It’s not entirely clear why they left on the trip, but looking back over the decades and forward to our present situation, we certainly have some clues. The spring of 1919 arrived — much like the spring of 2022 — following some harrowing and frightening times. A European war that had raged on since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 — The Great War, The War to End All Wars — was winding down. From the entrance of the United States into World War I in 1917, over 30,000 soldiers from Missouri had served in Army infantry divisions and another 14,000 Missourians would enlist in the Navy. The Paris Peace Conference had convened on January 18, however, and would lead to signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June.
The world had also seen the winding down of an influenza pandemic in 1918 even greater than our present one. Looking back, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918.
It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic.
While the 1918 H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
There were other events around this time that, while far more positive than a world war or a pandemic, were still disruptive to the normal routine of American life. In January, 1919, Missouri became the 37th state to ratify the 18th Amendment that would institute Prohibition the following year and severely impact the beer and wine industries in Missouri. In April, Governor Frederick Gardner signed into law a bill granting women the right to vote in presidential elections and in July the state ratified the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in all elections.
It’s also not clear just why the journey started on April 29, as opposed to any other day, but start it did:
Of course, there was also the matter of “the needs of the inner man,” so Oscar, Ella, and the kids took a farewell supper with Ella’s mother Josephine McBride Smith. As Ella put it,
And so it was that the westward bound journey began.