Missouri Over There

The Missouri Council of Defense during World War I

Photograph of Governor of Missouri Frederick Gardner reading a welcome address to General John J. Pershing in Laclede, Missouri - January 11, 1920

Image courtesy of General John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site

Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War and chairman of the Council of National Defense, requested in April 1917 that all state governors create state councils of defense “as the official war emergency organization of the states … charged with conducting all of the war activity of the states not directly within the fields of the established executive departments.”1 Governor Frederick D. Gardner responded by calling for a statewide conference to establish the Missouri Council of Defense and appointed Frederick B. Mumford, the dean of the Missouri College of Agriculture, as the council's chairman. Although instructions required that Missouri establish a state council and county councils, conference delegates decided to create additional councils at the township and school district level. The governor and state council appointed seven men to each county council. These county councils then appointed seven men to each township and school district councils. Eventually 11,487 members “worked at every level of government from township to state” to carry out the council’s mission. Missouri’s detailed sub-council system set precedent and served as an example for several states.2

The council became the sole coordinating body between the national government, state departments, and citizens of Missouri during the war. Unlike councils in other states, the Missouri Council did not have legislative powers because the General Assembly was not in session during America’s participation in the Great War. The council thus could only use such powers as the Council of National Defense and the governor delegated, and had to rely on private donations to cover operating costs. This fit well into the state’s political culture that emphasized “individualism” and a minimalistic government.3

The council kept the state in line with national loyalty and mobilization guidelines by advocating volunteerism and appealing to the patriotism of all its citizens, including the foreign born, to meet the state’s quotas. The council’s initial function was to increase farm production, reduce food consumption, and to encourage “municipal and community gardening” in conjunction with the Food Administration. Working with the College of Agriculture and the University of Missouri’s extension center, the council distributed informative pamphlets on how to grow greater quantities of wheat and corn and sent agricultural agents to farms to teach new methods. This campaign combined with higher prices successfully increased acreage, production, and overall value of crops despite a drought in 1917.4 The council also distributed United States Food Administration essays about food conservation to newspapers for publication. Nearly 120,000 women, organized into the Missouri Woman’s Committee of the Council of Defense, answered the council’s call for volunteers to demonstrate food conservation in homes and at club meetings. The Missouri Woman's Committee also encouraged Missourians to sign the Hoover Food Pledge, and help raise money for the Red Cross, YMCA, and Liberty Loans.5

The Missouri Council of Defense also concerned itself with shaping public opinion. Articles in its monthly publication, Missouri on Guard, carried the messages of the governor and council to readers and recounted the activities of county and township councils. To reach an even broader audience and “stimulate patriotic service,” the council created the Patriotic Speakers’ Bureau in August 1917. Hundreds of speakers, or “Tongues of Fire,” addressed nearly one million people at county fairs, movie theaters, clubs, churches, schools, and fraternal associations educating them about the reasons for war and explaining how every individual “could best serve and contribute to the winning of the final victory.”6

The council experimented with a German speaking division in the Speakers’ Bureau to more effectively gain the support of the state’s large German population. This strategy reflected the progressive nature of several council members as well as Missouri’s tolerance of German Americans. The division organized “mass meetings in German districts” and sent individuals “of German origin but unquestionable loyalty” to address these meetings in German, arouse public opinion in favor of the war, and thus guard against the infiltration of German propaganda.7 Members of the council also used the state’s German-language press to mold public opinion. Despite “influential men” accusing the council of “coquetting with the German newspapers,” the state held a special conference for foreign editors in St. Louis in June 1918. All but four of Missouri’s German-American editors attended and discussed how they could best support the war effort without the fear of censorship.8

Although the appeals to patriotism and self-sacrifice produced desired results and secured “civic cooperation” for the war, the council, nevertheless, had to deal with opposition to the war and suspected disloyal activity. Reports from county and township councils related information about unwillingness to register for the draft, refusal to sign the Hoover Food Pledge, hoarding of wheat, not purchasing Liberty Bonds, refusing to contribute to the Red Cross, and blatantly expressing pro-German thoughts.9 Council officials advocated the prosecution of those who violated the Espionage Act and in all other cases encouraged persuasion, friendly coercion, intimidation, and “ostracism” at the local level as the most effective measures to bring slackers into line; after all county councils were “the supreme local authority in all matter relating to the mobilization of the resources of the counties and cities.”10

As accusations of disloyalty and the anti-German frenzy increased in 1918, the council abandoned its German-speaking section of the Speakers’ Bureau, opposed “the use of the German language in the schools, churches, and lodges and in public meetings of every character,” and advocated the adoption of English as “a national duty” and “as the clearest evidence of loyalty.” To curb the use of German in churches the council established an honor roll of congregations and parochial schools that adopted English as their official language and encouraged preachers to change the habits of their peers. Council officials remained sympathetic to the spiritual needs of older church members and the Amish who spoke only in German by suggesting that clergy limit German to hearing confessions or performing religious rites. The Council of National Defense strongly endorsed this “tactful” and “statesman-like method” of dealing with the sensitive subject of religious freedom during a national emergency. In September 1918 the state council also endorsed the renaming of businesses, streets, and “all towns and communities in the state named for German functionaries or towns.”11

The Missouri Council of Defense adapted national mobilization guidelines to local conditions, effectively carried out the responsibilities of food production and fundraising, and maintained the patriotic image of the state. Tolerant council members preserved law and order through persuasion, and called upon Missourians to refrain from violence and disorder. Advocacy of verbal coercion and delegation of mobilization responsibilities to county authorities, however, also contributed to curtailment of freedom of speech and religion.

1 National Council of Defense Bulletin 8, p. 21, folder 202; “Organization and Work of Councils of Defense,” folder 240; both in Collection 2797, Missouri Council of Defense Papers, State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscript Collection, Columbia (hereinafter cited as MCDP).
2 Final Report of the Missouri Council of Defense, 1917-19 (St. Louis: Con. P. Curran Printing Co., 1919), 8. Lawrence O. Christensen, “Missouri’s Response to World War I: The Missouri Council of Defense,” Midwest Review 12 (1990): 35; Christopher C. Gibbs, The Great Silent Majority: Missouri’s Resistance to World War I (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988), 52; Floyd C. Shoemaker, Missouri and Missourians: Land of Contrast and People of Achievements (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1943), 289.
3 Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army, Compilation of War Laws of the Various States and Insular Possessions (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 11-12. Legislatures in Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Utah gave their state councils broad legislative powers that allowed for statewide enforcement of restrictive and oppressive resolutions. Frederick C. Luebke, “Legal Restrictions on Foreign Languages in the Great Plains States, 1917-23,” in Germans in the New World: Essays in the History of Immigration (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 31-50. The 50th General Assembly appropriated $74,165.80 in 1919 to meet the council's expenses. Lawrence O. Christensen and Gary R. Kremer, A History of Missouri, vol. 4, 1875-1919 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 218. Richard J. Hardy, Richard R. Dohm, and David A. Leuthold, Missouri Government and Politics (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995), 25.
4 Final Report, 19-20, 29; “Raise a War Crop,” poster, folder 573, MCDP. Lawrence O. Christensen, “World War I in Missouri: Part I,” Missouri Historical Review 90 (April 1996): 31-42; Floyd C. Shoemaker, “Missouri and the War: Sixth Article,” Missouri Historical Review 13 (July 1919): 322; and Gibbs, Great Silent Majority, 109-12, 117-18.
5 See for example, Missouri Volksfreund, April 11, 1918. Final Report, 21, 75-78, 85; “What Missouri Women Are Doing,” St. Louis Republic, July 7, 1917, 4. Elizabeth Cueny to F. B. Mumford, 30 June 1917, folder 1106; Lucy Holman Hinchcliffe to Mrs. Miller, July 29, 1917, folder 873; both in MCDP. Christensen and Kremer, A History of Missouri, 222-24, 227-28; Gibbs, Great Silent Majority, 67, 126, 128; Shoemaker, Missouri and Missourians, 290.
6 “Report of Mrs. Frances S. Burkhardt, Secretary, Patriotic Speakers’ Bureau, to the Missouri Council of Defense,” March 20, 1918, folder 508; “’Tongues of Fire’: How the Missouri Council of Defense Organizes Patriotic Mass Meetings,” April 18, 1918, folder 529; both in MCDP. Final Report, 65-69, 85.
7 “Reaching the German-Speaking Population,” January 1918, folder 239; W. F. Saunders to Elliott Dunlap Smith, 12 April 1918, folder 164; F. B. Mumford to W. G. Dillion, 5 July 1918, folder 762; and F. B. Mumford to W. R. Little, 14 October 1918, folder 745; all in MCDP.
8 “Plans to Make German Papers real Medium of U. S. Propaganda,” newspaper clipping, folder 481; R. A. Glenn to Editor, Missouri Volksblatt, 15 June 1918, folder 484; W. F. Saunders to Elliott Dunlap Smith, 6 July 1918, folder 166; “German Language Newspapers in Missouri,” no date, folder 481; all in MCDP.
9 See for example Mrs. Walter McNab Miller to Mrs. Philip N. Moore, 3 September 1917, folder 1111; and Robert A. Glenn to W. F. Saunders, 8 October 1917, folder 282; both  in MCDP.
10 W. F. Saunders to W. G. Dillon, 25 September 1917, folder 761; W. F. Saunders to Cowgill Blair, 4 January 1918, folder 284; Wm. F. Saunders to Chairman Mumford, 4 January 1918, folder 91; all in MCDP. “County Councils to be Supreme,” Missouri On Guard 1 (July 1917): 2.
11 W. F. Saunders to J. W. Moran, 6 April 1918, folder 756; W. F. Saunders to Victor Lichtenstein, 3 April 1918, folder 756; Elliott Dunlap Smith to W.F. Saunders, 17 April 1918, folder 373a; “Subject: Use of the German Language,” 30 April 1918, folder 14; E. D. Smith to W. F. Saunders, 14 May 1918, folder 15; W. F. Saunders to Arthur H. Fleming, 25 July 1918, folder 30; W. F. Saunders to Reverend Richter, no date, folder 373b; Minutes of the Meeting of the Missouri Council of Defense Held in Cape Girardeau, July 12, 1918, folder 499 and 502; Minutes of the Meeting of the Missouri Council of Defense Held in Kansas City, September 11, 1918, folder 499, all in MCDP. “Abolition of German Language is Indorsed [sic],” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 14, 1918.


Petra DeWitt

Petra DeWitt is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Political Science…
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