Before the war
After the war
An exhibit by the
Oregon State Archives
After the War
Find work for the veterans, and quickly!
The Communist Party headquarters in San Francisco lie in ruins
after a vigilante rampage. Tensions ran high in the years after
the war as radical groups were targeted throughout the West. (Legacy
Library, Forward-March, Page 465)
A dangerous mix
While numerous celebrations and honors greeted the returning
veterans, there was also a troubling aspect to the situation. Thousands
of workers had flocked to Portland during the war to work in the booming
shipyards and factories. With the end of the war, many of these employers
either closed or curtailed their operations, causing a spike in unemployment.
At the same time, veterans were streaming home, in need of jobs
and with high expectations. The result was a dangerous social mix.
A committee of Portland leaders "became cognizant of the serious
spirit of unrest
during the Christmas period of 1918 and 1919. This situation naturally
had not yet been experienced in the more remote parts of the state
but was being acutely felt in Portland, due no doubt to the intermingling
of a large number of industrial workers thrown out of employment by
the closing of the shipyards with exservice [sic] people who were being
very rapidly discharged from various services practically without funds."
Veterans face tough conditions
Officials had good
cause to be worried. Many of
stateside through large military
training camps, some of which were suffering more than 100 deaths a
day from the influenza epidemic. Moreover, in the first months after
the end of the war, the Army had a practice of releasing men furnished
the "oldest and poorest outfits possible." Discharged in
winter, their shoes were in bad condition and many were not given overcoats.
units were sent off "with but a few dollars per man" leaving
many men without enough money to pay for a week of room and board.
on the eve of the signing of the Armistice, the sight of a uniform
excited the wildest of demonstrations," later "these manifestations
on the part of the public had cooled and many of the men, half sick,
finding themselves thrown in on this rather apathetic public, were
in the frame of mind where the weird and unreasonable teachings of
the I.W.W. found ready lodgement."
Therapists sometimes used hypnosis to help shell shock victims. (Legacy
Preservation Library, Forward-March, Page 118b)
The situation was complicated by the fact that many returning soldiers
had been psychologically and emotionally traumatized by the horrors
of trench warfare. The worst, those with "shell shock" and other debilitating
conditions, were sent to hospitals for treatment. But other veterans
with less severe symptoms returned to a civilian community that didn't
understand their suffering. Often, veterans would put on a brave face
in an attempt to mask the pain. But over time the results
dislocation, violent outbursts, and estrangement from families and
the community, leading to more drifting, unemployed men.
Government leaders respond
The Federal Employment
Service tried to respond to the crisis by setting up a department for
the closing of many of the
shipyards and war industries hit harder than expected. City leaders
great number of disabled exservice [sic] people congregating in Portland
and without work." The increasingly disillusioned men were sometimes
greeted by "a gret [great] number of I.W.W.s and other radical
elements who were openly and viciously preaching the overthrow of the
One report claimed that the IWW started to win over the broke and out
of work veterans by offering them food and clothing: "'Well come
along with us. Our organization will be very glad to give you a meal
until you get back on your feet and we will buy you a suit of clothes.'"
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Commission worked with numerous
groups to find veterans jobs after the war.
(OSA, Soldiers and Sailors Commission Records, Case Files)
"Owing to the existing serious condition arising from demobilization,"
Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 43, which took effect in mid-January
1919. It created
Soldiers' and Sailors' Commission to provide care and financial assistance
to veterans and allocated $100,000 to fund it. The goal was to keep
those returning from the armed forces out of trouble until they could
find a job, at which time they would presumably become stable citizens
less susceptible to radicalism.
The commission cooperated with the federal Department of Labor,
American Legion, and various other organizations to operate employment
bureaus, often partially funded by the commission. One bureau, the
Liberty Temple in Portland, found
jobs for veterans during its 16 month run. The commission also funded
employment bureaus in Astoria, Eugene, Marshfield, La Grande, Medford,
Pendleton, and Salem.
Drumming up more jobs
But just having employment bureaus was
not enough if there were no jobs. So, the commission resolved to drum
up more jobs for the veterans too.
Chamber of Commerce, it launched a publicity campaign "to reach
every employer who might be induced to add to his payroll...." Employers,
especially in the timber industry, responded. Many others signed a
pledge to hire 10% additional workers to help the unemployed veterans.
The commission cast a wide net in searching for jobs, sometimes placing
veterans in far off and unfamiliar environments. One enterprise that
cooperated with the Soldiers' and Sailors' Commission was the Cornucopia
Mines Company in the remote Wallowa Mountains near
the Idaho border. Its representative sent the following letter to the
October 3, 1919
Soldiers' and Sailors' Commission
of the State of Oregon.
As we are very badly in need
of common labor at our mines, situated in Baker County, Oregon,
we desire to place the following information at your disposal,
in hope that it may help you in sending us men:
We have two gold mines and the
class of labor we need is unskilled, the work to be performed
is shoveling and tramming underground. The wages are $4.00
per day for eight hours, we charge $1.00 per day for board
and room, but the men are supposed to furnish their own blankets.
There is opportunity for advancement to better positions,
such as mining and timbering, which pays $4.50 and $5.00
and there is also an opportunity to contract the work which
pays from $4.50 to $6.00 per day with the minmum [minimum]
of $4.00 guaranteed [.] In some places the mines are wet
but in such places rubber coats are furnished by the company,
to protect the men from the drip.
Fares will be advanced to the
men and deducted from their pay checks after they have gone
Very truly yours,
CORNUCOPIA MINES COMPANY
P.S. Keep on sending men until
notified to stop.
Less than a month later, the company, which recruited veterans from
as far away as New York City, had a change of heart. In a letter to
the commission, it cited an improved labor situation but also hinted
at problems with the Portland men it recruited, saying that since "...a
number of men who have come from Portland object to being so far from
and do not care to stay any length of time it would seem advisable
to discontinue the sending of men here...."
"She also said she did not
believe Mr. Snyder would ever repay the loan the commission had
(Soldiers and Sailors Commission Records, Earl
Snyder loan payment case file, 1925)
a commission tracking report detailing Snyder's lack of progress.
A frugal commission
Overall, the commission was
satisfied with the results of its employment efforts for veterans and "felt
itself justified in closing all labor agencies on April 24, 1920...." But
its work in other areas of support for returning veterans continued
for several years.
that work focused
aid, mostly in the form of loans for living expenses and education.
The commission carefully tracked the use of
the money it lent to veterans. And, it was
stringent about the qualifications of those who applied. Merle Saxe,
a senior at Oregon Agricultural College, found this out when
studies. The commission questioned his claimed earnings of $40 per
month as too low and it wondered why he didn't sell his Ford automobile
to help pay for his expenses. In the end, it rejected his application. View part
of his application case file. (8 page PDF)
The commission also spent considerable effort in attempting to collect
on long overdue loans. Many of the veterans wrote back with excuses
of woe. But after initial assurances of payment "in the near future,"
others, such as Frank Crawford of McMinnville, simply failed to respond
to the increasingly urgent requests for payment of the $50 he owed
In his case, the commission was reduced to asking the question: "How
about being patriotic and sending a small remittance to apply on the
above [balance due]?" The commission continued on as a legal entity
until 1936 when Governor Charles Martin abolished it.
(Soldiers and Sailors Commission Records,
Department Correspondence, Box 2, American Red Cross Folder; Cornucopia
Mines file; Saxe: 75A-115, Case Files; Crawford: 75A-115, Case Files;
Oregon Laws 1919,