WWI Remembrance – The Home Front

     With America’s entry into World War I in April of 1917, life changed dramatically for citizens across the country, including those living in Schoolcraft County. A series of sweeping war regulations were established by the administration of Woodrow Wilson regarding food, fuel, the financing of the war effort, the treatment of “enemy aliens” and the stifling of dissent.

     The United States Food Administration sought to conserve foods such as beef, pork and wheat through voluntary action. Staples like sugar and flour were rationed. George Nicholson, of the White Marble Lime Company, was appointed as local food administrator. Monday, Wednesday and one meal daily were designated as wheatless. Tuesday and one meal daily was to be meatless. Saturday was porkless. The edicts from the Food Administration were published weekly in the Pioneer Tribune, with compliance being achieved through social pressure. Every family was expected to prominently display the Food Administration emblem in their home.

     In a time when most foods and bake goods were made from scratch, rationing was instituted for flour and sugar. A card obtained at the Chamber of Commerce was required before those staples could be purchased at a grocery store. The card indicated the number of people in the family. Each family member was allowed three pounds of sugar and 20 pounds of flour per month. Families in Manistique were limited to purchasing two pounds of sugar and 49 pounds of flour at any one time. Country residents could purchase up to five pounds of sugar and 98 pounds of flour during a single trip to the grocery store.

     With the war also came fuel restrictions impacting the number of hours a business could stay open. The majority of businesses were restricted to being open for only nine hours per day on weekdays and 12 hours on Saturday. All places of business were required to be closed on Mondays with the exception of grocery stores and drug stores.

     During February of 1918, a shortage of coal combined with severe cold weather caused hardships for local citizens. Several rail cars of coal destined for Manistique were confiscated by the Ann Arbor Railway who claimed that the coal was “absolutely needed” for their engines. The supply of coal at the Charcoal Iron Company in Manistique was so low that they were unable to provide any for the city’s needs. Coal reserves at the White Marble Lime Company were equally sparse. Adding to the city’s woes, the Ann Arbor car ferries were stuck in the ice at Frankfort, ruling out any coal deliveries from that venue.

     The local fuel administrator, W. E. Thomas, urged families to use wood in the daytime and save coal for banking fires at night. Complicating matters, Mayor William Middlebrook reported that the city’s wood lot was almost totally depleted; down to 1/2 cord from 160 cords the previous week. Efforts were being made by the Mayor and the County Fuel Administrator to obtain more firewood for 30 families in Manistique who were nearly out of fuel, but high snow in the woods was another barrier to be overcome. One car load of coal had been obtained from Minneapolis to supply the fuel needs of the local schools, but more was unavailable from that locale. Additional supplies of coal were being sought from as far away as Chicago. Fortunately, these were obtained before fuel resources were completely depleted.

     Meanwhile, campaigns to sell Liberty Bonds to finance the war effort continued unabated. In April of 1918, it was announced that Schoolcraft County would likely go “over the top” of its $166,000 quota in the Third Liberty Loan subscription drive. The Pioneer Tribune reported that people generally responded well with only a few “slackers” found.

     Every district in Schoolcraft County was canvassed. The men in the industrial plants in the city responded positively with 50 to 75 percent of the men subscribing. Exceptions were noted in the Goodwillie Box Company and the Consolidated Lumber Company plants where the subscription rate was “disappointing.”  Many of the men in those plants were still paying on previous editions of the Liberty Bonds.

     In the townships, Germfask led the way with 85 percent of the farmers in that district subscribing for the bonds. Conversely, the Cooks area had the poorest showing up to that point.

     Support for the war effort was expected on many different levels, including membership in the Red Cross. In January of 1918, Schoolcraft County was honored with a visit from Michigan Governor Albert E. Sleeper who presented the Schoolcraft County Chapter of the Red Cross with a banner for the highest per capita Red Cross membership in the state. Schoolcraft County reported 8,785 Red Cross members or 103 percent of the county’s population as recorded in the census of 1910.

     German immigrants who had not yet become naturalized citizens were subjected to special scrutiny. Men and women who prior to America’s entry into the war had been considered good neighbors, were suddenly classified as “enemy aliens.” In Schoolcraft County, all unnaturalized Germans over the age of 14 were ordered to register with the Postmaster at their local post office between Feb. 4th and Feb 9th, 1918.

     No one was immune from suspicion of disloyalty. The Sedition Act of May 1918 made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production” of the things “necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war.”

     The government even sought to prescribe the content of family letters to soldier’s overseas. Articles in the Pioneer Tribune encouraged families to write often, but to write cheerfully.  Soldiers were to be protected from “trifling alarms and small annoyances of everyday life.” Letters telling of the sickness of relatives were also discouraged. Instead, families were instructed to give the soldier “full confidence that his family and friends stand behind him in the great enterprise he has undertaken.”

WWI Propaganda Poster

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