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.
Rocco DiCenzo was an Italian immigrant from Gilbert, Minnesota, who died from wounds received in action on October 6, 1918, in Meuse-Argonne, France. In April, DiCenzo received this mass-produced letter from King George V of England, sent as an attempt to boost morale among American troops. "King George" sent out hundreds of these letters to various soldiers, a reminder of the strong alliance between the United States and Great Britain during this war. DiCenzo wrote a quick note on the back of this letter to his cousin back in Minnesota.
Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart & spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you & bid you God speed on your mission.
Citation: "Dicenzo, Rocco." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.2F
"Haig Rapidly Strengthening Line While Awaiting Attack by Germans; Americans Regain All Positions" and "Teuton Attempt to Separate Yankees and French Fails" - The Duluth Herald. April 22, 1918
In this letter to his mother, Philip Longyear described his journey to the front lines. He tells her that he has received his ambulance that he will be driving, and that he has been paired up with a nice soldier from Kentucky. He states that he is now fully under the jurisdiction of the French Army, and that he sleeps and eats with them everyday. The most shocking news he has to share is that during means he is never served water, only wine. He admits that he doesn't like it very much, and questions this difference in culture.
April 21, 1918.
considerable has happened since I last wrote you. [...] I have had my ambulance issued to me and have been living and traveling in it the last two days on the way to the front. There are two men to an ambulance and the fellow I drew is a mighty fine, clean cut chap from Kentucky. We both have about the same experience with automobiles and take turns driving. We had our first trouble last night just before arriving here, when we had a puncture. Between us, we managed to put a patch on the tube, and a shoe in the casing, and it is still standing this morning [...] Paris is a wonderful city [...] Their subway system has New York's beaten every which way. I could tell you something mighty interesting about the long range bombardment and air raids, but that subject is taboo absolutely. Airplanes are thicker than a flock of crows over here, and I never look at them any more. There is a continual buzz in the air from all directions. We have left the jurisdiction of the American army and are entirely under the French. We are now in a French army camp, waiting final orders just where to go. Maybe here a few days yet. We eat mess with the French soldiers, getting exactly the same food. It is very good, but not quite so good as we got under the American system [...] I don't suppose you will like to hear that wine is all the drink they serve us. I must admit I don't like it at all, but they don't seem to know what water is, and we get coffee very rarely, so I have to take it. [...]
Love to all,
Citation: Edmund Joseph Longyearand Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A .L860 Box 2
On this day in 1918, the first all African American battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard was officially formed. Members of the Home Guard were charged with keeping those on the homefront safe; completing civilian and military duties. Prior to this day, information about enlisting had been promoted in local African American newspapers, such as The Appeal, which we featured on April 6, and many men enlisted early. Pictured here is the enlistment paper of Grant Bush of Rondo Avenue in Saint Paul, who enlisted on April 11th.
To learn more about the creation of the 16th Battalion, go to Peter DeCarlo's article on the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard.
Gold Star Roll for Elwyn Johnson of Strandquist, a town in Marshall County, who died of Influenza-Pneumonia at Camp Dodge. His file includes copies of letters, a photo, telegrams, the medical tag attached to him in the hospital and a proclamation sent from the mayor of his town declaring the town closed from 2-4 pm on April 19, 1918 for Johnson's funeral.
Citation: "Johnson, Elwyn J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F
This letter from a citizen to Senator Knute Nelson included a newspaper clipping advocating for the conscription of Women into the Army. The clipping argues that women will not be able to fully contribute to the war effort until they are allowed to serve. The author of the letter supports this idea, stating that women should do whatever they can to aid the war. The author of the letter is also hoping to be appointed to a position that would have the power to make this a reality, and they are asking Senator Nelson to appoint them to said position.
Apr. 18 1918
Enclosed clipping from last night's Minneapolis Journal. I think Dr. Anna Shaw is Chairman of the Woman's Central Com, upon which I am hoping to serve. She expresses my views in that woman in order to do efficient work, but be especially trained to do all things, and that is why I am seeking this appointment. I have made a life long study of Textile and have actually done this work. I know most of the woman are sincere and earnest and trying to do their level best to save their country, and I do not want to cast reflections upon any one, but I know at the present time there is no member of the Central Cou. who has an understanding of the importance of the work that I would do. [...]
Yours Truly, H.C. Olberg
CONSCRIPTION OF U.S. WOMEN SEEN
Dr. Anna Howard Shaw Predicts Enfranchisement and Industrial Army
[...ianapolis,] April 17. - "The government has a right to conscript women just as it had conscripted men--after it has made them citizens. There will then be two armies--a men's army and a women's army. Not until women are organized this way, under governmental authority, will women reach their maximum efficiency in war service, and this time will not come until the United States is in the thick of the fight." [...] Women must do not what they want to do but what they are especially fitted to do, and they must be trained in technical schools.
Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 144.I.13.5 Box 28
This letter from the Minneapolis Chapter of the American Red Cross describes the uniform for their motor corps, which at the time was not standardized. The motor corps itself was not standardized either, though actions were moving toward standardization. Their uniforms were based off the Washington branch's, but used breeches in the winter instead of short skirts, and was made out of rubberized material in winter for extra warmth.
My dear Mrs. O'Donnell,
I have at hand your letter of inquiry regarding the Red Cross Motor Corps. I enclose a statement of our organization and work as it has shaped itself here, [...] I enclose also a booklet concerning uniforms which he gave me. We patterned our uniforms after Washington's but use a rubberized material because it is better adapted to our cold winters. Recently Washington changed riding breeches to short skirts under the coats. We have not found it necessary to change and the breeches are warmer and more convenient. The Motor wheel worn on the sleeve is something new and the Northern Division hasn't them in stock yet. You can procure them there later. We have chosen for out summer informs a dress of gray Hawaiian cloth made as near as possible like the coats, black sailor hats with the cross worn on the band in front. The dress of course is a little longer than the coat as the puttees are too hot for summer. Up to date each Corps seems to have organized as it saw fit and chosen its uniform more or less locally and independently. The movement now on foot to draw them all to-gether nationally I am sure will meet with general approval. [...]
Chairman Mpls Motor Corps
Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781
Paul Thompson writes to his sister Ruth to tell her some more specifics about his impending trip to Italy. He writes that the Italian government has requested the YMCA work with them to strengthen morale and "further friendly relations" between the US and Italian governments.
April 16, 1918
In any [acc...] it will be sufficient to say that I am with about 50 others - mostly business men recruited all the way from Cal. to NY - all being sent to Italy by the YMCA at the request of the Italian government to work with the Italian army for the purpose of strengthening their morale and furthering the present friendly relations between Italy and the US. [...]
Citation: Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T476 4/19-8/19