World War I service medal

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An exhibit by the
Oregon State Archives

Oregon at War! American soldiers marching through gas shelled French town.
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State Council of Defense for Oregon
Securing the historical record

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Busy State Librarian Cornelia Marvin didn't hesitate to chastise those who weren't pulling their weight in the effort to gather the personal service histories of those who served in World War I. (Photo courtesy Oregon State Library)

Busy State Librarian Cornelia Marvin didn't hesitate to chastise those who weren't pulling their weight in the effort to gather the personal service histories of those who served in World War I. (Photo courtesy Oregon State Library)

A network of war historians
The State Council of Defense for Oregon appointed State Librarian Cornelia Marvin to the unpaid role of state historian in 1918. Her primary goal was to document the personal military service histories of the over 35,000 Oregonians in active service during World War I. She also sought to document a wide range of activities on the home front.

Marvin set about her work with unusual energy. She soon organized a network of county and local war historians. But progress was slower than Marvin had hoped and, feeling "very much distressed," she sent a letter to county historians: [capital letters] "IF YOU DO NOT INTEND TO SERVE AS HISTORIAN FOR YOUR COUNTY, AND CANNOT UNDERTAKE THIS WORK AT ONCE, WILL YOU NOT BE KIND ENOUGH TO LET ME HEAR FROM YOU...?"

School districts tapped
Realizing that the effort was faltering, Marvin changed strategy in early 1919. The county and local historians were to continue gathering general information, but the job of collecting the personal military service histories of Oregonians would shift to schoolteachers. This seemed logical since an extensive network of schools already existed throughout the state. As an added benefit, many school districts asked their students to write compositions describing "school war activities." Scattered complaints from school superintendents cropped up, but the new strategy worked reasonably well, if not as quickly as hoped.

"Records desired"
Despite the spotty nature of the work of county and local historians, Marvin maintained the ambitious goal of gathering a comprehensive war history for the state. Among other records, she sought the following in a letter:


To the Oregon County War Historian:

RECORDS DESIRED.
1. Men in service in army (Adj. Gen has a record of men called under draft. We will ascertain just how kept and how best supplemented.) We need the names of all enlisted men who claimed Oregon as the home state, with biographies, on forms to be furnished, with records of enlistments, inductions, service, casualties, commissions, and special honors to date. This should be supplemented by letters, diaries, photographed relics, newspaper notices and accounts.

2. Personal service with other agencies (Y.M.C.A., K.C., etc.)

3. Local war activities, (1. Red Cross and Junior Red Cross. 2. Liberty loan, war saving stamp and thrift stamp drives. 3. Food administration. 4. Fuel administration. 5. State Council of Defense. 6. County Councils. 7. Home Guards. 8. War chest committees. 9. War community councils. 10. Farm labor committee. 11. Public service reserve. 12. Medical and dental aid. 13. Boy Scouts. 14. Soldiers welfare board (Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., K.C., A.L.A., Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board, W.C.C.S.) 15. Rehabilitation of returned soldiers. 16. Public health. 17. County and local war legislation. 18. Repression of enemy plots, pacifism, and I.W.W. activities. 19. Public war meetings (leagues for welfare of local soldiers, fathers of soldiers, etc.) 20. Religious welfare. 21. patriotic leagues, etc. 22. Library aid and newspaper contributions. 23. Registration and exemption boards. 24. Belgian relief. 25. French relief-including work for fatherless children of France. 26. Other European relief work.

4. State agencies and federal agencies in the state. (Central office will collect) a. Proclamations of the Governor. b. Legislative acts. c. Military police. d. Oregon representatives in Congress. e. State non-governmental organizations for war service (Red Cross) f. State officers for governmental war service (Food and fuel administrations, liberty bonds, Council of Defense, War savings, Four minute men.) g. Records of Federal Department of Justice in Oregon.

5. Social and economic history. a. War sermons. b. Resolutions of local bodies and public meetings. c. War gardens. d. War labor conditions. e. Changes in agricultural production. f. Local price changes. g. War productions and industries. h. Food conditions.

6. Education history. a. School war work. b. Changes in curriculum in schools and colleges. c. Military training. d. Enlistment records of schools and colleges.

7. War literature. War books, magazine articles, plays, songs and stories written by Oregonians....

Very sincerely yours,
Cornelia Marvin
State Historian

The historical legacy
While Marvin hoped that a rich array of records would flow in from schools and county historians, in the end she accepted much less. Submissions with descriptions of home front activities remained uneven at best. Still, the great effort put into collecting information on the personal histories of the soldiers, sailors, and marines paid off. Local schools forwarded completed information forms for nearly 36,000 out of the 44,000 Oregonians who actively served during World War I. While some of the forms contain only the barest of information, others were replete with attached photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, poetry, and related items.

(Oregon State Defense Council Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 14, November 16, 1918 letter to county war historians from Cornelia Marvin, State Historian)

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