by Sherri Goudy
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed as he stood before Congress, “The world must be made safe for democracy!” Just 4 days later, Congress and the House agreed and declared war on Germany. Following a continued period of neutrality since the onslaught of WWI in 1914, the United States was immediately thrust into the war. Although no troops had been trained and no preparations had been made for this shift, Americans rallied behind Wilson, who went on to lead what was at the time the largest war-mobilization effort in our nation’s history.
The change in attitude seemed to happen almost overnight. Wilson had run for election and reelection on a platform of strict neutrality. Even as the war became increasingly gruesome, and Americans lost their lives with the sinking of the Lusitania and later events, and even as Americans voiced public outcry at these horrific tragedies, Wilson remained steadfast. But all that changed in the spring of 1917 with the interception of the notorious Zimmerman telegram. The British intercepted and decoded this telegram sent from the German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the German ambassador to Mexico proposing an alliance with Mexico against the United States. When Wilson learned of this plot against the US he immediately proposed that the US should start arming its ships against German attacks and authorized the State department to make public the contents of the Zimmerman telegram.
Within a month of this revelation, the US formally declared war against Imperial Germany. The headlines in Springfield read “State of War is Declared” and the full text of the War Resolution was published.
For the next few weeks, the entire nation banded in support of the United States position against Germany. Springfield published headline after headline, daily, informing the citizens of Clark County, Ohio about national and local contributions to the war effort. Every man, woman, child from every background and every age could contribute and was expected to do so. They couldn’t let their country down.
The US immediately began to financially support its allied nations in their war efforts as well. The front page of the Springfield Daily News two days after the declaration of war was made read, “Huge Loan Pledged to Allies.” Wilson was pledging $5 billion to “assume share of common burden” with its allies. He was ready to roll out his war program which included this loan to allied countries to help “replenish their treasuries against the drain of their military and naval efforts in the common cause against Germany.”
Even political cartoons reflected the sentiment of financial support to the “Allied Democracy.” On April 10, 1917 the Springfield paper published this cartoon featuring Uncle Sam wading into the ocean, with billions of dollars to loan.
Another part of Wilson’s war program included raising their military forces to a million men, and there was no shortage of support for this plan. Locals began to enlist immediately. The day the declaration hit headlines, there was an article in the Springfield Daily News – “Local Boy Admitted to American Navy.” “Dewey T. Walp…passed the preliminary examination for entrance to the navy at the local recruiting station recently.” And further down, the article reads, “A number of applicants have signified their intention of becoming sailors of the seas during the last few days.”
Wittenberg University also participated in this effort to increase the number of enlisted men. C. G. Heckert, the President of the University said that “any member of the senior class who is drafted to the Federal army or who enlists in the service, will be granted a diploma upon application.”
Women also wanted to contribute to the war effort. This headline from two days after the Declaration of War reports “American Women Eager to Make Sacrifice for Country.”
This article states that as many as 3 million women were preparing for some sort of service to the United States including “nursing, to take the place if necessary of men called from farms and factories, to serve on street railways and railroads, to drive trucks or do clerical work, to prepare bandages and surgical kits, to do guard and patrol duty, to care for the nation’s food supply or to fill the places of professional men, such as doctors, dentists, and chemists, who might be called to war.”
One of the organizations which was helping to educate and mobilize women was the National League for Women’s Services. This national program had members in big cities, such as Columbus, which in turn came to towns such as Springfield to organize women there, as this article from April 11, 1917 shows.
The actions of local men and women to enlist and organize were crucial to the support of the war effort and to making President Wilson’s war program effective. But what could the everyday citizen do? From conserving food, war bond drives, and displaying flags, locals had plenty of ways to demonstrate their patriotism. But immediately after the declaration, there were two major events that happened in Springfield, Ohio which banded all of Clark County together.
Ohio Governor James Cox proclaimed that all Ohioans could unite and do something to show support to President Wilson during this crisis. He issued a “Proclamation of Sacred Service” on April 11, 1917 to all the citizens in Ohio to gather and “lift their hearts and voices to Almighty God, that we may be divinely guided.”
Above the headline for the day of the Sacred Services which read “English Guns Blow Teuton Trenches to Bits” and “What Prussian Autocracy Must Meet in Fight with Uncle Sam” were solemn sentiments asking for “Divine Guidance” and asking that the “God of Battles” still watch over the American people in the face of war and brutality.
A few days after these services were held in Springfield and across the state and country, the “Patriotic spirit of the city” culminated in the planning for a mass meeting and parade. Everyone was in full support of the war effort and this parade, and in fact the city expected more than 10,000 people from all over the country would come to Springfield to participate. No one could be excluded from this patriotic demonstration, so stores and shops closed early to ensure their employees could be among the participants.
The paper reported that the parade “surpasse[d] any event ever held in the city.” More than 5,000 marchers attended, including “practically every organization, class, sect, and nationality in the city.”
Men, women, children – every citizen came out and supported the war and Wilson’s shift from neutrality to “all in.” The attitude of the nation was reflected in the address given at that mass patriotic meeting at Memorial Hall “And now the testing time has come. You are here tonight, men and women, who carry in your veins the mingled strains of the blood of many nations, and tonight you unite in a single-minded loyal devotion to our common country.”
The great war “over there” suddenly became our war, and the nation seemed to fully support this. But what brought about this change? Was it really the attitude of every American to support this gruesome, bloody conflict? We will discuss this further in our upcoming blog posts.
If there is a topic related to Springfield and Clark County in WWI that you want us to write about, let us know! We want to tell the stories you want to learn more about.