Arkansas in the Great War Part II: The War at Home

By Arkansas State Archives

The Arkansas State Archives

In this second part of this examination of Arkansas in the First World War, we will explore what it was like for average Arkansans who were being asked to make economic sacrifices at home in order to support the war effort. This section will also explore how the Arkansas Council of Defense endeavored to reach out to women and African Americans to enlist them in the war effort.

Victory Bond Sale, Little Rock, Arkansas. WWI. (1917/1919) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

The Homefront

For those not drafted into the army, participating in war work was just as important.  Citizens were encouraged to purchase war bonds, conserve food, and contribute their labor as a patriotic duty.  Organizations such as the Four Minute Men, so named because their speeches were four minutes long, spread out through the state to inspire crowds to patriotism.  Those who were not involved in war work in some way were castigated as "slackers."

Arkansas State Council of Defense (1917/1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Arkansas State Council of Defense, circa 1917.

The main force coordinating work on the homefront was the State Council of Defense. At the beginning of the war, the United States Congress established a National Council of Defense to direct civilian war work. Each state then established its own Council of Defense. In Arkansas, Lloyd England (sixth from left) became chairman of the State Council. Duties of the Council were, "to unite all loyal citizens in every patriotic endeavor for the successful prosecution of the war." Governor Brough (center, with arms crossed) assisted England in his work.

Manual of Wheatless Recipes (1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Manual of Wheatless Recipes, 1918.

As American soldiers began arriving in France, there were fears that the soldiers might run out of food. The most common staple in the American diet was wheat. As a result, the State Council of Defense ordered Arkansans to observe "Wheatless Wednesday" and to have at least one wheatless meal a day in order to conserve wheat for the soldiers. To fulfill these demands, the Dane County, Wisconsin Council of Defense produced a wheatless recipe book, which was widely read in Arkansas. The recipe book suggested rice, corn, and oat flour as substitutions for wheat and offered recipes for things like barley muffins, corn and rice muffins, and cheese pudding. Desserts were more of a challenge, though. Since making pie crust was difficult without wheat flour, pies do not appear in the recipe book.

What Next? (1917/1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

What Next? postcard, 1918.

Although food conservation was considered an act of patriotism, this still did not prevent grumbling about the hardships on the homefront. As a result, the Council of Defense produced postcards bearing poems such as this to remind citizens of the real cause of their unhappiness.

The Zinc-Field of Arkansas (1900) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Zinc mine near Buffalo City in Baxter County, circa 1910

While many Arkansans suffered the hardships of rationing, others enjoyed an economic boom. The war brought increased demand for coal and other minerals, leading to an increase in mining activity in Arkansas. The need for aluminum led to an upturn in bauxite production.

Machine Shop (1906) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Machine shop in Saline County, circa 1910

Other Arkansas industries also saw an increase in production due to the war. Machine shops like this one found their output in great demand, leading to more jobs and higher wages.

Lumbering in Cleveland or Dallas County, AR (1915) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Lumber crew in Cleveland County, circa 1915.

One industry that benefited the most from the war was the timber industry. Arkansas timber was used to build training camps, rifle stocks, and other war related structures.

Women's Council of Defense (1917/1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives


On July 1, 1917, Governor Brough issued a proclamation declaring the creation of the Women's Council of Defense, an organization designed to encourage women to get involved in the war effort.  Women proved to be up to the task before them.  In a single month, 70,000 women signed up to do war-related work. State chairman for the Arkansas Council of Defense Lloyd England wrote, "[The Women's Council of Defense] shows how volunteer workers rendered a service that could not be purchased - it reveals the benefits that are to come to the State from the active participation  in public affairs by women who have had the courage of proposing the adoption of the ideals and the practical ability of accomplishing them."  In the same way that men throughout the country mobilized to fight in Europe, members of the council pledged to mobilize women to do war work at home.

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker, Care for Her through the YWCA (1917/1918) by YMCAArkansas State Archives

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker, 1918.
Poster 006

A primary job of the Women's Council of Defense was to educate families in ways they could assist the war effort through conserving food. The Council produced a series of leaflets titled, "Do You Know Cornmeal?", "Save Sugar," and "Make a Little Meat Go a Long Way." The Council estimated that with their influence, Arkansas women produced 18,000 pounds of cottage cheese in 1918.

The Council also encouraged women to reuse old clothing instead of buying new clothes. By the end of the war, the Council boasted that their guidance had helped 25% of women learn to make their own hats and had 50% of women patching old clothing.

The Spirit of '18 (1918) by United States Food AdministrationArkansas State Archives

The World Cry Food, 1918.
Poster 0001

Mrs. A.F. Houston, Crawford County's home economics coordinator for the Women's Council wrote of their efforts, "Through the home demonstration agent we organized the women of every community so that the food conservation work could be carried on. Early in the spring of 1918 every home made plans for a war garden. Under the supervision of the home demonstration agent a vast amount of food was conserved from these gardens.

"The Home Economics Club of Van Buren meets twice a month and talks over plans of conservation. Then we place in the window of some leading store food made from substitutes, and also we hand to the ladies recipes for the food exhibited. We went to the various communities and gave a demonstration in the use of substitutes.

"During the year 1918 our county conserved one car load of flour, fifteen thousand pounds of sugar per month, and sixty thousand pounds of meat. Gave out six thousand U.S. Food Leaflets on conservation of foods, and held twenty-nine demonstrations of food substitutes for flour, sugar and meat."

Photograph of nurses (1917/1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Nurses at Camp Pike, circa 1917

As the United States got more deeply involved in the war, the country suffered from a shortage of nurses. The Council of National Defense urged state councils to recruit 25,000 young women between the ages of 19 and 35 to enroll in nursing schools. In Arkansas, the Women's Council took up the job of pressing women into service as nurses. "There is only one way to fill these gaps," urged the National Council, "by keeping our hospital training schools supplied with students, who are not only preparing for service abroad and at home at the end of their course and at the same time are equipping themselves to earn their living in one of the noblest of professions, but from the very outset of their course are serving their country as well as learning."

Photograph of soldiers (1917/1918) by Persistence of the SpiritArkansas State Archives


The years before the First World War was a time of increasing discrimination against African Americans.  Jim Crow laws throughout the South prevented African Americans from enjoying full rights as citizens.  When the war came, many white officials worried that African Americans would be reluctant to take part in the war effort due to discrimination they faced in many parts of the country, especially the American South.  Nevertheless, 18,322 African Americans from Arkansas served their country proudly. However, they still faced discrimination in the army.  Training camps remained racially segregated and African Americans continued to be treated as second class citizens, even in the military.

Colored Patriots of Arkansas, Attention! (1918-11-02) by Arkansas DemocratArkansas State Archives

Colored Patriots in Arkansas, Attention!
Arkansas Democrat, November 2, 1918

Jim Crow norms also prevented African Americans from joining the all white State Council of Defense. In order to encourage African American participation in the war effort, the State Council of Defense organized the Colored Auxiliary. Prominent attorney Scipio Jones led the Auxiliary Council, which endeavored to raise money for the war effort. The Colored Auxiliary Council estimated that the group needed to raise at least one dollar for each African American in the state in order to prove their patriotism.

Program for Organization of Negroes by the Southern State Councils (1917/1918) by Arkansas State Council of DefenseArkansas State Archives

Program for Organization of Negroes by the Southern State Councils, 1917.
State Council of Defense Records

Despite the organization of the Auxiliary Council, many African Americans continued to be skeptical of the government's war aims. As a result, the State Council of Defense developed a program to reach out to Arkansas's African American community. African American field agents were appointed to travel and meet with African Americans across the state, educating communities on the ways in which they could serve their country on the homefront.

Monthly Report of P.L. Dorman (1917/1918) by P.L. DormanArkansas State Archives

Monthly Report of P.L. Dorman, 1917.
State Council of Defense Records

One African American field agent, P.L. Dorman, who had been a Rural School Agent for the Arkansas Department of Education's Negro Division before the war, used longstanding relationships he developed with African American schools to contact local leaders. In this report to the Council of Defense, Dorman gives an account of a week's travels through the state. His primary message to the African Americans he addressed was to buy Liberty Bonds. He reported to the State Council of Defense that he "found the people anxious to hear and genuinely enthusiastic."

Poetic Thoughts of Corp. Lonia L. Anderson (1918) by Lonia L. AndersonArkansas State Archives

Poetic Thoughts of Corp. Lonia L. Anderson, 1918.

African American soldiers at Camp Pike were often assigned menial duties, such as working in the mess halls. However, some rose to the rank of officer. One officer, Corporal Lonia L. Anderson, wrote a book of poems reflecting his time in the service.

As part of the preface to his book, his friend, J.C. McRae, wrote a poem ending, "Then we would sing/ Ashes to ashes and dust to dust; / If the white folks don't can the Kaiser, / We Afro-Americans must."

Poetic Thoughts of Corp. Lonia L. Anderson (1918) by Lonia L. AndersonArkansas State Archives

The Voice of the Soldier, Corporal Lonia L. Anderson, 1918.

Corporal Anderson no doubt gave voice to the thousands of African American soldiers drafted into service with his poem, "The Voice of the Soldier." He reflects on the discrimination he experienced before the war and predicts that African Americans will show themselves to be heroes despite discrimination, writing "The stone which you all reject/ Will shine upon the deck."

Maude Hines (1917/1918) by Arkansas State ArchivesArkansas State Archives

Maud Hines, circa 1918.

Originally, African Americans were prohibited from joining some civic organizations like the Red Cross. As the war continued to rage and more white Red Cross nurses were sent to Europe, the U.S. faced a lack of nurses on the homefront. As a result, the Red Cross reversed its previous discriminatory policy and allowed African Americans, like Maud Hines, to join the organization.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was funded in part by a grant from the Arkansas Community Foundation.

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