Grandpa spent Christmas at home, recuperating from weeks of illness. He didn’t write letters during that ten-day furlough. I decided, in their absence, to read something else: hometown news from the King City Chronicle, the paper delivered to my grandparents’ separate farms, once a week on Friday.
I wanted to read what my grandparents were reading about the war, a hundred years ago, over the summer and fall of 1917. And I was curious to see what coverage, if any, the Chronicle gave to women engaged in the war effort from their homes in King City.
News of the war in Europe showed up in every issue I read. There were reports of battles, matched with maps to identify the locations. Statements by President Wilson were published, including this one, which Wilson issued to the national army on September 3, 1917, when the first recruits were sent to training camps.
“The eyes of all the world will be upon you because you are in some special sense the soldiers of freedom,” Wilson proclaimed. “Let us set for ourselves a standard so high that it will be a glory to live up to it, and then let us live up to it and add a new laurel to the crown of America. My affectionate confidence goes with you in every battle and every test. God keep and guide you.”
In King City, the drum of patriotism beat through every issue. Lists of local men inducted, and this meant all King City-area men between the ages of 21 and 30, ran alongside stories of the celebrations held to honor these brave “soldier boys.” On September 7, the women of the Presbyterian church provided a “big banquet and program” for a “finer lot of young men seldom, if ever, seen together.” A band played, speeches given and prayers offered before the meal was served in the church basement, decorated with flags and bunting. (I smile at this familiar scene, having enjoyed many dinners prepared by my grandmother and her friends in church basements. I wonder (but probably don’t have to) if they served my favorite: bite-sized white bread sandwiches, no crusts, filled with one ingredient: country butter!)
The Chronicle published, several times, the list of exemptions available to drafted men. But they also ran stories criticizing draft evaders, pacifists, and slackers, the term my grandfather used. The paper followed the story of draft resisters in Oklahoma, where authorities sought the death penalty for treason. And, closer to home, the Chronicle reported on draft fraud, running a statement from the county’s Exemption Board, requesting tips on men trying to get out of the draft. “We will see that the man trying to perpetrate fraud is one of the first sent to the front.”
Grandpa enclosed this poem about the “exempted” in a January letter he sent Grandma:
After the King City “boys” left for training, the Chronicle began publishing letters from the soldiers. The one Grandpa penned on October 16 was published the next week. He reported on the Y.M.C.A, “several here,” and all with nightly entertainment, as well as “good desks to write on,” stationery provided. His letter ended with a P.S. “I forgot to tell you I get the Chronicle, and sure appreciate it, and will look forward for it each week.” The newspaper provided issues, free of charge, to soldiers at training camps and also in France. “Boys, we’re for you, either at home or abroad,” they announced in their August 10 issue.
The newspaper played a central role, it seems, in keeping the home folks informed of the war (training and later, combat) and the soldiers connected to their communities. They reported on people driving, or “auto-ing,” to Funston, some 200 miles away. In the November 2 issue, they ran a column, “To Camp Funston Visitors,” informing readers to only visit on weekends, and only after asking permission to visit, and to carry a “box or basket” for their trash. The column concluded with this useful tip: “If possible, delay your visit until completion of Rest House for women now under construction, where toilet facilities will be provided.”
For women who preferred to stay at home, close to the comforts of home, many responded to the slogan of the American Red Cross, to “Do Your Bit!” More on the great work of King City women, including Grandma and her family, in the next post.