Masquerade, Part Two of Two

A Blog Addendum to “En Mask” (FACCCTS: Fall 2020)

This blog addendum to “En Mask,” an article that appeared in the fall 2020 edition of FACCCTS, contributes to, and reconfigures, previous studies on the H1N1 influenza crisis in California by focusing on the role that gauze masks played in student print as well as material cultures, campus governance, and educational ideas. This is the second installment in the two-part blog addendum.

            Despite an ebbing of H1N1 influenza in Palo Alto, masks and ailments proliferated at the University of California in fall 1918. On October 24, the Daily Cal editorial staff advertised “GAUZE PROTECTORS ON SALE” for five cents apiece. By the next issue, the public university’s advertised sale of masks had progressed with temporal precision: “soiled masks may be exchanged for sterile ones at California Hall between 8 o’clock and 9:15 in the morning and 4 and 5:15 o’clock in the afternoon.” In female boarding houses, the daily rate of influenza cases purportedly declined by almost half. Reporters and advertisers alike were confident that “this shows that influenza is on the decline, and by wearing masks a further decrease in new cases is expected.” Daily Cal editors adhered to John Dewey’s warnings of, on the one hand, “paternal policy,” and on the other, “unbridled personal liberty.” In a political economy of progressive “liberalism,” editors situated columns on the public University mask exchange side-by-side with advertisements for masks sold by Brasch’s on Shattuck, for ten cents apiece. Masks, as material culture of university governance, facilitated epidemiological “prevention, not punishment.”

            James Raphael and the Daily Cal editorial staff noted that masks generated “amusing situations,” but readers needed to consider the “serious side” of “co-operation” amidst “democratic fervor.” All students should adhere to the orders barring any student not “properly covered with gauze masks” from classrooms and libraries. Raphael and his staff described abidance to the orders as a patriotic duty, encouraging each reader to “see to it that you do your part in the great task of combatting this disease which has swept the country.” In a later issue, editors implored any potential Red Cross female volunteer to “DO YOUR DUTY.”

            In late October and early November, while the City of Berkeley sought to enforce an emergency mask ordinance, the Daily Cal published the names of faculty and student “mask ‘slackers’ ”: Lucy Scott, one of four female violators in Berkeley, as well as French Professor John Magni, one of 171 male violators in the city. Student editors confirmed that, “as a whole, the citizens of Berkeley have responded to the appeal for wearing masks in a patriotic manner.”

            Editor-in-Chief James Raphael included cartoons and caricatures by R.L. Ingram, an editor for the student lampoon magazine California Pelican, above the names of the “mask ‘slackers.’ ” Ingram’s captions indicated that, “at first mistakes were frequent,” with “citizens” mistaking masked students for thieves and robbers. Ingram depicted a masked Campanile (Sather Tower) shrugging, seemingly asking readers, “Well, what can a ‘feller’ do?” He also sketched a bearded man with the caption of “natural mask” and a masked horse exclaiming, “It feels like the
old feed bag!” Finally, in the center of the Masks cartoon box, Ingram illustrated a future student commenting on the aesthetics of men in masks: “Eek!,” she exclaimed to a masked male partner, “oh mercy your nose is exposed.” The caption questioned, “Will it come to this??”

            The Welfare Committee for the S.A.T.C. and Naval Unit fulfilled this aesthetic progression of masks, scheduling performances and fashioning spectacles for Greek Theater audiences. The Daily Cal gushed that on Saturday, November 2, the Committee had sponsored “one of the most enthusiastic gatherings that have ever assembled in the classic amphitheater.” No admission was charged, but “the ruling requiring all persons to wear masks” was “rigidly enforced.” Two men from the Naval Unit jazz band entertained S.A.T.C. “friends” with trombones before a screening of Out West, starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, a film that unfortunately advanced “playing Indian” tropes as well as African-American servility. Across the bay, at the University of California Affiliated Medical Colleges in San Francisco, yearbook editors recalled similar entertainments on their campus. Dancing and dining “did not lose their popularity while we were greeting the world behind four-ply gauze.”

            Masked audiences flocked to theatrical productions in Berkeley. The next Saturday, November 9, at “8 o’clock in the Greek Theater,” the Welfare Committee sponsored a vaudeville competition among members of the S.A.T.C. and Naval Unit, with Professor S.J. Hume acting as judge. A Red Cross short film and British Pathé newsreels presaged the feature presentation: Lonesome Luke, Lawyer, a silent rival to Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Again, the Daily Cal warned, “Masks Must Be Worn.”

            Publication of San José State Normal School diary entries allowed La Torre editors to convolute mask caricatures found in newspapers and periodicals. A student-teacher at an elementary school reportedly likened girls’ masks to hjabs in a “Mohammedan school.” She mused that “you think a lot of people are somebody else when you see only their eyes.” In later published entries, the woman recounted how masks obscured her mirth: “a faculty member came with a new dress and hat, and I never saw such a sight. I had to laugh right then and there. I was scared she would know it, but found she couldn’t see what my mouth was doing under my mask!” Yearbook captions revealed that the masks aided and abetted student “Camouflaging!”

            The University of California extended winter break by one to two weeks and cancelled spring break, hoping to halt a resurgence in influenza cases. During the first October wave, military news letters such as The Fly Leaf featured student lamentations on how “all girls look alike to me, now that they have to wear masks.” At the end of the third wave, California Alumni Fortnightly editors observed that the masks had given “a ghostly appearance to the campus at night.” They also published a poem by “little Johnnie,” the “campus rhymester.” The erstwhile satirical poet wrote that “there iz a order that everybody/Must wear a Floo mask.” The author then described:

“fat wimmin what are short of breth
Are taking no chances of their deth
From windpipe stoppage so they grin
Real sweet with warmers on their chin
Floo Masks have their good points, too
Of which I’ll enoomerate a few
They mingle on a equal basis
All females, no matter what their faces.”

            Five hundred cases of H1N1 influenza, seven deaths, and four months of “gauze protection” ended with an abrupt editorial catharsis in verse, aiming to destroy the memory of sexuality, performance, and public commercial exchange ushered in by the masks.


FACCC blog posts are written independently by FACCC members and encompass their experiences and recommendations.
FACCC neither condemns nor endorses the recommendations herein.

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Comments on "Masquerade, Part Two of Two"

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Ryan Tripp - Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Two years after this blog post and corresponding FACCCTS article, Mills College merged with Northeastern University to establish Mills College at Northeastern University. According to the main site, "Mills’ commitment to advancing leadership by women and nonbinary people and empowering BIPOC, first-generation, and LGBTQ+ students will continue through the curriculum and through the Mills Institute." The article contention, then, remains the same: Mills continues to admit undergraduate women as well as "gender non-binary and transgender undergraduate students."

Ryan Tripp - Friday, December 18, 2020

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