Coronavirus mask confrontations echo San Francisco’s Anti-Mask League a century ago

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As the flu pandemic tore through the United States in the fall of 1918, the city of San Francisco put all its faith in the power of masks to protect its citizens from getting sick. When officials briefly lifted the mask-wearing order and cases surged, that faith seemed well-placed. The city had heralded the reprieve at noon on Nov. 21, 1918, by sounding sirens throughout San Francisco. Everywhere gauze squares fluttered to the ground as people cheered — but their glee was short-lived.

San Francsico Public Health Officer William C. Hassler soon informed Mayor James Rolph of a slight uptick in cases, and on Dec. 7, Rolph asked residents to mask up again.

By January 1919, as the pandemic’s second wave hit the city, the
request had become an order. What happened next is echoed today, as
Americans protest mask-wearing rules and enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic, calling them an infringement on their freedoms.

Last week, a Family Dollar store security guard in Flint, Mich., was shot and killed after telling a customer that her child had to wear a face mask inside.

Masks become a flash point for protests and fights as businesses, beaches and parks reopen A century ago, a band of San Franciscans, led by several prominent business leaders and physicians, staged a rebellion. The Anti-Mask League held a public meeting on Jan. 25, 1919, that was attended by several thousand jeering residents demanding a permanent end to the city mask ordinance.