Before the war
After the war
An exhibit by the
Oregon State Archives
State Council of Defense for Oregon|
Securing the historical record
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
document the personal military service histories of the over 35,000
Oregonians in active service during World War I. She also sought to
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
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.
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:
1. Men in service in army (Adj.
Gen has a record of men called under draft. We will ascertain
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
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.,
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,
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
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
(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)