Joining the Great War: A Reflection on Clark County in WWI

by Sherri Goudy

Hi everyone!  Welcome to the first post for the Heritage Center’s WWI Exhibit, and my first ever blog post!  I am an AmeriCorps member, serving local historical organizations in counties across Western Ohio.   I have been working with the Clark County Heritage Center since September, and I did a lot of the research for the WWI exhibit. I found so many great stories that defined what it was like to live in a town like Springfield, Ohio 100 years ago, during the midst of war. So without further ado, let’s dig in!

“The Great War” – it was one of the most horrific events that the US and the World had ever seen.   It changed the way wars were fought forever. Textbooks taught us about this change in tactics and we learned the names of the countries involved and famous people who led, fought, and died during this war.  But what about the everyday American who lived in “Yourtown,” USA? How did the war impact the town where we live and the people who lived there?  As the entire nation pauses to reflect on the centennial of our entry into World War I, many museums and historic places are providing answers to these questions.

Here at the Clark County Heritage Center we opened our WWI Exhibit “Global Conflict, Local Experience: Clark County Joins the Great War” a few weeks ago.  We found so many great stories through our research, and unfortunately we couldn’t present all of it in our exhibit.  So we are going to explore some of these stories that deserve to be shared through regular posts over then next year or so.  Topics will include local reaction to the entry into the war, ads and political cartoons, and articles about the patriotism that men, women, and even children demonstrated as they were asked to contribute their skills and make sacrifices for the greater good of our country.  The focus of our posts for the coming months will center on the entry into the war, which correlates to our current exhibit’s theme. Next year, we will change the focus of our exhibit to include our involvement in the war and the aftermath of the war, and our posts will evolve to discuss those topics as well.

One of the most captivating things about our research is that it didn’t just paint a picture of life in Clark County, Ohio.  We came to realize that what was happening here was happening all over the US.  Although our posts will show examples from Clark County sources, you can turn to your local newspapers and WWI propaganda and see similar ideas.  One of the main attitudes Americans wanted to remain neutral, and didn’t want any part of the European Conflict.  However, industrialization and the demand for goods internationally made isolationism impossible.  Springfield newspapers published articles daily about the increasingly volatile relations between the US and Germany (see photo 1).

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Then, on April 3rd, 1917 President Wilson’s Declaration of War was published in the Springfield Paper (see photo 2).

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3 days later, after both the Senate and House had voted to endorse the declaration of war against Germany, the United States formally entered the First World War.  During the months that followed, Clark County participated in patriotic meetings, food rationing, Red Cross support, and the draft. The local newspapers published articles and advertisements promoting women in the workforce, men to register, and proper ways to display a flag.  There were also ads to promote a “business as usual” mentality (see photo 3).

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By the summer and early fall, the draft for troops was in effect and training camps had been built in “record time” (see photo 4).

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Training camps prepared these soldiers for combat, but it was important to maintain “everyday life” as well.  As the holidays approached and soldiers were still in training at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, efforts at home included preparing care packages and letters to boost morale.  Although newly drafted and enlisted soldiers had not seen the battlefield yet, the impact of war had made its mark.

The topics mentioned above are just a few of the subjects we will discuss more thoroughly over the coming months. If there is something you’d like to see us present, please send us a comment.  We want to tell the stories that matter to you!

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