How did he mishandle the flu epidemic?
Hi, sorry I didn't answer right away. I work a graveyard shift and go to bed shortly after I get home. I just got up. :)
Wilson's role in the 1918 flu epidemic is not widely known today largely because he suppressed freedom of the press during his second term. Yep...this is 100% true.
For people who are interested in learning about this terrible episode in American history in detail, I highly recommend "The Great Influenza," by John M. Barry, 2004, Penguin Group. Barry's book is possibly the greatest historical nonfiction work of the past decade. He researched in meticulous detail the start and spread of what came to be misnamed the "Spanish flu."
Here's a short summary of what Wilson did:
The beginnings of the 1918 flu pandemic -- the most deadly pandemic since the Black Death in the Middle Ages -- were traced to America's heartland. It likely started on a Kansas farm.
It became known as the Spanish flu because Spain was not at war, so it still had freedom of the press and they reported the flu devastating their country. At the time, no one knew the origin of the flu.
In the United States, Wilson had totally ignored the First Amendment and shut down freedom of the press, along with many other freedoms, citing patriotism and the need to keep Americans on the right track. So news of the flu's spread across the nation traveled slowly, if at all in the early days. Medicine of the era was pretty advanced, and doctors knew enough to tell people how to protect themselves. But with news suppressed, word simply didn't travel fast enough for precautions to be taken across the country.
Almost 24 million men registered for the draft during the WWI era. Thousands were sent to over-crowded, makeshift camps in the U.S. The first reported flu cases occurred at Ft. Riley, Kansas, on March 11. An Army private reported to the camp hospital just before breakfast complaining of fever, sore throat and headache. He was quickly followed by another soldier with similar complaints. By noon, the camps hospital had 100 ill soldiers. By weeks end, that number jumped to 500.
The Wilson administration didn't respond at all to the devastation sweeping the country until September 13 when U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue dispatched advice to the press on how to recognize the influenza symptoms. By then it was six months too late. An estimated 12,000 Americans died that September along the northeastern seaboard alone. Across the nation that October, alone, more than 195,000 died. So many died that there was a nationwide shortage of caskets. Ignoring the advice of doctors, the administration had allowed huge numbers of soldiers and sailors to mix with the general population across the country and overseas. U.S. troops carried the flu to the trenches of the European battlefield where it spread like wildfire from Europe around the world.
Although no one knows exactly how many died from the 1918 flu, estimates range from 50 to 100 million. At the low end, 50 million was about 3% of the world's population at the time. An estimated 500 million, or 1/3 of the world's population, were infected.
By the way, Wilson was a leader of the so-called Progressive Movement. In addition to those already listed on this thread, among his greatest hits were:
Federal Trade Commission Act
Federal Farm Loan Act
America's first-ever federal progressive income tax in the Revenue Act of 1913 -- the income tax amendment did not happen on his watch, but the way it's been implemented ever since is Wilson's legacy, and he was a leader of the political movement that brought all these "greatest hits" into being
Whenever people discuss lists of worst presidents, I always put Wilson at the top of my list.