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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

"Teutons Destroy Cathedral; Loot Invaded Villages" and "Drastic Action Planned Against I.W.W. Activities" - The Daily People's Press. August 18, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 18, 2017

The Red Cross Plans an Exhibition at the 1917 Minnesota State Fair - august 17, 1917

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

As part of its continuing effort to raise funds and recruit volunteers, the Minnesota Headquarters of the Red Cross planned a series of exhibitions for the Minnesota State Fair in September 1917. In an August 17th letter, the Chairman of the State Fair Red Cross Committee outlined the organization’s various planned exhibitions. In one booth, Red Cross nurses and Boy Scouts were scheduled to perform first aid demonstrations for the public. Other booths focused on the production of necessary supplies, such as surgical dressings, hospital garments, and knitted clothing. Twice-daily musical performances were scheduled to lighten the mood, and an Information Booth contained pamphlets on how to get involved with the Red Cross, either as a nurse, a volunteer, or a contributor. The Chairman is sure that the Red Cross exhibitions will be a success. She notes in her letter, “I feel sure we shall all enjoy the week, even though it will be very strenuous.”


Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans
Red Cross State Fair Plans

August 17, 1917
My dear Mrs. Lowry:
This is not a formal report, but an informal one, meant to embody the decisions of the State Fair Red Cross Committee during the course of the two meetings which have been held. The Committee decided that every department should send me a report on certain points, so I am suggesting that you let me have, as soon as possible, the data outlined in the enclosure. I am also embodying decisions made by the Committee on various questions of management. As you all know, the Fair opens Monday September 3rd and closes Saturday September 8th. I feel sure we shall all enjoy the week, even though it will be very strenuous. A letter will follow soon, showing positions and space of each exhibit. It seems to me we have a fine committee and that we are sure to be really proud of the results. Please be sure to let me help in any way I can and report any matter that is not being attended to.
Sincerely yours,
Caroline M. Crosby

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

"Popes Initiative Strongly Opposed" and "Free War Prisoners, is Demand of I.W.W." - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 16, 1917.

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

"Allies Sweep Through German Lines" and "Allies will Probably Refuse Consideration of Pope's Peace Appeal" - The Duluth Herald. August 15, 1917

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

American Red Cross Nurse Apron

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

Of the nearly 20,000 Red Cross nurses that were sent to active duty during World War I, a majority of them served overseas. However, this particular Red Cross apron was used domestically, by Olive J. Clark of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The plain white cotton garment had long sleeves and two front hip pockets. The wearer would secure the garment by closing buttons that ran down the back of the apron, and by wearing a uniform belt at the waist.

 Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 7339.6

American Red Cross Nurse Apron

"German Air Raid on British Coast; 23 Killed, 50 Hurt" and "Talk of Peace Aids Kaiser" - Freeborn County Standard. August 13, 1917

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

Press Censorship Threatens Alexandria's Park Region Echo - August 12, 1917

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

In the wake of the recent arrest of the New Ulm Volkszeitung’s editor, Senator Knute Nelson received another letter concerning wartime press censorship. The letter arrived from Alexandria, Minnesota, where a local organization had already formed against the Park Region Echo, which members of the community believed to promote anti-war and pro-German propaganda. Constant Larson, an attorney representing the community organization, suggested that the paper be removed immediately from mail circulation, citing the paper’s violation of the Espionage Act. While he believed the editor could also be arrested under state law, Larson understood that this course of action would result in a drawn-out legal process and an uncertain jury trial, and it would be far better for the Federal Government simply to remove the Park Region Echo from circulation. In his letter, Larson noted that he had already appealed to the Commission on Public Safety, which ruled in favor of censoring the Park Region Echo, but he implored Senator Nelson to speed up the censorship process.


Press Censorship Letter

Aug. 10th, 1917.
Senator Knute Nelson,
Washington, D.C.
Dear Senator:-
As you doubtless know, from the very beginning the Park Region Echo has continually misrepresented everything the government has done to prosecute the war and lied about any one who has done anything to further the purposes of the government. We have thought to have him arrested under the state law, but that would lead to the delay and his case would come before a jury on which there would likely be some of his sympathizers, and we concluded that the most effective way to handle him would be to try to get his paper excluded from the mails. I think every issue of his papers contains stuff contrary to the espionage act recently passed. We took the matter up with the Commission of Public Safety and I had a letter from the secretary yesterday to the effect that the commission had made its recommendation to the postal authorities that the paper be kept out of the mails. I do not know, of course, what action the postal authorities will take or how soon they will act in the matter. We are anxious to have action taken just as soon as possible, and if you are in a position to urge speedy action, your assistance would be very much appreciated. If the government will not act, we will have to take steps ourselves here to put a stop to the treasonable sheet, but action by the government would be, I think, much to be preferred. The enemies of the government are very active and much trouble will result if early and firm measures are not taken to put a stop to their activities. We have begun to form a local organization to handle the situation in this country, and I think we will have no trouble in doing so, but it would be a great help to have the Echo shut out of the mails. If for no other reason than that it will show the people that the government means business. I do not care to criticise too much, but I think that if our Commissioner of Public Safety had taken proper action at the right time most of the disturbance which we have in the state would never have had a chance to start. I have sent you last issue of Echo.
With best regard,
Yours sincerely,
Constant Larson

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26

Request to Eliminate Five-Dollar Registration Fee for Red Cross Workers - August 11, 1917

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

Despite the Red Cross’ international reputation and President Wilson’s endorsement, the aid organization was by no means perfect. In a letter dated August 11, 1917, a St. Paul woman describes what she views as a very serious imperfection, namely the organization’s practice of charging a five-dollar fee to all of its workers. Ms. Ludlow points out that numerous women would like to contribute their time and labor, but they cannot afford the five dollars to become a Red Cross worker. The five-dollar fee is a “petty class distinction” that actually deprives the Red Cross of additional workers. Furthermore, Ms. Ludlow notes that “the poor man’s son is required to go to war and fight in the trenches beside the rich man’s offspring.” If no class distinction exists at the front, she reasons that no equivalent distinction should exist on the home front.

Red Cross Membership Fee

A peculiar condition exists at Red Cross Headquarters in St. Paul. If any woman wishes to donate a portion or all of her time to Red Cross Work she is required to pay a membership fee of $5.00 for the PRIVILEGE of working. The woman who has no desire to help in Red Cross Work pays nothing and DOES NOTHING - but the woman who wants to devote some of her time to the work must pay AND work. When asked why a fee is charged for the privilege of working the reply is: "We must have funds!" Why ask the WORKERS to donate. Why not ask those who cannot or do not work to donate? There are women who cannot afford to pay who would like to do their bit, but they are denied the privilege because they cannot do both. It has been said that the fee is demanded because there is a certain "class distinction" in Red Cross work. However - the poor man's son in [sic] required to go to war an fight in the trenches beside the rich man's offspring. Why should this poor boy's mother or sister be denied the privilege of doing their bit because they cannot pay a membership fee in the Red Cross organization. If the desire is to make it a rich woman's organization - make the membership fee five hundred dollars instead of five. This is a time when men and women alike regardless of "class distinction" should put their shoulders to the wheel and DO THINGS. This petty class distinction will not win the war - neither does it do St. Paul any good. This is the only city in the United States that I know of where this condition prevails.
A Traveler
R.J. Ludlow
91 E. 6th St. St. Paul

"German Alien Editor Says Arrest Mistake..." and "I.W.W. Return and are Quickly Sent Out..." - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 10, 1917

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

David Backus Evacuates One German and Four Austrian Soldiers - August 9, 1917

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

During the multi-day French attack beginning on August 7th, David Backus and his ambulance partner Maurice spent the vast majority of their days evacuating the wounded. During their many drives to and from the Front, they witnessed a troubling episode in the sky. Two German fighter planes suddenly approached five French planes, four of which were armed. Though the French planes were of a superior number and position, all five of them circled away, leading Backus to lament, “We have the biggest bunch of cowardly aviators in the section I have ever seen.” Later in the day, Backus and his German-speaking ambulance partner picked up one German soldier and four Austrians. They discovered that the Austrians were pleased to have been captured, as they were unwilling draftees into the German Army. Meanwhile, the captured German soldier told them of widespread starvation and death in his regiment, which had lost three-quarters of its men. He predicted that the war would be over within four months, but his prediction turned out to be optimistic.


Backus diary page
Backus diary page
Backus diary page
Backus diary page
Backus diary page

Thursday Aug. 9 - 17.
[...] Boche dropped in quite a little hate here this am from 11 until now one & are still doing so regulary [sic] 2 every 10 minutes. Couple of Boche drove overhead as usual our or French not to be seen. We have the biggest bunch of cowardly aviators in this section I have ever seen. Two Boche came over the other day, there were 3 French no not observation planes but fighting plans to the Right of them one observation & one French fighting plane on the other. WELL our planes all five of them circled away. let Boche come way in over here 4 kilometers from our first lines have a good look and go back unmolested except of course our guns, but then it tok [sic] us ten thousand shots to bring one avion down [...] Got a call at 4 P.M. Drew Ostel. We saw a Boche avion come over at 4:30 so low you could have hit him with a rock. He took a good look at us and battery on the hill back unharmed. Then we got Boche Hate in the shape of 105's for over an hour straight they SHELLED the battery consistently & with [sou...] accuracy, just like making a checkerboard. [...] Only in Astel long enough to load 5 Assis, one of them a German, had him ride in front seat with Maurice & I. Maurice talks German so I questioned him. They have not had any potatoes for 7 weeks, have lost thousands in the British drive up North. Lost 3/4 of their Regiment over gas attack the other day. He said, "that the war will be all over in 4 months - soldiers are all in, food supply terribly short but plenty of ammunition." Germans hate & vice versa, the Austrians. have a few Austrians in each German company to make them fight. he was very happy at being taken a prisoner. He has recieved the Iron Cross. gave us each of picture of himself, also a button off his uniform. [...]

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F


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