When Woodrow Wilson Caught the 1918 Flu During a Pandemic, But Hid It From the Public

President Woodrow Wilson photographed in good health.
President Woodrow Wilson photographed in good health.
Harris & Ewing Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In April 1919, President Woodrow Wilson joined other world leaders in Paris to hammer out peace terms for World War I, which had ended the previous November. The war had monopolized Wilson’s attention during his second term in office, to the point that he wouldn’t even acknowledge the 1918 influenza pandemic (often referred to as the Spanish flu at that time), which killed nearly 700,000 Americans. As John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, told TIME, “anything negative was viewed as hurting morale and hurting the war effort.”

Shortly after arriving in Paris, Wilson caught the flu.

Not Just a Common Cold

Behind closed doors at the Hôtel du Prince Murat, the situation was grave. The president lay in bed, wracked with coughing fits, diarrhea, and high fever, while his staff tried to make sense of his delirious rantings. As chief usher Irwin Hoover recalled, they simply couldn’t convince Wilson that the hotel was not, as he insisted, teeming with French spies.

“About this time he also acquired a peculiar notion he was personally responsible for all the property in the furnished place he was occupying,” Hoover said. (Apparently, Smithsonian reports, Wilson thought some furniture had gone missing, though it hadn’t moved at all.) “Coming from the President, whom we all knew so well, these were very funny things, and we could but surmise that something queer was happening in his mind.”

In a letter to Wilson’s private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, White House physician Cary T. Grayson explained that the illness was so sudden and severe that he “was at first suspicious that [Wilson’s] food had been tampered with.” While Grayson admitted to Tumulty that the president had indeed contracted the “treacherous” influenza—and that he was anxious about the president's condition—the doctor wasn’t nearly as forthcoming with the American people.

Woodrow Wilson with Cary T. Grayson on his left, circa 1918. Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Know Restrictions on Publication

Newspapers published frequent updates on Wilson’s convalescence, citing Grayson’s steady reassurances that their unshakeable leader was merely suffering from a cold, which was “no cause for worry.” The White House also implied that Wilson himself was somehow uniquely equipped to defeat the disease, since he “always throws off the deepest colds quickly.”

Lasting Effects and Last Words

Wilson did manage to throw off the virus, saving Grayson and the rest of the administration from having to come clean about the deception. But some people believe that the illness might have affected the outcome of the Paris Peace Conference.

As The New Yorker reported earlier this year, Wilson had wanted leniency for Germany in order to foster world peace and diplomacy. Britain and France, on the other hand, were pushing for harsher consequences—steep debt, loss of land, and French occupation in the Rhineland. The leaders were in the midst of an ongoing, heated debate when Wilson fell ill, and once he had recovered enough to resume the discussion, he quickly caved to their terms. Though we can’t say with any certainty that Wilson’s bout of influenza was related to his about-face, it is possible that it weakened his reserve.

The "Big Four" leaders at the Paris Peace Conference in May 1919. From left to right: Britain's David Lloyd George, Italy's Vittorio Orlando, France's Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson.Bain News Service Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

It also may have weakened his health overall. In October of that same year, Wilson nearly died from a stroke, which caused partial blindness and partial paralysis on his left side. Again, the details were kept from the public, and Wilson continued to preside over the country with some major help from his wife, Edith, until the end of his term in 1921.

Wilson still never addressed the 1918 flu pandemic, but his last sentence is a confirmation that he at least knew how it felt to experience the kind of total physical deterioration that a virus like the 1918 flu can cause. “I am a broken piece of machinery,” Wilson said before his death in 1924. “When the machinery is broken—I am ready.”

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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100 Years Later, the Story of Florida’s Ocoee Massacre—an Election Day Attack on Black Citizens—Is Finally Being Told

Courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center
Courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center

The bloodiest Election Day in the history of the United States is a story many Americans have never heard. On November 2, 1920, the day of the U.S. presidential election, a white mob attacked a Black neighborhood in the city of Ocoee, Florida. Now, the story of the Ocoee Massacre is being told in a new museum exhibition for its 100-year anniversary, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The exhibit, titled "Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920,” is now on display at the Orange County Regional History Center in Downtown Orlando. It examines what the museum calls "the largest incident of voting-day violence in United States history."

On November 2, 1920, a black labor broker named Moses Norman attempted to vote in what is now Ocoee, only to be turned away when he didn't pay the $1 poll tax. He returned later that day to attempt to vote again, and this time his persistence caught the attention of local Ku Klux Klan members.

Knowing his actions had provoked anger, Norman fled town. A mob of armed white men went to the home of his friend July Perry that night while searching for him. Perry, a fellow labor broker, was 50 years old and had been involved in civic activities like registering more Black citizens to vote. Sha’Ron Cooley McWhite, Perry's great niece, told the Orlando Sentinel that his bravery and activism likely made him a target for white supremacists.

July PerryCourtesy of Orange County Regional History Center

The confrontation at Perry's home led to a shootout and ended with the mob capturing Perry and lynching him. The violence raged in the Black neighborhood throughout the night. By morning, the mob of 250 had burned down 22 homes and two churches and murdered dozens of Black residents.

Like many tragedies suffered by Black communities in U.S. history, the story of the Ocoee Massacre is not widely known. Poor record-keeping and intentional suppression of the news has left historians with an incomplete picture of exactly what happened that night. The Orange County Regional History Center had to collect land records, written reports, and oral histories to recount the event in depth.

"Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920” is on display at the Orange County Regional History Center now through February 14, 2021.

[h/t Orlando Sentinel]