We’re pleased to announce that Dr. Diane M.T. North’s article, “California and the 1918–1920 Influenza Pandemic,” published in California History (Vol. 97, No. 3, August [Fall] 2020), has won the Western Association of Women Historians’ (WAWH) Judith Lee Ridge prize for the best history article published by a WAWH member in 2020. We invite you to read the article for free online for a limited time.

In her article, Dr. North does more than detail the history of the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic in California. When she volunteered to write the article for California History in December 2019, she had just seen the first U.S. report of a mysterious illness that had broken out in Wuhan, China. “All my past research,” she explains, added to the similarities she saw between the 2019 outbreak and that 100 years earlier. North explained: “frankly, a gut reaction,” told her that a new, equally deadly “pandemic would arise swiftly.” North continues:

“I was deeply worried not only about the potential loss of life and human suffering but also because major governments, especially the United States, under its then leadership, would be unwilling and unable to cope with the enormity of the pending crisis. I even charted the airline traffic in and out of Wuhan in December, especially when I learned that friends in California working for Silicon Valley companies traveled regularly to China. And I became increasingly frustrated because the World Health Organization and the United States were slow to respond.”

North wrote the article to educate California History readers about what worked to control the 1918-1920 pandemic (spoiler alert: masking, hygiene, and social distancing), and to highlight the government actions that were helpful (mandating masks, hygiene, and social distancing). “Historians study and analyze the past,” concludes North, but “I believe we have a responsibility to use that knowledge to inform the present—be it a question of upholding the just rule of laws, expanding equal rights, conserving the environment, or protecting public health. Freedom is a responsibility; it is not the right to do as we please.”

WAWH announced the award win at its April 2021 meeting, explaining that, of the 15 articles the committee reviewed, it “unanimously selected North’s article as the winner of this year’s Ridge Prize.” WAWH lauded North’s “approach to studying the origins and responses to the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic in California,” saying that it “makes strong interventions in the fields of history of science/medicine, military history, and legal history.” The article included “compelling stories and a wide variety of images,” along with “a clear, well-developed narrative that traces the multiple waves of the pandemic, failures to adequately manage the spread of the disease, and various efforts to address the crisis.”

For details about the Western Association of Women Historians and the prizes it awards, see https://wawh.org/.

Read California and the 1918–1920 Influenza Pandemic for free online for a limited time.