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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

The Fight Against Homesickness

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 1, 2018

This letter was sent out by the American Red Cross Northern Division Headquarters. It states that the biggest problem for soldiers is homesickness, so individuals are needed to write letters to soldiers who have no one to write to them and to encourage other people to write. It says that men who have not gotten any mail sometimes desert and then have to be killed. The letter calls on all Red Cross chapters to get the address of every soldier within their community and to ensure that each one receives letters and small gifts as reminders that there are people at home who are thinking about them.


February 1, 1918.
Committee on Military Relief-
General Pershing tells us that the hardest thing he has to contend with is homesickness among his men.
An English General has remarked that their soldiers fight with their hearts and their feet.
Our soldiers need and will need all the stockings that the Red Cross can supply, but we can also fulfill another great duty for we are now called on to cure this homesickness among our men. We must let them know personally that loyal hearts are back of them. A man cannot fight as a mere atom, he must be saved from that loneliness that men suffer when nobody from home cares to write them. In every soldier's heart there is a spot somewhere at home worth fighting for, and worthy of the sacrifices that he is making. We can at least, preserve that spirit in the hearts of our men and now allow their morale to die for the lack of it. ..

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

1917 Report for the Saint Paul Chapter of the American Red Cross

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 31, 2018

This 1917 report from the Saint Paul Chapter of the American Red Cross summarized the year and all the work this chapter of the Red Cross had done in the war. Besides giving patriotic instructions to the chapter's work, it also presents excerpts from soldiers' letters about appreciating what they were sent.

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

"Learning How to Handle the Sausage Balloon" and "Berlin Strike Ranks Grow by Thousands" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. January 30, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 30, 2018

"Sudden Attack is Launched by Italians on Mountain Front" and "Forty-Seven Killed in London Air Raid" - The Duluth Herald. January 29, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 29, 2018

"He is Crazy About Flying"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 28, 2018

In this entry, David Backus details how he took his friend up in his plane for the first time. He states they saw the Alps and did a couple of loops in the air. His friend loved the experience of flying and was euphoric when they landed. The picture shows Backus (seated bottom left) and the six other men who were the first American fighter pilots.


Monday Jan. 28, 18
[...] Drove up to camp for some things - Saw - Jack and Norm - left word for John - Well John [...] came down in time to have some wine and coffee then I dressed him up in a regular outfit Teddy Bear etc. took him up [...] showed him the Alps too misty to see the Voseges much - Few wide Spirals - down - 35 mi - drive him back to artillery camp - he is crazy about flying [...]

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

Sabra Hardy

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 27, 2018

Sabra Hardy was a Red Cross Nurse from Minnesota who trained in Texas and New York before going overseas, where she died of pneumonia shortly after arriving in France. In a letter home on this date, Hardy describes her interactions with the ward men who were assigned to help her take care of patients. She trained the men to do tasks such as giving sponge baths or administering medication, so that if she was tied up with someone else, they could carry on taking care of the rest of the patients, demonstrating that in rare instances, women were given the opportunity to be leaders during the war.

Jan 27, 1918
Camp Travis
Base Hospital
San Antonio
Dear Mother & Dave:-
Your letter came to me a little while ago and I was so glad to hear from you for I'd expected to hear sooner. I hope you are well & things are going well for you at home. We surely work hard here. It takes one with mighty good health to stand such work. I've been on night duty not quite two wks. Have 4 wards (156 men) to look after. There are 2 ward men (soldier boys who are assigned to hosp. duty out of Hosp. Corps.) in each ward to help. The major wants us to teach them how to do every thing so I've taught my eight how to give temp, sponges, baths, make beds, give medicines & hypos & take temperature & they can do it as well as I & if I get tied up w- a very bad patient they can go right ahead. I'm very proud of them & they are good as gold. [...] My first ward has 36 patients w- mumps (often pneumonia w- it) and they are so sick & uncomfortable. Everyone is pretty quiet now. The 2nd one is 38 meningitis carriers & my 3rd & 4th both have 34 pneumonia cases & they are surely sick men. There are the 4 types of pneumonia & types 3&4 are particularly fatal to especially the northern boys who are here. [...] There is a lot of meningitis here now and pneumonia & measles are dreadful. [...] Wash. D.C. wrote our major that in the near future a hosp. unit is to be made up & sent from this camp to France & we had to give our names if we were willing to go. My name went first but there are 100 nurses to choose 30 from so I may not be chosen at all. [...]
With love,

Citation: "Hardy, Sabra R." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.3B

"A Few Points ... of Immediate and Urgent Importance"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 26, 2018

In a letter to Senator Knute Nelson, Abbot Edes Smith "briefly" provided five pages of suggested policy changes he felt would improve the Country. Firstly, he states that the Federal Government should take control of the railroads during the way to speed transportation and decrease the cost, with the railroads being promptly returned to the private companies that owned them after the war. He then goes on to discuss the growing socialist population in the United States and his belief that they should be sought out and eradicated. He fears they will bring the ideas of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to the United States. Smith also states his belief that the Secretary of War is incompetent in his position and should either be replaced or edged out of power. Furthermore, Smith brings up the idea of having a universal military that every able-bodied man would join once they reached the age of twenty-one, which would decrease lawlessness in America. He concluded by saying that Presidential cabinet positions should be filled by the best businessmen, of any party, as opposed to "weak democrats whose only qualification appears to be a blind submission to the will of the administration."


26 January 1918
[...]My Dear Sir:
Will you kindly permit me, as briefly as possible, most earnestly to offer for your consideration a few points which seem to me of immediate and urgent importance to our Country? All good citizens of Minnesota and thoughtful men throughout the Country would look upon your retirement from the senate as an irreparable loss to the Nation, and this necessarily to the world. Mot only during the war, but during the reconstruction period after the war, men of your character and ability cannot be spared. Pardon this unavoidable personality, but no other man from Minnesota could even begin to repair such a loss. Your Country calls you just as truly as it calls its soldiers, and I am confident that you will not refuse to listen to the call. [...]

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers, 1861-1924, Minnesota Historical Society. 144.I.13.2F Box 27

Enthusiasm at Camp Jackson

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 25, 2018

Raymon Bowers was a soldier from Minnesota who served in France as part of the Army ordnance repair. In a letter to the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society [presumably where he worked before entering the Army], Bowers describes the enthusiasm of all of the soldiers and gives an account of his daily schedule at Camp Jackson in South Carolina.

Camp Jackson S.C.
Jan. 12, 1918
Dear Mr. Talman,
It seems years since I left St. Paul: after figuring, it's a month today since I enlisted. Some months pass like a week & some extend over a period of years. Such was the last. I arrived here this morning after 61 hours of riding on a train. we were given chairs cars & while we had plenty to eat the mere fact we must stay on the train so long, tired every one. It's rather difficult sleeping sitting up & as we spent three nights that way, we landed here in good shape to lie down & snooze. [...]
It is difficult to realize what real conditions exist here compared to St. Louis. A real iron bed with springs, a tick filled with straw, 3 blankets, and a comforter. Ye Gods! I expect to sleep better tonight than ever before in ages. The officers treat you like humans and you feel as tho you're someone. When I look around and see the boys it really seems like home. Every one smiling and happy, everyone in good beds and lots of fresh air. From sleeping on the floor packed just as close as mortals could get, never a window open, the air absolutely vile, cold, and damp and shivering. May be you don't think this doesn't look good! [...] Tell the rest of the Hist. staff that a letter would be a great treat & as time passes I hope to be able to write them all. [...]
As ever,

Citation: Raymon Bowers Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P111

Flight Instrument and Log

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 24, 2018

This is an instrument used for calculating an aircraft's course and distance, developed by the Compass Department of the British Admiralty and used by Donald Harries during World War I. It consists of three concentric German silver discs and two arms that pivot on a central bolt. The outer disc is marked "TIME OR / DISTANCE" and is graduated from 10 to 270. The second disc has the same scale around its edge as well as a 360 degree compass scale with the North arrow at "60" on the time/distance scale. The smallest disc is covered with a grid of squares with the four cardinal points scaled from the center of the disc to the edges. The arms each have a sliding indicator and extend to the edge of the smallest disc. Donald Harries went to flight school training in Italy at an air school named Battaglione Scuole Aviatiori. After this he found himself in bombing raid training in England with the Royal Air Force. One of the images below is of a movement order for Harries from the Royal Air Force. Harries participated in bombing raids with the Royal Air Force and France in bombing raids targeted in Germany. Harries kept a flight log while he was abroad that is dated from September 1917 to September 1918. In a log dated January 19th (1918) at 7:30 P.M. Harries writes that he had his first flight at night. The log book is in Italian but Harries wrote his log responses in English.


Citation: Donald Harries Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota. P108, PUID 6159.5

"War Preparation is Ahead of Plans" and "Ottoman Troops Quit Foe Leader" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. January 23, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 23, 2018


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