'WWI America' at the Bob Bullock Texas state History Museum does cover the European conflict, but it focuses on the impact of World War I on America, which went from a relatively peaceful and prosperous place to a one of pronounced divisions, at times near chaos. (Contributed by the Bullock Texas State History Museum)
Austin WWI exhibit shows how U.S peace turned to near anarchy
By Michael Barnes
via the Austin American-Statesman newspaper (TX) web site
Wars change nations. Big wars change nations in big ways.
Few were as big as the Great War, otherwise known as World War I, which ended not much more than 100 years ago with the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.
The United States entered the European showdown of doomed empires late but with enormous impact, especially back at home, as a densely organized and visually sharp exhibit, “WWI America,” argues at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. The exhibit runs through Aug. 11.
This exhibit, which originated with the highly regarded Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minn., includes a fair share of personal stories, such as ones about “doughboys” like Charles Whittlesey, part of a “Lost Brigade” caught behind German lines, and José de la Luz Saenz, who fought for democracy in France and against racial segregation in the U.S.
Yet pictures and numbers do the heavy lifting in this impressive show that’s squeezed into the Bullock’s special exhibition space downstairs.
Meditate at the entry to the exhibit, for instance, on statistics about the U.S. in 1914, at the start of the war that the country did not join until April 2, 1917. The U.S. population stood at 103 million, less than a third of what it is today. One in seven Americans were foreign born, about the same as today. Ninety percent of Americans were considered white, as opposed to 63 percent these days. A third of American households had telephones, but only one in 10 Americans paid income tax, recently made possible by the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that was ratified in 1913.
In 1914, just 16 teams played major league baseball, “America’s pastime,” and manufacturing jobs brought in an average of 53 cents an hour in wages. More Americans lived in rural areas than in cities and towns, and a third of the population was younger than 15 years old.
Read more: Austin WWI exhibit shows how U.S peace turned to near anarchy
Number, please? 'Hello Girls' answered the call in World War I
By Richard Cowen
via the North Jersey Record (NJ) newspaper web site
Grace Banker served in some very high places during World War I. For 20 months, she lived like a soldier at a time when the Army didn't allow women in the ranks.
She wore a U.S. Army uniform with three stripes on her sleeve and carried a helmet and a gas mask to the front lines in France. And like any soldier, Banker had to keep her cool under fire, working the switchboard at Gen. John Pershing's headquarters amid the thunder of artillery shelling.Grace BankerThe Cenotaph in Armory Park in Passaic.
In France, she learned to fire a pistol — just in case. And when Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through a showdown with the Germans at the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, Banker was with him, keeping the lines of communication open in the closing campaign of the war.
True to the cause, the Passaic resident didn't come home right away when the war ended in November of 1918. Banker went to Paris to operate the switchboard at President Woodrow Wilson's residence during negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, which set down the terms of the new peace.
Banker was one of 223 women who volunteered for the U.S. Army Signal Corps as telephone switchboard operators. The newspapers dubbed them "The Hello Girls" — a moniker that many of them disliked, but one that stuck.
"She was an extraordinary daughter from Passaic who went on the world stage," said Mark Auerbach, the city historian. "The telephone was the cutting-edge technology of its time, and good communications saved many lives."
Five years after the war, on Memorial Day in 1924, Banker donned her Army uniform and stood with Pershing when he came to Passaic to dedicate the Cenotaph in honor of World War I soldiers that stands in Armory Park. Around the same time, Banker married and moved out of Passaic to Scarsdale, New York, packing her uniform, helmet and gas mask into a trunk and taking it with her.
Banker settled down and raised a family in Scarsdale, and her story seemed all but lost to history.
Recently, Banker's granddaughter, Carolyn Timbie, came to Passaic with her husband, Dustin, to see the house at 227 Van Houten Ave. where Banker grew up. Timbie never met her grandmother, but she has spent much of her time piecing together the story and came to Passaic wanting to know more.
"My grandmother was an amazing woman," said Timbie, who lives in New Hampshire. "She was intelligent, and independent-minded. I think she figured, 'I'm going to do my bit to help win the war.' "
Read more: Number, please? 'Hello Girls' answered the call in World War I