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.
"I am past 71 years of age, and not able to do much in any other way, but I do want to help in this time of need," says Mrs. Fenlason to Mrs. Lowry of the American Red Cross. In her letter, Mrs. Fenlason displays great desire to help in any way she can, so she asks the Red Cross if she can knit for them. She requests details about yarn and other particulars so she can offer her best service. The Red Cross responded a couple days later that they would greatly appreciate her knitting as contribution to help the war effort. They suggested that she could knit washcloths and sponges, and explain that the yarn is five cents a ball. Mrs. Fenlason serves to demonstrate that people of all ages offered to help in the war effort in any way they could.
April 30, 1917
Mrs Horace Lowry,
I am writing you a letter of inquiry concerning an article published in yesterday's Tribune, namely, "Knit for Jackies if you would serve the nation at war". I would be very glad to do so, as I am able to knit. I am past 71 years of age, and not able to do much in any other way, but I do want to help in this time of great need, as best I can. [...]
Awaiting your reply,
I am Truly Yours,
Mrs. W.P. Fenlason.
In this letter, Mrs. Charles Jerome offers Mrs. Lowry of the Minneapolis Branch of the American Red Cross the suggestion of vetting applications from women who would want to serve the soldiers by writing letters to them. Specifically Mrs. Jerome suggests that these “true women” serve as “mothers” for the soldiers abroad who do not have their own wives or mothers. The purpose of the letters would be to give “cheer and moral uplift to one who would otherwise be without this sympathy.” Attached to the letter, Mrs. Jerome included a draft of the application the women could fill out, including name, age, religious preference, language, and a pledge to write at least once a week to their soldier.
April 28, 1917
Mrs. Horace Lowry,
Red Cross Society,
My dear Mrs. Lowry:
We are all asking what we can do to help in this crisis. There is a service that many women could render at this time, - a service of no mean importance, as any one acquainted with the social needs of youth will recognize. It is to take, in a certain sense, the place of mothers towards boys who have enlisted and who have neither wives nor mother to write to them while they are in the field or on the sea. [...] The woman would assume the kindly duty of writing frequently to her soldier or sailor boy, of sending him newspapers and shoe strings and the like, - of giving cheer and moral uplift to one who would otherwise be without this sympathy except as it came from his comrades in camp, [...]
Very truly yours,
Mrs. Charles Jerome.
Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [P781]
"Two Home Guard Companies" and "Lines Withstand Strong Assaults" - The Twin City Star. April 27, 1918
John Bowe received this letter from Gwendolyn Brodrick in France. Bowe indicates in a note attached to the letter that he met Brodrick at a hospital in Vosges, France. At present, she and her daughter were running an English canteen in France, near the trenches. Brodrick writes that the war has become something bigger than just different nations making alliances and fighting each other, but is now a battle between good and evil, wherein each side has elements of both. In 1920 Brodrick self-published her book, Au Front, in which she describes running the canteen during the war.
April 25, 1918
Your letter, Dated Dec. 9, only reached me the day before yesterday and it gave me great pleasure to have news of you again. I also read with great interest the newspaper cutting which you sent me. You were modest about yourself- for you never told me you had been mayor of your town. This makes me realize better all that you must have given up in order to take part in this war before your adopted country came into it. Certainly America does not do things by halves, once she has made up her mind. It is amazing what she has accomplished in 12 months. I wish I dared tell you of some very fine things of which I have heard lately; things which prove that she has realized the great fact that this war had grown beyond the limits even of nationalities; it is just one huge struggle between the forces of good and evil. Each side contains good and bad elements which go respectively to help each of the two great forces. [...]
Yours very truly,
This lady is a daughter of Lord Middleton member of English House of Lords. I met her in a hospital in the Vosges, snow on ground, she had charge of an English canteen, scrubbed, worked all day, waded to hotil in the snow no heat or fire in rooms
Citation: Bowe, John and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1473
In this letter to his pen-pal, William McFarland of the 77th Aero Squadron describes the long hours of work the men put in as they are stationed in Texas. McFarland greatly desires to be sent overseas to fight, even though he mentions that the average life span on a pilot on the front is about four weeks, and the squadrons suffer heavy casualties.
Apr. 25, 1918
Dear Mrs. Wells,
I recd. your most welcome letter and was certainly glad to hear from Minnesota once more and I also want to thank you for the Magazines I have received as I am fond of reading when I get a few minutes to my self then they are passed on to the other boys so you see we are like a family here. [...] we have plenty of work to keep us buisy [sic] we get up at 4:45 a.m. and work till 9 P.m. so you can see how we are working to accomplish what we have started in to do, and I think they are working as hard in other fields as we are here. Fore we realise now that we are up against more than the people though for at the beginning of the war but I hope it is soon over but I am afraid it will be for a few years at the least. [...] I rec'd word from one of our squadrons they have lost sixty five men out of the squadron of one hundred and fifty six you see the average life of a man in the Aero service on the other side is four weeks but I feel as though I am one of the lucky ones and I have no fear but what I will come back. Of course we never can tell but I am aching to take the chance. [...] I am certanly glad to know that the people are as anxious to purchase the Liberty Loan Bonds for the Government must have money and plenty of it to win this war and it goes to show that the people with the money are willing to help us that are willing to fight. [...] I must close for this time and I am always glad to hear from you. I remain as ever a boy with the colors.
77 Aero Squadron
Citation: William McFarland Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P120
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