From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 51, No. 2, September 2015
In recognition of the centennial of World War I, we are providing this condensed version of text from our 2007 exhibit on the subject.
For the two and a half years prior to America’s entry into the war, the newspapers were filled daily with news of the war in Europe and the suffering of civilians caught in its wake. On May 7, 1915 a German U-boat sank the steamship Lusitania, resulting in the loss of 1,200 civilians, including more than 100 U.S. citizens. Outrage over this tragic event further “primed the pump” for war. As U-boat attacks on American merchant vessels increased, the talk of war grew louder. Fear also grew that an Allied defeat would prove catastrophic to America’s financial interests abroad and to its economy at home.
When war was finally declared in April of 1917, the American people were ready to respond as a wave of patriotism spread the nation. They heeded the idealistic words of President Wilson – that the war would “make the world safe for democracy” and, with the establishment of a League of Nations, would be the “war to end all wars.”
Eighty-one men from Mansfield answered the call to arms, joining the 67,000 from Connecticut who served during the Great War.
As a land-grant institution, the Connecticut Agricultural College was charged with providing a practical education that focused on agriculture, the mechanical arts and military science. Thus by 1917 C.A.C. had a considerable body of students and graduates who were trained in the basics of military science and were ready to serve. Approximately 600 men from Storrs enlisted. Nearly half were students, faculty and alumni and the remainder were members of the Students’ Army Training Corps who arrived on campus in the fall of 1918.
Though numerous C.A.C. students entered military service, many more contributed to the war effort by supervising and assisting agricultural endeavors on the home front. Their specialized training was much needed as Connecticut’s farmers faced a severe labor shortage. During 1917 and 1918, the college schedule was adjusted – closing early in the spring and opening late in the fall – so that students could assist farmers with spring planting and continue working until harvest time. C.A.C. students worked in the fields as both supervisors and laborers. They contributed much to the state’s efforts to increase food production in the face of a growing food crisis.
Twenty-five girls attended the college during the year 1917-1918, while more than forty girls registered during the fall of 1918. With the male students either in military service or working on farms, the co-eds took over activities ordinarily performed by the boys and assumed some campus leadership positions as well. The women students also participated in war work activities, such as bond drives and projects for the Red Cross. Like their male counterparts, some helped alleviate the labor shortage on farms, becoming “farmerettes” or joining the Women’s Land Army. Others supervised war gardens, worked in canning kitchens or demonstrated canning methods.
By 1917 it was clear that control over food had to be established in order to provide humanitarian aid to the peoples affected by the war overseas as well as to provide for those at home.
On August 10, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Food Control Bill giving the government control over America’s food supply and its distribution. The same day, the President issued an executive order creating the U.S. Food Administration and appointed Herbert Hoover as Administrator. An unprecedented education and propaganda campaign was launched to convince the American people to change their habits and diets. America’s food program looked primarily to the patriotic cooperation of its citizens to ensure its success and, amazingly, it achieved its goals without resorting to rationing.
In April of 1917, the National War Garden Commission was established to encourage the American people to help solve the international food crisis by planting war gardens to supply their own needs. By growing food for home consumption and canning their surplus, Americans were told that they were making a vital contribution to the war effort.
In Connecticut, Governor Holcomb appointed a State Committee of Food Supply under the State Council of Defense. The Connecticut Agricultural College worked closely with the Committee of Food Supply. Five members of the College’s staff held offices under this committee in Hartford. The Extension Service greatly expanded during this period and offered numerous short courses during the summer to train individuals from across the state in various food producing and conserving activities. Some 500 women attended its canning school in the summer of 1917. The women were taught the latest food preservation techniques and also learned how to organize their own communities to carry on the work. Extension staff also provided expert advice to the Farm Bureaus, County Agents, and others working on the food front. Through its Extension work, the college made a major contribution to the war effort in Connecticut.
As with efforts to increase the production and conservation of food, raising funds for the war was also based upon voluntary participation. Through publicity campaigns and patriotic appeals, the Government convinced the American public to loan the funds needed to finance the war. The war cost the United States over $30 billion and fully two-thirds of this enormous sum was raised through the five Liberty Loans and the War Saving Stamp program.
Towns were encouraged to fill sale quotas for the Liberty Loan bonds, and many towns turned the sale into a sport, competing to raise the most. A Liberty Bond Committee was formed in Mansfield and bonds were sold by door-to-door canvassers and at special events. On April 13, 1918, a war rally was held in Mansfield Center specifically for the purpose of promoting the Third Liberty Loan bond drive. At this event alone, the residents of Mansfield Center and Mansfield Hollow subscribed nearly $1,500 to the Liberty Loan. In total, the Town of Mansfield raised $34,150 in subscriptions to the Third Liberty Loan, well over its quota of $11,000.
The Red Cross was one of the major relief organizations during the First World War. Supporting the Red Cross monetarily or through volunteer work was one way that those on the home front could make a significant contribution to the war effort. The Storrs chapter of the Red Cross was established April 20, 1917, and was the first chapter in Tolland County. Ninety-one members enrolled at the first meeting. Volunteers soon organized in other areas in town and the local churches joined in the Red Cross relief efforts. Numerous teas, luncheons, suppers, concerts and pageants were organized in town to benefit the Red Cross. In addition to fundraising, the Mansfield women also prepared surgical dressings and sewed and knitted necessities to be sent overseas.
With patriotic zeal, Mansfield citizens and organizations found many ways to support the war effort at home. They answered the constant appeals for funds by the Y.M.C.A, the Salvation Army, and other relief organizations. The Women’s Club of Storrs collected clothing for the Belgian relief effort and supported a French war orphan for six years. The Mansfield Library Association organized a Fourth of July celebration in 1918 that benefited the Red Cross. The Town and the College libraries also collected books as part of a nation-wide effort to provide recreational reading for the troops stationed at home and abroad. The constant presence of war propaganda in the press inspired an unprecedented wave of generosity and volunteerism across the nation.
In July of 1918, the Connecticut Agricultural College entered into a contract with the War Department. It became one of six hundred U.S. colleges to give three months training to men of the Students’ Army Training Corps. Of the 411 men who enrolled in the program, 278 were inducted on October 21, just three weeks before the Armistice was signed. The war ended before their training was completed.
As soldiers began to return home from the War, some brought with them a deadly virus known as the Spanish flu. In the United States, an estimated twenty-five million fell ill, and six hundred and seventy-five thousand died.
The influenza epidemic first touched Mansfield around the first of October, 1918. Between October of 1918 and April of 1919, four hundred and forty-four cases were reported, and many cases of the flu went unreported. Of these cases, 288 occurred during October. The newly formed Mansfield State Training School and Hospital was hit the hardest. Out of the approximate 300 patients, there were 200 cases of the flu, and about 30 patients died. The treatment of all these cases fell on Dr. Lamoure, the only physician, and one nurse. Surprisingly, the Connecticut Agricultural College only reported a few mild cases of the flu.
With the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the war was finally over, but at a tremendous cost, both monetarily and in human lives. Almost nine million soldiers had been killed, along with eight million civilians, and thousands more were unaccounted for. Some 35 million had become battle casualties, with seven million left permanently disabled. Among those killed were two men from Mansfield and seven students from the Connecticut Agricultural College.
There was peace at last, but it was short-lived. In less than two decades, the Great War that was supposed “to end all wars” would instead be known as the FirstWorld War.