The Ohio Homefront
By Becky Preiss Odom, History Curator, Ohio History Connection
February 5, 2018
Women of Hillsboro, Ohio, raising money for the Highland County War Chest in support of the national war effort during World War I. Ohio History Connection, MSS 247 AV; Box 4, Folder 4 http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/486
U.S. Congress created the Council of National Defense in August 1916 and tasked it with preparing the country for war by coordinating the nation’s resources, industries, and labor and by motivating individuals across the nation to assist them with these objectives. The council’s members included seven leading American businessmen and industrialists and the Secretaries of War, the Navy, the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce.
The council began implementing its plans for national mobilization immediately after the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917. Its first priority was to establish a system of state and community councils to create a chain of war work organizations at the federal, state, and local levels that could implement federal policies and compel individuals to complete specific tasks to aid the national war effort. Although the National Council directed the overall goals, area residents serving on local councils organized their communities’ support for the war.
Ohio Governor James M. Cox created the Ohio Branch, Council of National Defense on June 1, 1917 to coordinate and direct mobilization of Ohio’s resources and to carry out suggestions from the federal government. The state council, in turn, encouraged counties, townships, cities, and towns to establish local councils. Seventy-one counties and countless localities answered their call.
The National Council’s initial efforts focused on producing military supplies, building an Army, and conserving food. In response, the Ohio Council focused on procuring labor for farms and industries engaged in war work so Ohio could meet the quotas for food and war supplies demanded by the federal government. Local agents encouraged skilled and unskilled laborers to register at one of twenty-one Employment Offices throughout Ohio. Workers were then directed to companies and farms in need of employees with their skill set. The Employment Offices placed a total of 564,570 workers—both males and females—from May 1, 1917 to December 31, 1918.
Local councils assisted the Ohio Council with other war-related needs. Food preservation was encouraged by the Women’s Committee of the Ohio Council and its subsidiaries in seventy-eight counties and over 1,000 cities, towns, and townships. Local women taught canning classes and conducted publicity campaigns that encouraged civilians to go without wheat, sugar, and meat to be sure the nation’s soldiers had plenty. Rotary Clubs offered seeds and tools to residents willing to plant gardens in vacant lots. They hoped these so-called “Victory Gardens” would help alleviate food shortages caused by the war. Americanization efforts were promoted by local councils by providing teachers to instruct foreign-born workers in the English language and assisting immigrants with their applications for U.S. citizenship. Local councils and other groups supported a number of other activities including fuel preservation, recruiting nurses, and equipping camp libraries with books and Y.M.C.A. buildings with local newspapers.
By the end of the war, the Ohio Branch, Council of National Defense, had successfully mobilized the state’s resources to produce materials and food in support of the war effort. Ohio consistently met or exceeded its quotas for laborers and boasted increased farm production throughout the war. In addition, local Community War Chests raised more than $37 million to support the U.S. efforts, which is equivalent to nearly $600 million today.
A History of the Activities of the Ohio Branch, Council of National Defense. Columbus, OH: F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1919.
Council of National Defense. “Organization and Work of Councils of Defense.” July 1917. Folder 2, Missouri Council of Defense Papers, 1917-1919. Western Historical Manuscript Collection, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
Council of National Defense. “Community Councils.” Bulletin No. 83, February 2, 1918. RG 62, Council of National Defense, Bulletins Sent to State Councils, PI 2 353, Box 768. Archives II, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.
The National Archives. “The Council of National Defense: Now a Little Known or Appreciated World War I Federal Agency.” The National Archives: The Text Message Blog. https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2017/08/15/the-council-of-national-defense-now-a-little-known-or-appreciated-world-war-i-federal-agency/ (accessed January 12, 2018).
African American World War I Soldiers Service and Sacrifice profiled in the 80th Anniversary issue of the Black History Bulletin
by Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
December 22, 2017
Paul LaRue's students marking the grave of African American WWI soldiers
In 1937 famed author and historian Carter Woodson created the Negro History Bulletin to assist educators in teaching the valuable contributions of African Americans. Eighty years later, the 80th anniversary edition issue (previously renamed) of the Black History Bulletin features an article, lesson plan, and annotated bibliography profiling the service and sacrifice of African American World War I Soldiers. African Americans in Times of War contains four articles with lesson plans focused on the African American military experience. In addition, editors Dr. Alicia Moore and Dr. La Vonne Neal, with Sarah Militz-Frielinkink, include a special feature: “A learning Series: African Americans in Times of War: Triumphs of Tragedy.”
I was honored to have my article and lesson plan, titled “Unsung African American World War I Soldiers,” included in the 80th anniversary issue. I profile the largely overlooked service and sacrifice of African American World War I soldiers by comparing and contrasting the experience of Lt. Charles H. Houston with that of Lt. Charles C. Jackson. Lt. Charles Houston served in the 92nd Division, 368th Regiment, and endured blatant racism while serving in the Army. His own words best sum up his experience:
“I was determined that if I lived I was going to have something to say about how this country should be run and that meant sharing every risk the country was exposed to. But the hate and scorn showered on us Negro officers by our fellow Americans at Camp Mencou and Vannes convinced me there was no sense in my dying for a world ruled by them. My battleground was America, not France.”
Lt. Houston would later become an unwavering Civil Rights activist and mentor to Thurgood Marshall.
Lt. Charles Jackson served in the 93rd Division in the 370th Regiment. The 370th was the sole regiment in World War I composed entirely of African American soldiers, not excluding officers. Lt. Jackson was a decorated combat officer commanding a machine gun company. In a letter home to his father, he reflects on his military service: “Can you imagine yourself the liberator of a lot of people who have been enslaved for over four years? . . . We know that by having rendered faithful service here in France, we as Negroes have bettered conditions for the Negroes' future in the U.S.A."
My lesson plan examines the World War I military experience of African American soldiers by examining the experiences of these two officers. Differences include the command structures; the 92nd Division employed an American command structure, whereas the 93rd Division executed a French command structure. Another key difference of the two officers was serving in an all African American regiment versus serving in a regiment with white commanding officers. I also include a short, annotated bibliography of African American World War I resources for educators. Though by no means a complete list of resources, I provide lesson plans, books, periodicals, and websites with my analysis to assist classroom educators teaching about African American World War I Soldiers.
As a thirty-year classroom teacher, nothing brings me more satisfaction than a former student working to improve education. The 80th anniversary edition also includes an article and lesson plan by Sarah (Nestor) Lane. Sarah was a high school student of mine. Sarah recently graduated from Ohio University with an education degree, and is currently teaching kindergarten in Oklahoma, with an upcoming move to the state of Washington. Sarah's article, “African American Civil War Veterans: Historical Documentation and Preservation in Cemeteries,” documents African American Civil War soldiers’ and sailors’ service. Sarah also discusses a class project she and her classmates undertook while in my class, 2012-2013, to document and provide U.S. Government headstones for Veterans with unmarked graves. Sarah and her classmates had continued a project started by a class of mine a decade earlier to mark the graves of African American Civil War soldiers with unmarked graves in our local cemetery. Sarah and her classmates also worked to mark the graves of African American World War I Soldiers in a cemetery in Cincinnati. This article, and her accompanying lesson plan, provides more insight into honoring African American veterans in the educational setting.
With these resources and more, the 80th anniversary issue of the Black History Bulletin provides educators with valuable tools to help teach a forgotten chapter in World War I history.
A Brief Introduction to World War I
By Becky Preiss Odom and Lily Birkhimer, Ohio History Connection
January 3, 2018
The First World War began as a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Austria-Hungary, encouraged by its German ally, declared war on Serbia on August 4, 1914, in retribution for the June 28 murder of the Austrian heir to the throne by a Serbian national. Treaties of alliance expanded the number of nations at war: Russia mobilized on behalf of its Serbian ally and Germany on behalf of Austria-Hungary. In reality, Germany wanted a war in Europe so that it could access open trade routes by seizing territory during the fighting that would extend its national borders to the Atlantic Ocean. Germany implemented its plan by invading Luxembourg and then declaring war on France and Belgium, which drew Great Britain into the war because of its alliances with the two latter nations. Other nations recognized that a world war offered opportunities for political and territorial gains, and by the end of 1914, the alliances expanded what was originally a limited war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary into a larger European conflict that pulled in nations and colonies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and North America.
Initially the U.S. adopted a policy of neutrality, allowing “the European War” to remain in Europe and be dealt with by Europeans. But Germany drew the U.S. into the European conflict when it began attacking all vessels bound for Great Britain regardless of their nation of origin in 1917. This unrestricted submarine warfare—during which Germany attacked neutral U.S. ships—prompted President Woodrow Wilson to sever diplomatic relations with Germany. The relationship between the U.S. and German governments changed almost “overnight,” and Germany’s actions solidified American public support for Great Britain and the Allies. Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany on April 2, 1917, and four days later both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate approved the president’s request.
Ohio soldiers leaving by train for Camp Perry to join the 4th Ohio Infantry of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division Ohio History Connection World War I Collection, MSS 247 AV; Box 4, Folder 4 http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/496
The U.S. had already begun the mobilization process, and now defense efforts began in earnest. Troops were assembled through preexisting military units, volunteers and draftees. At the beginning of U.S. entry into the war, there were approximately 350,000 personnel in the Armed Forces. By the end, just over a year later, the Armed Forces had reached nearly four million, about half of which were sent overseas. Camps were established to train men and women who came from all over the country to serve for the U.S. in the “Great War.” Those not participating on the battlefront were also expected to do their part on the home front by joining the workforce, purchasing “Liberty” loans, rationing their resources and establishing war or “victory” gardens. Support for the war was rallied through propaganda campaigns and speeches sponsored by federal, state and local governments.
By the end of the war, Ohio sent approximately 263,000 men and women into service, including national guardsman, volunteers, and draftees. This constituted an impressive 5.3% of the nation’s military manpower, fourth only to the contributions of New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois. In addition to contributing thousands of men and women to serve in the war, Ohio was also the site of Camp Sherman, one of 32 training camps used in WWI and the third largest in the nation, constructed just outside Chillicothe. Over 120,000 soldiers, largely from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Tennessee, were trained at the facility, which began receiving recruits in September 1917.
Civilians felt the impact of war in powerful ways. With National Guard units deployed abroad, Home Guard units, comprised of civilians, were established around the state to protect domestic interests. The Ohio Branch of the Council of National Defense established the Ohio Industrial Commission which was critical to the efficient use of the rest of the state’s labor supply. The Commission helped to fill over 560,000 positions, moving men around the state to respond to different needs, including emergencies.
Seeds for Your War Garden Brochure Ohio History Connection Archives/Library, PA Box 549 http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/686
Local mobilization also required that Ohioans pay their share of war-related taxes and purchase “Liberty” loans. Fundraising events were held to benefit organizations like the Red Cross, the Knights of Columbus and the Y.M.C.A./Y.W.C.A. People at home could also participate in the war effort through rationing of foodstuffs and the planting of war or “victory” gardens.
The Committee on Public Information made efforts to rally Americans in support of the war through the distribution of posters and other propaganda items reminding their viewers of the evils of Germany and the importance of supporting their soldiers. Once Americans rallied behind the war effort, tensions between German-Americans and the rest of the nation increased. In Ohio as elsewhere, products of German origin were banned and place names bearing German names were changed.
While the war’s impact was felt all over the country, the stories of Ohio’s soldiers and civilians are representative of the experiences of nearly every American during this time.
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 6-7, 18-33, 46, 79, 105.
Gilbert, First World War, 306-318.
Frederick C. Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty: German-Americans and World War I (De Kalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974), 84-5, 200-201; Byron Farwell, Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 28. Quote in Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty, 200.
Ohio Adjutant General’s Department, The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the World War 1917-18 (Columbus: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926).
- McLeod. Always Ready: The Story of the United States 147th Infantry Regiment (TMAC Publishing, 1996).
G.W. Knepper, Ohio and Its People (Bicentennial Edition) (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2003).