By 1918, Norwood was a small, ethnically diverse, industrialized, and stratified community. Ink, printing, and tanning factories were owned by wealthy families who lived privileged lives. These industries attracted immigrant laborers who made their homes in several ethnic neighborhoods and endured prejudice and discrimination at the hands of native residents. When the epidemic struck, the immigrant neighborhoods were most affected; a fact that played a significant role in the town's response—with tragic results.
This close analysis of one town's struggle illuminates how even well-intentioned elite groups may adopt and implement strategies that can exacerbate rather than relieve a medical crisis. It is a cautionary tale that demonstrates how social behavior can be a fundamental predictor of the epidemic curve, a community's response to crisis, and the consequences of those actions.
"In a brilliant combination of scholarship and compassion, Fanning brings to life the Amercan experience of the devastating 1918 flu epidemic. That blow passed, but surprise outbreaks still threaten our world. We ignore the politics of community response, where the life-saving decisions are made, only at our peril."—Jeanne Guillemin, author of Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak
"Influenza and Inequality is a well-written and interesting book. Fanning provides a good study of nativism in a relatively small Massachusetts town and the difficulties local minorities faced. She raises interesting questions about the pandemic and its effect on both majority and minorities."—The Historian
"Historians once thought that the pandemic struck down its victims irrespective of class or ethnicity. Fanning dispels this error, demonstrating that immigrants and the poor in Norwood died in disproportionate numbers."—Historical Journal of Massachusetts
"As Fanning notes, some scholars have observed variations in mortality rates during the epidemic, but Influenza and Inequality is the first monograph to examine the reasons, both long- and short-term, behind such variations in morbidity and mortality. . . . Touchingly, Fanning extends her study of inequality to the treatment of the dead."—Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
"As a study of bias and the problems of immigration, Influenza and Inequality is quite good."—The Historian