The Year Was 1917

WWI U.S. Garden Army poster
The year was 1917 and it began with the U.S. maintaining its neutrality and President Woodrow Wilson speaking out for a “peace without victory.” But the year would end with the U.S. embroiled in the conflict it had sought for nearly three years to avoid.

By the time the U.S. had entered the war the world food supply had been severely cut. Farms throughout countries that had formerly been leading agricultural producers had been abandoned as farmers left the fields to take up arms. Fields of wheat became fields of battle and crops were burned, trampled and destroyed. The burden of feeding stricken countries in Europe fell to the U.S.  A month before the U.S. officially entered the war, the National War Garden Commission was formed to promote the building of gardens and preservation of produce through canning or drying. War gardens were created across the country and according to the book The War Garden Victorious (Pack, Charles Lathrop, 1919), “Boston Common was credited with having one of the finest demonstration war gardens. . .” and “the city of Rochester, New York [had] more than 15,000 war gardens in 1918.”

The war needed soldiers too and in 1917 and 1918 over 24 million men in the U.S. completed draft registration cards (available to Ancestry.com members) and 2.8 million were drafted to serve.

With the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act on March 2, citizens of Puerto Rico received full U.S. citizenship. The island would send 20,000 soldiers to the U.S. Army to serve in WWI.

Also in March, the Russian Revolution began with the overthrow of the Czarist regime of Nicholas II and the creation of a provisional government. Later that year the Bolsheviks would seize control in what is known as the “October Revolution.”

As the earth across Europe was scorched, another world was created as J.R.R. Tolkien first wrote about Middle Earth in the Book of Lost Tales, which was the first version of the “Silmarillion.”

In movies, Mary Pickford starred in The Little Princess, the story of a little girl left in a boarding house when her father went off to war. In another film, Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character came to America in The Immigrant.

Soldiers and those left on the homefront were singing along to songs like Over There, the Darktown Strutters Ball, Goodbye Broadway, Hello France, and Back Home Again in Indiana.

7 thoughts on “The Year Was 1917

  1. Thank you for your article on 1917. It was the year of both my parents’ births and it will make a lovely addition to the family history book!

  2. Interested in filling in information about the time of my parents youth and find the Family History Circle an excellent source.

  3. I was not born yet, but my parents were born in the early 1890s and I heard all the stories about “The War to end all Wars.” I recall my Dad telling tht he rode horseback to the location, where young men were to register in our county. He had to ford an out of the banks creek and a friend of his had had to ride horseback across the river to get to the same location. They happened to meet at the point, where each had to turn to get to the registration location. They’d had so much rain and there were no hard-surfaced roads in the county.
    The songs called to mind my mother sitting at the old pump organ and playing songs from WW I. She had the sheet music to many of them. Her favorites were “Over There,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “K-K-K-Katy,” “Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You,” and several others, which were not her favorites, such as “Hinky Dinky Parles Vous.”
    I also remember my parents talking about the very faded overalls the men had to wear. The blue dye used for denim was suddenly unavailable and the garments were dark blue until they were washed and in a few washings were almost white.
    They had severe rationing of a number of food items and then the topper of it all was the Flu Epidemic of 1918.
    My parents had bought an open touring car just at the time of WWI and they were still driving it after I was born and maybe 6 or 7 years old before they got their first “enclosed” car, a 1928 blue Chevrolet. The old touring car had side curtains and neither it nor the Chevy had a trunk. I can remember having to be careful and not step into the egg crate or turn the cream can. When we needed a bit of extra cash, Dad would tie the feet together of 3 or 4 chicken hens and they would flop around under our feet too. There was no heater in the car and side curtains were used in cold or wet weather. We still didn’t have all surface roads, but we went in all kinds of weather and when the mud got so thick in the wheels, Dad would stop and punch out the mud from between the wooden spokes on the wheels. The tires were over 20 inches tall compared to our 13 and 14 inch tires now. The spare tire was bolted onto the backend of the car and we always carried a jack and a special can of tire and tube patches. The early glue for the patches had to be heated for them to adhere to the rubber tubes or tires. I can recall seeing my Dad take wooden matches and heat the glue with those after smearing it onto the rubber surface of the patch. The first tubeless tires were novelties.
    When I start recalling the stories I’ve heard from my parents, my grandparents and what I’ve lived through in my lifetime, I realize, what a lot of interesting things have occured in those three lifetimes, for my paternal grandfather was born in 1849 in Eastern Indiana and came to No. Missouri in 1857.
    My spirit is as young as it ever was, but my body tells me I’m getting to be an “old lady.” Thank you for letting me reminisce.

  4. Year 1917 . I had uncles from both sides of my family that was in ww1. My father was the oldest son in his family and was kept home to run the farm. One of my uncles spent time in France. He met a girl named Audell. He liked the name and the girl so he presuaded my parents to use that name for me. I was born in 1924.
    I love looking in on this sight . I find so much to help me in my research for sides of my family.
    Also I am Rep. from Arkansas for our Odom Family
    and pickup thoughts and ideas for my news articles. I like the new look very much.
    Emma Odom

  5. Article 1917 – thank you for this article. My dad was born in 1917 and just passed on in Feb 2006. It just adds to my memories of him.

  6. Thanks for the publishing 1917, I gave it to my Mom along with the photo album of her life for her birthday May 27, 1917. She loved it.

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