Puyallup: Opinion

1918: A year of shared sacrifice and misery in Puyallup

I just spent several weeks perusing the pages of the local newspaper for 1918 — the second year of American participation in World War I.

Those who are concerned about sacrificing our liberties for the common good today will be appalled at the steps that were taken in 1918.

First, the paper is full of appeals to conserve food, especially sugar and flour, and to support the Red Cross and the YM- and YWCAs. Additionally, there are constant appeals to contribute to the war bond funds and to buy thrift stamps, all to raise funds for the propagation of the war effort. (Apparently no one thought of simply printing more money.)

There were three primary organizations involved in these activities. The first was the National Loyal Legion, an outgrowth of a Civil War organization formed after the assassination of President Lincoln. Second was the Food Committee for Puyallup, under the chairmanship of H.E. Barney of the Men’s Clothing Store. In this appointed position, Barney reported to the head of the county organization, who reported to the state chairman.

Last was the Puyallup Council of Defense. An article in The Herald on February 2, 1918 reported that the Puyallup Council of Defense, under the untiring efforts of J.P. Nevins, was compiling a card catalog system in which every citizen is listed, and his attitude toward all national war measures is recorded. Also on this card were notations of contributions to Liberty Loans, Red Cross, YM- and YWCAs, Knights of Columbus and others. (Contributions to the Red Cross were to provide for the mercies of war, while the YM- and YWCA and the Knights of Columbus were to look after the morale and morals of war.)

Canvassers for various campaigns went house to house, as was reported in a page 2 editorial in The Herald of May 25,1918, entitled: “Expose the Slackers.”

The editor reported that a certain number of people do not know or do not care that a record is being kept of the bond purchases and of their contributions to … all other war causes. More than that, it had on file the reasons and excuses given.

“All canvassers are obliged to provide themselves with notebooks. In these are jotted down the language as nearly as possible, of the person solicited….From that it is copied to the card which bears his name in the file of the Council of Defense.”

The Food Committee for Puyallup warned that if dealers were found violating the ever-more stringent regulations, steps would be taken to prevent them from receiving supplies, or their licenses could be revoked. People with more foodstuffs in their larder than currently authorized were asked to return them to the place they bought them. A small article reassured housewives that their own canned goods would not be confiscated.

Imagine the problems of being of German descent in a war against Germany. On February 2, 1918, all German Alien Enemies (males over 14 years of age) were required to register at the post office. On June 8, a notice was printed bearing the title: German Lutheran Church (today’s Peace Lutheran) Paying for Liberty Bond. It was a copy of a notice signed by member Karl Gerstmann, and sent to all members of the congregation, informing them that the church had bought a bond, and that the trustees were levying an additional contribution on its members to pay for it. Many German names were listed along with their neighbors for supporting the war effort.

In addition to listing those eligible for the next call up of the draft, the newspapers began reporting the names of those who would not be returning from the war. On Feb. 9, readers learned that Harrison F. Bates, 20th Engineers Forestry Corps, was lost in the sinking of the SS Tuscania. In early March, Guy Rawlings of the Coastal Artillery died from surgery at Fort Worden (Port Townsend). In early June, Don Gunder, also of the Coastal Artillery, died of Scarlet Fever in France. In October, Paul Enochs died of wounds while serving with Company I of the 126th Infantry.

Finally, having suffered together through the end of the war (Nov. 11), the people of Puyallup were invited to unite at a Thanksgiving service at the Methodist church, the message to be delivered by the pastor of the Baptist church.

Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be contacted by email at historyandy@comcast.net or through the mansion at 253-848-1770.