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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

Gold Star Roll: Leo Kolb - May 11, 1917

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


Today marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Second Class Yeoman Leo Kolb’s enlistment in the United States Navy. Kolb was born in Melrose, Minnesota and spent many of his earlier years hunting, trapping, and beekeeping. When war broke out, he was employed as an accountant in Chokio, Minnesota, and he made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy in order to perform similar clerical duties. Though Kolb was stationed far from physical danger at the U.S. Navy’s Pay Office in Philadelphia, he fell victim to the Spanish influenza epidemic. Sources reported that despite Kolb's illness he remained at his work until he could "attend to his duties no longer" and had to be carried to the hospital. He died on September 21, 1918, at the age of twenty-one. Kolb was buried at St. Boniface Cemetery in Melrose, Minnesota, with the Home Guard and other military personnel in attendance. His Gold Star papers indicate that his funeral was the largest that his community had ever seen.

 

Citation: "Kolb, Leo A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. [114.D.4.4F]

President Wilson Announces Red Cross War Council

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


In preparation for war, President Wilson announced on May 10, 1917 that he would create a Red Cross War Council, a group devoted to supervising activities of local branches and distributing available funds in a way most beneficial to the war effort. Later that day, the Minnesota chapter of the Red Cross received a telegram announcing the formation of the Council and outlining the next fundraising steps each chapter should take. As soon as possible, each chapter was to call a meeting of its Executive Council, expand its Finance Committee, and make long-ranging plans for fundraising efforts. Money was crucial to the Red Cross’s wartime operation “in both the field and in civilian relief,” and because of this, each chapter was to keep no more than 25% of the funds it raised. The majority would be sent immediately to the War Council, which would make final decisions on the allocation of those funds. Though raising sufficient money for wartime operations was a daunting task, the Red Cross had the help of President Wilson himself. In a brief address, he urged “all those who can contribute either great sums or small to the alleviation of suffering and distress which must inevitably arise out of this fight for humanity and democracy” to donate to the Red Cross at once.

 


Washington DC 8PM May 10 1917
C Palmer Jaffray
Secy Minn Red Cross Chapter 310 NY Life Bldg
Minneapolis Minn
[...] THE PRESIDENT TODAY ISSUED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT QUOTE 10 MAY 1917 I HAVE TODAY CREATED WITHIN THE REDCROSS A WAR COUNCIL TO WHICH WILL BE ENTRUSTED THE DUTY OF RESPONDING TO THE EXTRORDINARY DEMANDS WHICH THE PRESENT WAR WILL MAKE UPON THE SERVICES OF THE REDCROSS BOTH IN THE FIELD AND IN CIVILIAN RELIEF[.] THE BEST WAY IN WHICH TO IMPART THE GREATEST EFFICIENCY AND ENERGY TO THE RELIEF WORKK WHICH THIS WAR WILL ENTAIL WILL BE TO CONCENTRATE IT IN THE HANDS OF A SINGLE EXPERIENCED ORGANIZATION WHICH HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY LAW AND BY INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION AS THE PUBLIC INSTRUMENTALITY FOR SUCH PURPOSES[.]
[...] PLEASE AT ONCE CALL TOGETHER YOUR EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND TELEGRAPH ME ASSURANCES OF THEIR COOPERATION IN PRESIDENT WILSONS FARSIGHTED PLANS FOR OUR REDCROSS[.] GIVE THIS MESSAGE FULL PUBLICITY.
ELIOT WADSWORTH
1040 PM.

 

"Fighting on the Eastern War Fronts Growing in Intensity" and "American People Face Most Extensive Line of Taxation Ever Known" - The Duluth Herald, May 9, 1917

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

French Military Issue Helmet - May 8, 1917

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


While the U.S. Senate’s official declaration of war came on April 6, 1917, it was not until mid-1918 that the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) first joined their European allies overseas. Led by General John Pershing, their first military engagement coincided with the last major German offensive of the war. At the Battle of Chateau-Thierry on July 18, 1918, the AEF joined Ferdinand Foch’s French forces in mounting a successful counteroffensive against the German army. Today’s artifact comes from that military engagement. An unidentified American soldier brought back a French-issue military helmet from that battle. The steel helmet is painted gray, and it features a leather strap and liner. The front of the helmet bears an insignia of the French army, a stylized version of a flaming grenade with the initials “RF,” which signified the French Republic (République Française).

Citiation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 64.71.1.J

Seventeen-Year-Old Luella Anderson Wishes to Be a Red Cross Nurse - May 7, 1917

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


One month after the declaration of war, U.S. citizens from all walks of life were already volunteering their time and money to the war effort. During this time period, the Minneapolis branch of the American Red Cross received a letter from a particularly determined young resident of Crosby, North Dakota. Seventeen-year-old Luella Anderson, then a high school student and an assistant to her local dentist, wrote that she would “like nothing more than to be a Red Cross nurse.” She gives a brief description of her background, portraying herself as young but hardworking, and she asks the Secretary of the branch to send more information on how she might enter training. Despite Luella Anderson’s enthusiasm, it is unclear whether she was ultimately permitted to serve as a nurse overseas.
 


Crosby, N.D.,
May 4, 1917.
[...]
Dear Madam:
I have just received your favor of May 1st, with circulars, for which I thank you very much. I have read it all and feel that feel that I should like nothing better than to be a Red Cross nurse. I am not quite seventeen but am willing and ready to learn. I have three years of High School and at present I am assistant to the dentist here. I have only myself to offer but you may rest assured that I should do my utmost if accepted. Could you be so kind as to send me information regarding the course of training, as to requirements and cost? Could you do so immediately it would be very much appreciated by
Yours sincerely,
Luella Anderson

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

Early Trouble with Recruiting in Fairfax, Minnesota - May 6, 1917

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


Early recruiting of soldiers was not going so well in Fairfax, Minnesota, at least according to Chas Hopkins of the Grant Army of the Republic. In a letter to Minnesota Senator Knute Nelson, dated May 5, 1917, Hopkins complains that the Recruiting Officers sent to Fairfax had been “failures as public speakers,” and recruitment had been unimpressive despite the high attendance at each of their three Patriotic Meetings. Hopkins offers two potential solutions to this problem. First, he suggests passing a law that allows for the Army to commission Civil War Era soldiers to serve as recruiters alongside their younger counterparts. Second, he recommends using the Populist politician William Jennings Bryan as a recruiter. Hopkins believes that Bryan’s earlier resignation as Secretary of State had conveyed weakness and division to America’s enemies abroad, and that potential recruits would be inspired to military service if Bryan were to express full devotion to the war cause. While Hopkins is fully aware of the impending draft, he believes that volunteer fighters are essential for maintaining high morale and for demonstrating the nation’s conviction in defending democratic principles.

 


Fairfax, Minn. May 5, 1917.
Honorable Knute Nelson.
Senate Chamber.
Washington D.C.
My Dear Friend and Comrade:
We have had three Patriotic Meetings in Fairfax, and have sent out six Recruits, but the Recruiting Officers sent here ,were failures as public speakers, which is a bar to helping to line up the eliment [sic] that have been favoring Germany. The thought occurred to me thast it might be the proper thing to have a Law passed to commission any old Ex Soldier of the Sixties that had the abillity and physical abillity to an Army Office, and wher they would make good recruiting Officers let one go with each young Officer, and they would be a geater [sic] force to build up enthusiasm. [...] I know we are to have a Draft, and was very much in favor of it; and am glad that you so elected, but beleave [sic] that many more will enlist on account of the draft, and that the more that will volunteer, will tend to cement a stronger feelinng for the principles that we are wageing this War for. [...]
I am very Respectfully Yours. C.H. Hopkins

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers, 1861-1924, Minnesota Historical Society. 144.I.13.2F Box 25 May 5-11

 

"League asks for Full Manhood Rights" and "Chance to Serve Your Country" - The Twin City Star. May 5, 1917

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

David Backus Receives Passport - May 4, 1917

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


A little over one month after the declaration of war, the U.S. had not yet deployed any of its own units overseas. The only soldiers abroad were those who had volunteered to fight. David H. Backus, a 24-year-old man from St. Paul, was one such celebrated volunteer. Backus had spent one year at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, and had been following the conflict in Europe since it began in 1914. As he put it years later, he “got hot pants to get overseas and do something about the War.” He joined the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver and applied for a U.S. passport, which was approved on May 4, 1917. Backus then paid for his own travel to London, thinking he would work alongside the British forces. However, through the boss of a family friend, Backus became acquainted with the head of the French Norton-Harjes ambulance division, and he enlisted with them instead. For 89 days, David Backus would work as an ambulance driver near the strategically important Chemin des Dames ridge on the Western Front.

 

Citation: Backus, David H., David H Backus and family papers. Minnesota Historical Society. 102.I.4.7B-2

Huldah Bryant Wishes to Knit Socks for Soldiers - May 3, 1917

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


Huldah Bryant, an elderly woman from Monticello, Minnesota, wrote a letter to the American Red Cross on May 4, 1917. In the letter, she confesses that she is an “old lady” and does not have money to contribute, but she would be happy to spend her time knitting socks for American soldiers if the Red Cross could provide the wool. Notably, Bryant has a long history of contributing to war efforts. She notes that in 1862, she worked for “the soldiers,” though it is unclear whether these soldiers served in the U.S. - Dakota War of 1862 or the Civil War. Unfortunately, the Red Cross turned down Bryant’s request the next day, telling her that they only offer wool to be purchased and cannot provide it to her free of charge.
 


Monticello Min
May 3, 1917
Mrs Horace Lanery
Red Cross Com -
I am an old lady would be glad to knit some socks for our Soldiers. If the yarn was furnished would knit two Pairs[.] If you wish for Reference my Pastor is Rev Henry Holmes[.] I worked for the Soldiers in 1862[.] Huldah E. Bryant
Monticello Min
 

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

French military issue gas mask and case

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


World War I was a conflict of unpleasant “firsts”: the first widespread use of trench warfare, the first use of long-range artillery, and the first use of tanks. Today’s artifact bears witness to yet another gruesome first, that of chemical warfare. The world’s first recorded use of chemical weapons agents occurred on April 22, 1915, during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, when the German army fired chlorine gas cylinders at French troops. As the war progressed, all major belligerents made use of poisonous gas, and to the best of their ability, they took pains to protect their own soldiers from it. This French-issue protective mask and case was carried by a soldier circa 1917. The bulk of the mask is made of rubberized fabric, and it features two circular eyeholes with celluloid lenses. It's accompanying cotton bag has a shoulder strap for easy transport.
 

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections, PUID 1981.38.37.A,B

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