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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

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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David Backus's Ambulance Breaks Down - June 8, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 8, 2017

David Backus, a St. Paul native and recent recruit to the French Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, had successfully completed his training by June 1918. During his first couple weeks of driving an ambulance, he spent some days much closer to the front and others much farther from danger, completing deliveries of medical supplies and checking in with his supervisors in Paris. Backus’s diary entries from this period indicate that mechanical failures were a common problem. On June 8, 1917, Backus took his ambulance, which was “working rotton,” to a garage in Paris, where they removed excess oil from the carburetor. He then attempted a delivery of iodine and bandages to Ambulance Section 6, which was operating much closer to the front. Unfortunately, his car broke down completely about nine miles outside of Paris. Backus was forced to spend the night in his ambulance along with a French private who had been sent to provide him assistance. In the morning, a local French woman offered them breakfast and cognac, and despite his recent setbacks, Backus declared that he “felt like a million dollars” and was optimistic about his future as an ambulance driver.


Friday, June 8-1917
[...] Drove to Garage. They took cups full of water out of carburetor[,] too much oil. [...] Got case of Iodine & 5 bales of bandages. They are all out of both in Section 6 […] Started, Convoyer and I. Car working rotten.Got to Lefeven [sic] - 9 miles from Paris on road to [...] Broke a connecting rod[,] pulled in a driveway called Mr. Harjis to send another car, and I would get Iodine out by AM sometime. Convoyer had to call & he speaks as much English as I do French, in other words - none. Slept in ambulance among the boxes. Convoyer private in French Army - slept on seat. Was chilly, never even took my boots off. Woke 7. Kind lady in house where car is gave us coffee, bread, and cognac. And she refused pay I gave her – candy. […] It is now nine AM, will I never get to the front. However, I felt like a million dollars despite my bad cough and I am very optimistic. [...]

Citation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]

"British Strike Telling Blow at German Line" and "Work of Drafting Men For War Duty Expected to Begin in Ten Days" - The Duluth Herald. June 7, 1917.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 7, 2017

Women Anxious to Serve - June 6, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 6, 2017

“Mr. Brown has told us that you are very anxious to do active nursing service,” the Red Cross says to Miss Stella Miller. At this time of Miss Stella Miller’s inquiry, there were not many opportunities for women who were not trained nurses to work in the field. Women could serve in the position of nurses’ aids if they meet specific requirements, such as being between the ages of 25-40 and obtaining a certificate proving they completed a two year course. However, many base hospitals were not bringing in nurses’ aids at the moment. Even when someone like Miss Stella Miller has a desire to serve, the opportunity does not always present itself.


Miss Stella Miller,
Buffalo, North Dakota.
My dear Miss Miller:-
Mr. Brown has told us that you are very anxious to do active nursing service under the Red Cross. There is not a great deal of opportunity for women other than trained nurses to get active work in the field at present. The Base Hospital Units have the privilage of taking with them a limited number of Nurses' Aids if they wish. These Nurses' Aids are chosen from women between the ages of 25 and 40 who hold certificates showing that they have completed courses described in the enclosed circular. None of the Hospital Units that have been sent abroad so far have taken Nurses' Aids however, and we could no guarantee that you would have a chance to go even if you took all of these courses.
If you care to spend two years in a nurses' training school you could be reasonably sure of being accepted by the Red Cross Nursing Service.
Very truly yours,
Secretary of Instruction.

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

"Sending Our Boys Across the Water Without Their Consent" - June 5, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 5, 2017

Despite grassroots campaigns to contribute to the war effort, support for the war was not universal, and even those who otherwise supported the war voiced their opposition to the draft. John Hetland of Ada, Minnesota, was one of them. On June 5, 1917, he wrote a letter to Senator Knute Nelson discussing his and his community’s position on the draft. Hetland notes that he has four boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, and he would be proud to see them fight for their country. Still, he worries that U.S. soldiers are being deployed not to fight for their own nation but rather to advance the interests of European monarchies such as France and Britain – a much less noble cause. Moreover, Hetland’s career in politics and public service has taught him that much of his community feels the same way. In light of this, Mr. Hetland asks Senator Nelson to eliminate the draft and restrict military service to volunteers.

Look for Nelson's response on June 9!

June 5th/17.
Hon. Knute Nelson.
Washington D.C.
Dear Sir:-
Would it not be possible to have a resolution passed by congress that only volunteers should be sent to Europe for the war? I have four boys from sixteen to twenty five years of age. I am willing that they all go to defend this country and the home and would like to go myself. But they will never be sent across the Atlantic to fight for the crowned heads of Europe with my consent. I find that most of our people feel as I do. [...] If it was for service in this country, the goverment could have more men than it could use. Sending our boys across the water without their consent is different. Whey should England hold three million soildiers [sic] at home when their fleet protects them and we send a few thousand soildiers to fight their battles. I believe that congress should take action on it.
Yours truly,
John M. Hetland

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers

Red Cross Course Work Pamphlet - June 4, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 4, 2017

This eight page University of Minnesota course book describes the short courses that were available by request of the American Red Cross. The courses offered, with descriptions in the pamphlet, include First Aid, Elementary Hygiene and Home Care of the Sick, and Home Dietetics. All three courses were available to women, but First Aid was offered to both men and women. The classes were taught at the University of Minnesota from June 4th to June 20th, and each course cost between $3 and $4.50.


"Draft Opponents are Few in Number Officials Assert" and "Five Guard Divisions to go to France Soon" - The Daily People's Press. June 3, 1917.

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 3, 2017

Shoes Worn by St. Paul Ambulance Driver

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 2, 2017

On June 2, 1917, Ezra Benham Curry of St. Paul boarded a ship destined for Europe. Once there, he would volunteer with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in France, much like David Backus, another St. Paul native this blog has been following. While abroad he purches these shoes, constructed of tan-colored “rough-out” leather, which has the rougher side facing outwards and the softer side facing inwards. The area from the toes to the instep is reinforced with a steel shell, and the heel features a leather reinforcement. The leather soles are studded with iron nails to help with traction in the battlefield.



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