Skip to main content

It has been awhile since I have had the time or energy to write regarding my maternal grandfathers letters home from France during and after World War I but things have slowed down a little so I'll try my hand at a few of them now.

We are also at a time of year where the whole adventure begins. The first letter regarding World War I's effects on him and his family is dated March 31, 1918 and speaks of the draft, war bonds, and attempts by various entities and individuals to get him to go on speaking tours in support of the war. As you may recall from some of my previous diaries he was a gifted and award winning orator. By March 1918 he was out of college and beginning his first job as a teacher in the (I believe newly created) Public Speaking department at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

This letter is written home to his parents in Fairmount, Indiana from his new home in Crawfordsville.

Dear father and mother,

I am sitting in our combination study and bed room in our new home. It is a little past one o'clock of as beautiful an easter day as I have ever seen. We wish you could be here with us to spend the day. We have been in our new home since Thursday and are delighted with it.

The letter goes on to talk a little about their efforts in setting up their new home and then about tilling and gardening the half acre or so of land that comes with it. Apparently there was a milk thief in town. Anyone remember when the milk man delivered?

There is an "epidemic" of milk ticket stealing in town here, and people are growing restless under it. One puts out a .12 milk ticket for a quart of milk and some petty thief sneaks up and takes it out before the milk man arrives.
A little more about judging oratorical contests and then he gets into the meat of the letter.
Last Monday I received a letter from the State War Savings Committee asking me to spend the summer touring the state speaking in behalf of the War Savings Stamp movement. The committee offers to pay all of my expenses and a salary of $25.00 per week. Of course I felt it my duty to refuse, for in spite of the fact that one of the Richmond Friends churches the other day voted officially to buy $1000 worth of War Savings Stamps, I do not see how a person conscientiously opposed to war can buy or urge others to buy thrift stamps, when he knows that the money is to be spent for wars purposes. That is the first time in my life in which I have had to make a big sacrifice in order to do what was right. But I am stronger and happier for having made it. I have also been asked three times lately by the council of defense to go on speaking trips and have had to decline for the same reason (no pay was promised for these trips, however). You may be wondering why I consented to go on that speaking trip which Dr. Mackintosh asked me to make, so I'll explain that it was to have been in the interests of food conservation, which is in my view an entirely different matter from that of urging men to lend the government money with which to buy powder. Food conservation is a matter of keeping people from starving. I don't know what may happen if Dr. Mackintosh urges me someday to speak for the Liberty Loan, or to go somewhere to stir up hatred against the Germans.  If he forces me to a point where I shall have to tell him my view of war the only thing he can consistently do is to "fire" me. Whether he would or not I am not sure.
It is very interesting to read him working out the problem in his own head. Dr. Mackintosh was President of Wabash College from 1906 to 1926. Clearly he thought he was in a tenuous and job threatening situation but that he had to maintain the integrity of his conscience.

He goes on a bit with family matters but then returns to the issue of the war, war bonds, and its direct effect on the family.

Just a word about the coming liberty loan. I would not say a word to deter father from investing in a bond this time if he believes it his duty to help the cause. But I do want to call his attention to a fact or two before he has to face that question. My own conviction as to what my personal conduct must be is more certain than it was at Christmas time when I talked with you. I feel that I cannot participate in the war. So long as the draft law continues to exempt ministers I shall be safe from any attempt to force me into military service; of that you may rest assured. But there are other possibilities which we must face. First, altho' it is neither my duty nor wisdom on my part to go about expressing my views, yet with the increasing and insistent demand for war speakers it seem likely that my attitude will come to the attention of the "powers that be" before long. If it does, it may mean the loss of my job, and if I lose my job here on that account I couldn't get anything else other than day labor, and might need financial help before the game was through. Now comes the second point: what I should likely do in such an event would be to enlist in the Friends Reconstruction work as an active testimony of my belief.  If I did this Jean would be without any support from me, and I would not even have money to keep up my life insurance. Whereas if I should go to France my insurance must be kept up at any cost. So, my point is this, that if you save what little you can now you may have a chance to use it for the sake of a cause which I believe you will agree with me is as worthy as the war itself.

With much love from us both,


And as we know he did end up going to France as part of the American Friends Service Committee Relief and Reconstruction work and spending nearly a year there.

Quakers, members of the Society of Friends, believe that all are called as ministers to one another and not just a special few as is generally considered to be the case in most Christian denominations. Even in many denominations that separate out a specially trained person as Priest, Minister or Pastor there is the belief that we are each of us called to minister to one another with whatever gifts we possess. So when he speaks of the ministers exemption above that is what he is talking about. He was not ordained. However, even in the Society of Friends there are some that call a specific minister to lead their meeting and in others the person filling the role of Clerk of the Meeting often fills that role. Grandfather, later in life, was the longtime Clerk of the 57th Street Meeting near the University of Chicago where he taught. In other letters it becomes clear that, probably due to his speaking skills, he was sometimes called to give sermons as a fill in when the usual minister was on vacation.

America was very different prior to World War I in its attitude towards war and particularly European wars. As far as I can tell the modern day attitude we see of "patriotism" being defined by war lust began with the propaganda used at that time to stir up passions against "the Hun." Note that the racist tinge to that simple phrase. Germans shared a common heritage with the English and French while "the Hun" does not. War passions were stirred up against Germans but they were called "Huns" in order to make them "other." One does not easily kill ones own but much more easily fears, hates and kills the "other." Even so, the accepted and acceptable pacifist nature of the American public was apparently rather quickly pushed aside once "war fever" took over.

Grandpa in his strident belief refused to volunteer to fight, be drafted to fight, use his award winning oratorical skills to stir up hatred and urge others to fight, or to even sell war bonds to raise money for war. He was willing to speak on behalf of food conservation which, while unstated, must have been to ensure enough food to send overseas to feed the troops and the allies in France. Further, he was willing to go to France to help in that feeding and in the reconstruction that was needed. All of this at risk of his just beginning career as a college professor.

There is a gap of several months before the next letter in which his mother writes to his wife about what must have been fresh news that he was indeed to go to France with the American Friends Service Committee. It is not clear how exactly that came about but one can only assume that one of the many pressure points he mentions above made it necessary for him to take action.

Originally posted to Andrew C White on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Genealogy and Family History Community, History for Kossacks, Group W: Resisting War, and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site