powerful political bosses, Democrats Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon, who had an uneasy agreement to split the cities' patronage jobs equally between them. This arrangement created a dysfunctional and unwieldy public health response to the pandemic which occurred at the end of 1918. Since the public health response was so inadequate, quasi-governmental institutions tried to step into the vacuum. The Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and the American Red Cross were much more influential and active in Kansas City than in most cities during the pandemic, and their leadership ensured that Kansas City would not be remembered in history as having the worst response in the country.