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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


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.

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WW1 Daybook

"Heavy Attack by Enemy in France Forces Haig Back" and "Housewives are Asked for Help in Conserving Food" - The Daily People's Press, June 19, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 19, 2017

American Red Cross thimbles - June 17, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 17, 2017

Since so many women volunteered to sew clothing and blankets for soldiers, it is fitting that the American Red Cross would produce its own branded thimbles. Twelve of these thimbles, which were originally used in the Minneapolis Area during World War I, are housed in the MNHS 3D Collections. Each is made from aluminum and features a red band around its base, which reads “AMERICAN / RED CROSS / NEUTRALITY / HUMANITY.” Two Red Cross logos are also embossed on the red band.


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 6430.6.1-12

U.S. Intelligence Officer Infiltrates IWW Picnic - June 16, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 16, 2017

Opposition to the war took on a variety of forms, and U.S. intelligence organizations worked to gain information on those oppositional movements that appeared most dangerous. On June 10, the Northern Information Bureau (NIB) sent an agent to infiltrate a Minneapolis picnic held by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In response, the organization received a complaint from the Federal government, which argued that it was unacceptable to “surreptitiously” send a plainclothes agent to the IWW picnic. In a June 16 response to the federal complaint, an official of the Northern Information Bureau disputed the use of the word “surreptitiously,” saying sarcastically that he was confused and would need to consult a dictionary to clear things up. More importantly, the NIB official implies that the IWW’s violent tendencies justify espionage. One member of the IWW, Mr. Sugarman, used his speech at the picnic to predict the assassination of President Wilson, characterize war with Germany as an act of treason, and assert that Liberty Bond campaigns were government theft meant to target the poor. In light of this, the NIB official believes that any government officer would act as he did.


June 16, 1917.
I am still pondering deeply as to the possibly meaning of the word "surreptitiously" as used in the complaint and as to what it might imply, although I have not yet consulted Webster regarding the problem. Now, if "surreptitiously" means that I have at times gone out or sent out an agent and secured information regarding some person or persons without telling the said person or persons that I was going to do this, then in my estimation "surreptitiously" is the word, but if that word means that either myself or my agents have burglarized anyones office or bribed any of their employees to secure information, then "surreptitiously" is not the word. On June 10th the I.W.W. organization held a picnic within the city limits of Minneapolis and said picnic was attended by about 400 members of this splendid organization. A member of the Socialist party and also a member of the I.W.W. organization, one Sugarman, quite well known in Minneapolis, made a speech at this picnic before this assembled body, in which he freely predicted the assassination of President Wilson [...] we had a representative there in the interest of the community at large and we did not feel that we were conspiring with anyone when we sent him there, and we presume that it might be said that he went surreptitiously inasmuch as we did not tell any of the officials of the I.W.W. organization that we were going to send him because this man is, in our estimation, a valuable Operator and we did not want him killed. [...]

Citation: Northern Information Bureau, Organization Records, 1909-1933. Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota. 143.B.15.5 B

French Chauchat light machine gun - June 15, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 15, 2017

The First World War saw a significant increase in the range of artillery fire, as new machine guns allowed for bullets to be shot longer distances. Some of these machine guns, like the French Light Machine Gun C.S.R.G., were designed for easy transport during battle. This particular machine gun, a 1915 Chauchat 8 mm model, is comparatively lightweight, and it features a folding bipod that allows for soldiers to adjust the machine gun’s position. Its crescent-shaped magazine could be detached and refilled with up to twenty rounds. In order to prevent overheating, manufacturers drilled air-cooling perforations in the barrel of the gun. Additionally, since the flash of a firing machine gun could be very bright, this gun was outfitted with a cone-shaped flash suppressor on its muzzle in order to protect the eyes of the soldier operating the weapon.

Volunteer Instruction Manual for Red Cross Fundraising Campaign - June 14, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 14, 2017

During Red Cross fundraising drives, women volunteers were given very specific instructions on the proper way to solicit contributions. One instruction packet, dated 14 June 1917, contains a lengthy script about the fundraising drive along with some reminders of etiquette. Women volunteers were to go from door to door in their neighborhoods, taking care to learn the name of each woman from their next-door neighbor before arriving at her home. Upon meeting her, they were to make pleasant conversation prior to asking for donations. At the time, the American Red Cross was in the middle of its campaign to raise one hundred million dollars, and St. Paul had been asked to contribute $300,000. The fundraising script entreats all women to give the Red Cross more than they can reasonably afford. Sacrifice by soldiers should, after all, be met with sacrifice at home. Interestingly, the Red Cross appeals to gender roles in order to raise more funds. If a woman wishes to consult with a man in the household before donating, volunteers are instructed to remind her that it is a woman’s duty to take care of the sick, and she should have more say in how much money is contributed.


[...] When your son, or your nephew, or your son-in-law, or your brother, or your neighbor's son are in the Red Cross hospital in France or elsewhere, suffering from wounds, or fever, or tuberculosis, or any of the other devastating pains of soldier life, and his pain and suffering is being lessened by the physicians and nurses of the Red Cross, he will be refreshed in mind and body by the thought that unselfish people back home have made sacrifices by contributing liberally and to their utmost ability to this Red Cross fund for the relieving of pain and suffering. [...]

Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [P781]

David Backus Takes Shelter in Wine Cellar - June 13, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 13, 2017

In a 9-page biographical document composed decades after the war, the former ambulance driver David Backus recalls a particularly gruesome episode from June 14, 1917. About three weeks following the Second Battle of the Aisne, Backus and his ambulance unit found themselves in an unspecified town near the Chemin des Dames ridge. They came under rapid artillery fire from German troops, and they were able to save themselves by taking shelter in a wine cellar. When the shelling stopped, Backus and his unit emerged from the cellar, only to be confronted with a disturbing scene of the dead and the dying. Though Backus's work as an ambulance driver required him to remain calm and collected under such circumstances, he was never completely immune to the suffering around him. The scene outside the wine cellar prompted him to reflect on the sheer destruction of war. He recalls writing to his mother, "if the people of the World could see and realize the devastation and the monstrosities of war that I have seen in the last three days of the war – war would end tomorrow and forever!"


Anti-Suffrage Notes - June 12, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 12, 2017

This pamphlet from the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association archives takes a firm anti-suffrage position and attempts to convince its readers that votes for women would be America's downfall. Organized efforts to gain equal suffrage for women in Minnesota began as early as 1881 and, as this pamphlet demonstrates, the movement was still fighting staunch opposition over three decades later.

This pamphlet exemplifies arguments made in opposition to women's suffrage during the World War I era. The writer argues that woman suffrage would weaken the government, be too costly, and cause the U.S. to lose the war. The pamphlet warns that women suffrage would "increase the power of the socialists and pacifists who are opposing the draft and doing everything in their power to make our country weak and ineffective." It claims that Germany has financed the suffrage movement in England as a way to weaken its enemies. Fears that women's influence on the government would weaken the military through anti-conscription and pacifist positions dominate this leaflet, along with sexist assertions like the idea that suffrage leaders are involved in the movement because they enjoy the public fame.


Do you want your country to win the war, or are you willing it should suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power?
If you want it to win, WAKE UP and defeat woman suffrage!
Woman suffrage would cost millions every year—money which is needed, every dollar of it, to win the war if the United States is to remain a free nation.
Woman suffrage would seriously weaken our government by putting the power to make the laws into the hands of those who could not enforce the laws.
Woman suffrage would enormously increase the power of the socialists and pacifists who are opposing the draft and doing everything in their power to make our country weak and ineffective.
[...] Are the no-conscription leagues in this country, like the Pacifist movement financed by Germany? The first step towards making the United States a conquered nation is, of course, to keep it defenseless. [...]

Citation: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, P1519

False Chain Letter Campaign for an American Hospital in Paris - June 11, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 11, 2017

In a June 1917 chain letter, Charles F. Sidener of the University of Minnesota attempts to raise money for an American hospital in Paris. This hospital, which would be paid for jointly by the American Red Cross and the American National Committee, was to specialize in the treatment of facial and jaw injuries. Ideally, the hospital would reduce soldiers’ disfigurement and improve their quality of life. The chain letter reminds its reader that France supported the U.S. during the American Revolution, and it is now the duty of all Americans to return the favor in France’s time of need. Each recipient of the letter is expected to donate twenty-five cents to the fund and to forward four copies of the letter. If the fund reaches $18,000, the letter claims that the American Red Cross will donate an additional $2,000. However, this claim is false. A Red Cross letter dated 18 June 1917 indicates that the Red Cross has promised no such thing, and furthermore, it does not approve of fundraising by chain letter.


June 12, 1917.
An honorable appeal to the reason of the American business man.
France helped us tremendously in the revolution. Help her now. This chain is for the purpose of establishing a special American hospital in Paris for the wounded in face and jaw. Your help is needed immediately in the great work of restoring horribly mutilated faces, and thereby permitting the unfortunates to continue the remainder of their lives with as little disfigurement as possible.[...]
Kindly do not break the chain. To do so would work hardship on this humanitarian cause.
Very truly yours,
C.F. Sidener

Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [P781]

German Army Grenadier's Helmet - June 10, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 10, 2017

The Minnesota Historical Society’s 3D Collections houses an ornate helmet once worn by a grenadier in the German Army. This helmet, pictured below, was produced in 1915. Its base is constructed of black leather, while its surface features numerous gilded brass fittings. In addition to a top spike and trim on the visor, the helmet is also adorned with a large front plate depicting a militant eagle. The bird holds a sword and a scepter in its right and left talons, respectively, and a banner across its chest reads “MITT GOTT FUR KOENIG UND VATER LAND,” or “With God for King and Fatherland.” The helmet was presumably brought to Minnesota at the end of the war as a souvenir.


Knute Nelson Refutes John Hetland's Opposition to the Draft - June 9, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 9, 2017

June 8th, 1917.

Hon. John M. Hetland,

Ada, Minnesota

Dear sir;

Your letter of the 5th is at hand. I am surprised at its tone and spirit. Moreover, it seems to me you entierly misapprehend the character and nature of this great war. Should Germany succeed in overcoming and conquering England and France our country would undoubtedly be the next victim because we have so far, by our Monroe doctrine, stood in the way of Germany acquiring colonies in South America, as she has been very anxious to do. [...] For this reason all thinking men, who understand the nature and scope of the struggle prefer to fight German over in Europ, with the aid of our Allies, France and England, rather than to leave an opening, in the future, for German invasion of this country. [...] Judging from the tone of your letter, I should say that you seem to be saturated with the German peace propaganda that has been carried on in this country ever since the war began. [...] We are not fighting for the crowned heads of Europe. We are fighting for free government and Democracy, and for the life of small nations the world over against the military autocracy of Germany, and the foregoing statement of yours is not only most unpatriotic, but it shows your utter ignorance of the true situation. You mention the fact that you have held many offices and on that account are familiar with the sentiment of your community. I doubt whether the people of your county feel as you express yourself. There is too much real Norwegian blood in them for that. [...] You have been a prominent man in your county and instead of teaching the people of your section patriotism you indulge in a most unpatriotic effusion. I do not believe you or your children would be glad to have your letter appear in print to show how utterly un-American you are.[...]

In response to John Hetland’s June 5 letter opposing the draft, Senator Knute Nelson pens a forceful rebuttal, which attacks both Hetland’s character and his characterization of the war. Senator Nelson first paints imperialist Germany as an existential threat to the United States. The way he sees it, Germany will certainly invade the United States if it defeats Britain and France in the war, and it is far better to fight them now, abroad and with allies, than to fight them later, at home and unassisted. Furthermore, Nelson strongly disputes Hetland’s assertion that the U.S. was fighting for the crowned heads of Europe. He rather describes the war as a fight for “free government and Democracy, and for the life of small nations of the world against the military autocracy of Germany.” Given Germany’s treatment of Norway, Knute is skeptical that Hetland’s majority-Norwegian county shares Hetland’s opposition to the draft. In sum, Senator Nelson believes Hetland’s letter to be thoroughly unpatriotic, and he makes no apparent effort to soften his disapproval.
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