Through the years, myths and mysteries sometimes arise about people who make silent sacrifices in a time of great need. Such was the story of Eliza Riddick, a 24-year-old volunteer nurse at the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering’s makeshift infirmary, located at present-day Winston Hall, during the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
In the latter days of World War I, hundreds of students, faculty and staff fell ill during a worldwide pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people around the globe in two waves from 1918-19. That was nearly 5 percent of the world’s population at the time and about five times more than all the deaths attributed to the four years of World War I.
In all, there were 450 cases of the flu on campus, resulting in 13 fatalities. Eliza Riddick and Lucy Page, two single nurses serving in the infirmary, were among those who died. Both were listed in the 1919 Agromeck dedication to the nurses of the infirmary. Through the years, Riddick was often identified as the daughter of Wallace Carl Riddick, who was the fourth president of the college and one of the most beloved figures in the school’s early history.
That, however, is incorrect.
She, in fact, was the only daughter of the president’s brother, I.G. Riddick. Her older brother, William, died a week before her, also from the Spanish flu.
Eliza Riddick worked as a receptionist at the college during the day and served in the infirmary at night, along with her mother, her aunt and her two first cousins. She was described as woman with “a frank, friendly disposition” and was remembered after her death on Oct. 17, 1918, as a “volunteer martyr-nurse.”
Page was a professional nurse in Raleigh who contracted the flu, recovered and returned to work at the college infirmary, then died after contracting the disease again during its second wave through Raleigh.