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Fullerton College’s students, faculty, and staff have struggled through fire, disease, drought, floods, and earthquakes. These natural disasters have been overcome through the creation of fire departments, dams, and health education and the work of people helping one another in desperate times.
With no fire department, hoses, or alarms, Fullerton was not prepared for a fire in 1908. Residents called a town hall meeting that same day, and the city’s first fire department was created.
The Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis were serious diseases affecting the world, including Fullerton College. Louis Plummer and the college’s administrators first made rules for compensation for instructors when many became sick during the pandemic of 1918-1919. Tuberculosis was a serious threat in Orange County. Fullerton College offered free chest x-ray screenings on-campus and the Irvine Regional Park became a tuberculosis youth health camp between the 1920s and 1930s.
The first severe flood in Southern California of the early twentieth century took place in 1916. It is still unknown whether Charles Mallory Hatfield, the rainmaker whom San Diego County hired during a period of drought, caused the 1916 flood. Storms swept throughout the region, taking lives and leaving many homeless. The Orange County Flood Control District was created in 1927, but the gap of time between the 1916 flood and the next significant flood would prove to be enough time to pass for flood control protection to not be considered an immediate need to people, whose final vote was against the building of dams. The 1938 flood proved to the county the importance of water control in a heavily developed area. Federally funded projects to ease the Great Depression enabled dams to be built in Southern California to protect against future flooding. By the time the 1938 flood hit, the Federal Flood Control Act of 1936 passed and by 1941, a couple dams had been built in the Orange County1.
The “unhappy thirties”2 marked the events of the 1938 flood and the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. In the winter of 1938, Orange County experienced one of its most devastating floods. Fullerton College student Dorothy Pratt found safety on the roof of her home till she was rescued five hours later. Once the severity of the storms ended, Kayak Club students took advantage of the new water terrain, using their kayaks to paddle through the flooded streets of North Orange County. The 1933 Long Beach earthquake was one of the most severe in Orange County’s early twentieth-century history. Fullerton College was forced to take a hiatus to analyze and repair the effects of the quake.
The development of immunizations and public health education in the early twentieth century led to the decrease in mortality rates from two significant diseases, the Spanish flu and Tuberculosis. The outbreak of the Spanish Flu was taken seriously by Fullerton Junior College Administration when compensation from absences for instructors were first issued in 1919, after a number of instructors became ill during the pandemic3. The 1918-1919 Influenza, also known as the Spanish flu, killed more people than World War I, totaling between 20 and 40 million deaths. One-fourth of the United States’ and one-fifth of the world’s population was infected. The flu developed so rapidly that after signs of sickness, people could die within hours. Health departments distributed masks to be worn in public, funerals were limited to 15 minutes, and trains would not allow passengers to travel unless they had a signed certificate of health.4
Tuberculosis, also known as TB, was once thought to be hereditary and the result of a person’s mental and moral weakness5. The threat of tuberculosis in Orange County was prominent and on the front page of the college’s Weekly Torch newspaper in December of 1930. In the 1940s, free chest x-ray exams were administered on campus for students to fight against TB6. The Irvine Regional Park was used as the grounds for a tuberculosis youth health camp from 1926-19327. Although tuberculosis still continues to kill many worldwide today, almost all cases are curable with proper treatment8.
In 1938, Orange County experienced one of its most devastating floods. Southern California was hit with heavy rains from February 27-March 3, 1938, resulting in flooding from Los Angeles to San Diego counties. The rain-swollen Santa Ana River, whose water reached as high as eight feet and flowed as fast as 100,000 cubic feet per second, caused the flooding in Orange County.
The Santa Ana River, the largest stream in Southern California9, flows through San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties from the San Bernardino Mountains to the ocean. The River is dry nine-tenths of the year, but when there are heavy rains, its waters rage.
Dorothy Pratt, a Fullerton Junior College student who lived in Northern Anaheim, was close to being swept away by the water’s current. Pratt waited on the roof of her family’s home for five hours until rescued10. The 1938 flood killed at least nineteen people in Orange County, among them a mother and her baby found a mile from their home, the mother’s arms still clasped around her child. The devastation of the flood left 2,000 people homeless, affected 40,000 acres of agricultural land, severely damaged more than 10,000 acres, and destroyed a total of 600 acres in the county. It took weeks for the water to recede to its original form. The building of the Prado Dam, designed to control a flood two-and-one-half times the 1938 flood, began construction months later and was completed in 1941.11
In an already difficult state of being in the midst of the Great Depression, the severe earthquake of 1933 added to Orange County’s woes. The name Long Beach earthquake was given to the quake of March 10, 1933 because the city of Long Beach suffered the greatest property damage and loss of lives. The earthquake was one of the nation’s most destructive, affecting 75,000 square miles.12
In Orange County, the earthquake caused four deaths due to unstable building structures and major property damage.13 Many schools had to shut down; some closed down for months and classes were held in tents. Fullerton Junior College called a forced vacation from the earthquake. The damage on campus was not serious; decorations and parapet walls were damaged and large cracks in the walls appeared in the Home Economics building. All were repaired within two weeks.
Despite Fullerton becoming an incorporated city in 1904, it still did not have any fire protection until years later. In the early morning of 1908 a large fire erupted in the business district in present-day Downtown Fullerton. With not even a fire alarm in the city, residents called on Anaheim’s horse-drawn 600-foot fire hose. By the time the cart arrived its horses were on the verge of collapse and the hose would not fit onto the only hydrant in the city, located on Commonwealth Avenue and Harbor Boulevard. Buckets of water were thrown onto the flames, but eventually, by noon, the fire burned itself out.14
Soon after, Fullerton residents called a town meeting which would later result in the creation of the city’s first fire department, a group of volunteers and 1,200 feet of hose15.
The Kayak Club began in the 1933,16 when Shop instructor R.A. Marsden read about Eskimo kayaks and dreamed of students designing and creating their own. The Fullerton Junior College and Fullerton Union High School members of the club participated in ocean and bay racing and other aquatic contests. In order to remain in the club, students had to create their own kayaks and not build a boat solely for sale. The Kayak Club became so popular that it was featured in the Los Angeles Times in 1935, and the sport spread from Fullerton to other cities throughout California.
Infamous photographs exist today when club members took advantage of the new water-filled terrain during the floods of the 1930s and paddled their kayaks through the streets of North Orange County. Some alumni stories recount students racing down Spadra Boulevard (present-day Harbor Boulevard). During the 1938 flood, students raced from the Yorba Bridge to the ocean, clocking in between two and five hours, depending on the flooded waters. In 1941, the club was discontinued as a result of World War II, and with the building of the Prado Dam, it was ensured that paddling through the streets of Orange County would not be probable again.1718
A long period of drought prompted the county of San Diego to consider extreme and alternative measures for rainfall. In 1916, a rainmaker named Charles Mallory Hatfield approached the county with an offer that for a fee of $10,000 he could produce rain to fall from the sky. The county, desperate, accepted his offer. Shortly after Hatfield and his wife set up equipment on a mountain, rain began to pour, not just in San Diego but all over Southern California. The storms produced serious flooding, houses were washed away and people lost their lives. San Diego County decided that because the rain was statewide, Hatfield did not produce it, and so they would not pay him. Some wanted to sue Hatfield for the widespread devastation from the storms. In the end, Hatfield was neither paid nor sued for allegedly creating the Southern California flood of 1916.19
Hatfield’s story inspired the creation of a Broadway play, “The Rainmaker,” which became a film in 195620.
The ten years that followed the historical debacle on Wall Street constitute a strangely confused and unsettled decade for California, a decade of tragedy and widespread despair, of fear, bewilderment and hesitation.
— Robert Glass Cleland21
The big flood is a set-back and to many a tragedy that will never be forgotten. But it is only a set-back — and this is still California.
— Fullerton News Tribune, March 7, 193822
Probably no other physical feature of Orange County has played as important a part in its history and economic development as the Santa Ana River.
— Merle and Mabel Ramsey, Warren F. Morgan23
1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man’s destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four-an- one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all – infectious disease.
— Journal of the American Medical Association, December 28, 191824
The real American spirit is always brought out by such things as the recent washout and the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?”is pretty well answered when an American finds a fellow American in need25.
— Pony Swenson, Editor-in-Chief, The Weekly Torch, March 11, 1938