The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
"US Destroyers Escape Traps of German U-Boats" and "Steady Progress Made by Italians Moving on Trieste" - The Daily People's Press, May 27, 1917.
Clinton Backus Jr. of St. Paul served in the French Air Corps during the First World War, much like his younger brother, David Backus. When he returned from his service, he brought his aeronautical map and holder home as a souvenir. This artifact, which shows a section of a French military map, would have been bolted into the cockpit of Backus’s airplane. The holder is made of aluminum and features two rollers that allow the user to select different sections of the map for display. The outside of the display holder is stamped with numerous identifiers, which read “M.G. / Bte SGDG,” “AERONAUTIQUE MILITAIRE,” “SFA / II,” and “19328.” The map itself is blue ink printed on white paper, and its legend is in English.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 66.4
"First American Fighting Unit on War Front" and "Submarien Menace is Greatly Checked with American Aid" - The Duluth Herald, May 25, 1917.
"Jail Awaits Man who is Delinquent Registration Day; Age Rule is Specific" and "Russ Armies to be Reconstructed" - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, May 24, 1917
Today’s artifact, a motivational poster produced by the American Red Cross, speaks to the expectation of patriotism on the American home front. Originally intended for use in workrooms abroad, this particular motivational poster was displayed in an unspecified location in Minneapolis, Minnesota, around 1917. The poster reads, “The following notice is displayed in all French and American Workrooms in Paris, and is equally appropriate here: It is expressly forbidden in the room to speak any word of discouragement, of weariness, of criticism, or to tolerate suggestions of a nature to weaken the patriotic energy and absolute confidence in our Leaders and in our ALLIES.” As the American Red Cross saw it, maintaining high morale was essential to achieving victory abroad, and any expression of doubt, no matter how slight, would damage the prospect of victory.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 18.104.22.168
As the Selective Service Act went into effect on May 18, 1917, U.S. government officials began to worry about the possibility of widespread resistance to the draft. Minneapolis attorney John McGee was especially concerned about the city of Duluth and its surrounding areas. McGee sent Senator Knute Nelson a copy of a letter he wrote to House Representative C. B. Miller, dated 22 May 1917, describing troubling reports that German and Industrial Workers groups from the city plan to evade the draft, destroy bridges along ore roads, and sabotage ports. In McGill’s view, the United States could benefit from expanding the Home Guard, an armed group of former servicemen, to enforce the draft and discourage rebellion. However, the Senate’s proposal to supply the Home Guard with weapons had stalled in a House Committee, and McGill was upset by this development. He urges Representative Miller, (as well as Senator Nelson) to bypass Congress’s normal procedures of debates and subcommittees, and to pass the Home Guard bill by any means. As McGill puts it, “No one but a traitor would raise any objection to that course.”
[...] May 22, 1917.
Hon. C.B. Miller,
My dear Mr. Miller:-
I received your telegram, saying that the agreement, made when I was in Washington recently, with Congressman Kahn and Dent and Senator Chamberlain, was not carried out and that the Senate File 995 was not tacked on the army bill in conference. The situation is far from satisfactory in different parts of the state, and from your county we get reports very disquieting, from secret service men, acting independently of and unknown to each other. These reports agree that the discussions in the I.W.W. ranks deal with the matter of destroying bridges on the ore roads and docks at lake reports. [...] It would seem, if there was any patriotism in the House, (and its bickerings would lead one on the outside to doubt whether there is any) that Senate File 995, now in the hands of the military committee of the House and in its hands for a month past, ought to be reported out of the committee and passed under suspension of the rules. No one but an out and out traitor would raise any objection to that course, in my opinion. I want to impress upon your mind as strongly as I can the gravity of the situation here, and I want to add that the responsibility for any disaster that may occur here, due to a want of military equipment, will not rest upon any person here, but upon those who refused to furnish us rifles or automatic shotguns.[...] Can you not fix up some combination that will result in the passage at once of Senate File 995, and please wire me the moment it is passed. [...]
The bulk of military engagements of the First World War took place in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Still, since countries from around the globe entered the conflict, casualties were by no means exclusive to nations located within military zones. New Zealand is just one example of a far-removed nation that entered the First World War at great cost to itself. When Britain declared war on Germany in June 1914, the government of New Zealand quickly followed suit. Between 1914 and 1918, New Zealand sent nearly 100,000 soldiers to war, an impressive feat given their total population of just over one million. Importantly, the First World War also marked the first time that indigenous Maori soldiers served alongside white New Zealanders. Today’s artifact references this chapter in WWI history. A brass military insignia that reads “NZR,” it was worn by a member of the New Zealand Rifles Regiment circa 1918. (Note data taken from an NZ Government websitem "New Zealand History": http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/first-world-war)
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 1981.38.16
In an undated letter from May 1917, David Backus, a St. Paul native and recent recruit to the French Ambulance Corps, notifies his mother that he will soon be sent to training and then to the front. He begins the letter on a rather whimsical note, with a long list of his Paris adventures that reflect more of a tourist’s diary than a World War I soldier’s letter home. Evidently, Backus was determined to enjoy himself before heading to the front. He describes meeting fellow soldiers from the Twin Cities, travelling with them to Versailles, and enjoying local food while taking in the beautiful scenery.
Backus then transitions to more serious matters of war. He tells his mother that he’ll be sent for training within the week, and when that is completed, he’ll be sent to the Champaigne region, approximately 30 miles from Verdun. While Backus considers himself lucky to be sent so soon to a region of such importance, he confesses to his mother that he may not be satisfied with his choices. Had he still been home, considering joining the war in Europe, he would have enlisted in the French Air Service for the higher pay, and presumably for the greater honor.
[...] There are fifty or sixty fellows here with our Corps waiting to go out[,] some of them have been here two or three weeks. They are going to send them or us all out to a hunting Chateau about 35 miles from Paris. English officer to give us training – driving different cars etc[.] [...] There will be six drivers in section eleven. He has chosen me for one and I leave Thursday or Friday. Was I not lucky I shall be in the Champaigne region about 30 minutes from Verdun[.] Well, dearest Mother, give my love to all the family. If I had not already signed up I should be strongly tempted to go into the Lafayette Escadrille as I can get in and it will pay big money you know flying. [...] Your son, David
Citation: David Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]
When America entered the Great War in Europe in 1917, a different battle had already been raging for decades here in the states: women's suffrage. Across the nation, women were demanding their right to vote in elections, with varying degrees of success. The territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote in 1869, and when it became a state in 1890 the citizens made sure their constitution preserved that right. While many other states adopted women's suffrage in the coming decades, women in Minnesota were not granted the right to vote until the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1919. Because of this, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association was very active during World War I, often combining their pro-suffrage message with helpful tools and suggestions for making wartime life easier. This pamphlet was produced by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company in New York and distributed by the Hennepin County branch in Minneapolis. It offers suggestions for managing a household budget, cutting out waste, and even recipes using left-over food. It also states that if women had the right to vote they could put an end to the high cost of living by demanding transparency in the food supply market. The back of the pamphlet states plainly: "The price of food is woman's business. Give her the vote so she can attend to it."
Citation: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association papers, P1518. Minnesota Historical Society.