the Home Front
Boys and girls pitch in too!
Left: Boys who worked 300 hours in farming for the U.S. Boys' Working
Reserve earned this bronze service badge; Right:
enrolled in the reserve received this button; Bottom: Boys who
worked full time all summer earned this service bar. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Publications
and Ephemera, Box 9, Folder 2)
One young wag in Klamath Falls offered the following observation: "The
'grown ups' of Klamath County have been congratulated many times on the
manner in which they contributed to every drive, benefit and entertainment
but it is the boys and girls who urge them on. The young people come
home to preach the gospel of patriotism and the older ones carry it out.
However, the young ones do not stop at preaching but also practice."
Throughout Oregon, children proved these words to be true as a number
of organizations formed, or adapted, to include them in the
as the United States Boys' Working Reserve. Others, such as the Junior
Red Cross, engaged both boys and girls in productive work.
"Making boy power count"
War brought chronic food shortages to the United States. America's
demand, coupled with the need to double exports to desperate European allies,
led to calls for greatly increased production. But at the same time, the
suffered an ongoing labor shortage. In an attempt to solve both problems
at once, the U.S. Department of Labor organized the United States Boys'
Working Reserve in May 1917. The goal was to enroll hundreds of thousands
of 16 to 20 year old boys to work primarily on farms during summer vacation,
thus boosting production and easing the labor shortage. Much of the
remainder of 1917 was spent building an organization in each of the states
libraries and high schools were targeted as conduits for enrolling members.
The National Program of Library Cooperation asked local libraries to
literature and applications to "all boy patrons" and to compile
a list of all reserve age boys. The librarian was asked to be on the
for boys who did not attend school so
could be recruited into the reserve. Likewise, high school principals
were asked to steer boys into the program. In some states, school holiday
and spring vacations were shortened in order to add weeks to the summer
working season. And schools made provisions in the fall to help boys
catch up with studies in the event that farm duties ran past the beginning
of the school year. View enrollment
The uniform of the U.S. Boys' Working Reserve. (OSA, Oregon
State Historian's Correspondence, Box
45) View catalog. (7 page PDF)
All physically fit boys were eligible. The reserve noted that participation
was entirely voluntary. But, as with other war work, obligation played
a role: "It is the duty of every boy to file for membership immediately;
it is the sterner duty of every parent to see that his boy is enrolled."
Pressure was put on county directors and enrolling officers to get every
boy signed up: "MAKE YOUR DISTRICT 100%." In Oregon enrollment began
on April 1, 1918 and it fell short of expectations. The Oregon defense
council cited a lack of time to enroll students before the end of the
school year. Because of this, "there was not much effort made to organize
and place boys residing outside the City of Portland...." Still, over
13,000 boys were enrolled in Portland.
Upon enrollment, each boy was
required to pass a physical examination and provide an oath of service.
He would then receive his enrollment button and certificate. Moreover,
was "then privileged to put on the military National Reserve uniform,
with the arm chevron." The reserve "hoped" that each boy
would buy a uniform. But it recognized that the cost of up to $10 could
be too much
for some families, and therefore made it optional. Boys who met certain
criteria were eligible later to receive and wear special service badges.
for farm life
boys often found themselves at a disadvantage when working on farms.
Because of this, the reserve asked boys to study "Farm-Craft" lessons
at their local school or library in the winter months to learn the "elements
of farm practice." In the spring, the reserve organized a training camp
at the Multnomah County
provide basic hands-on instruction. About 150 boys attended
the training provided by Oregon Agricultural College instructors.
camps across the country used a system of drill and calisthenics so that
the boys were "hardened and strengthened" for the work ahead. Another
training method for city boys was described in "Boy Power" the monthly
bulletin of the reserve: "They may be taken to the livery stables or
a near-by farm and given lessons in harnessing and feeding horses, and
the language of horse driving and care given to them."
Thirty dollars and board
Once enrolled and trained,
the boys were assigned to farm camps or to live with a farm family. The
value of the
to employers: "...even though inexperienced, the strong, healthy
boy, inspired by patriotism, is a capable and adaptable helper in the
or factory." But officials also were sensitive to concerns about
child abuse and child labor laws. The
been firm in upholding child labor laws and contending for reasonable
hours of toil." While it recognized that farm hours were long and varied,
12 hours of work in a day seemed to mark the upper limits. Generally,
boys were expected to work the equivalent of eight hours a day six days
a week. Reserve officials were charged with actively supervising the
as well as the "health and moral welfare" of the boys on farms and in
the farm camps, backed, of course, by the full authority of the Department
This booklet cover shows a heroic view of the work of
the U.S. Boys' Working Reserve. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records,
State Historian's Correspondence, Box
Many of the Portland boys were sent to one of 14 YMCA camps in the
vicinity of berry fields and cherry orchards. They were to earn a minimum
of about $30 per month plus board. For this sum, the boys together harvested
over $21,000 worth of strawberries, loganberries, and cherries that season.
The program was popular with farmers and fruit growers who were happy
from the labor shortage.
A continuing need for the reserve
With the signing of the Armistice
in November 1918, the hostilities ended but food shortages in Europe
by Herbert Hoover to rise steeply as the former Central Powers nations
of Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Turkey urgently needed help. Thus,
reserve officials planned an even bigger effort for the United States
in the next year: "Its production in 1919 must far surpass all previous
records in every state in the Union if the world is truly to be 'made
safe for democracy.'" Once again, "boy power" would be called on
to fill the breech.
In addition to the U.S. Boys' Working Reserve, Oregon boys also
had the option of helping the Boy Scouts of America in its war work. And
scout director: "We wish to say that the Portland Council, Boy Scouts
of America, have been in every drive, every piece of patriotic work, and
piece of public service...in Portland." Over 1,200 boys helped with
the work in Portland, sometimes forming over 100 groups per month. They
errands, solicited funds, and participated in numerous drives. Scouts in
Portland also distributed over 30,000 pamphlets on war information and
spoke at various events.
The Junior Red Cross
The Red Cross was very active in Oregon schools where children
could help produce needed items and be educated at the same time. Schools
were enthusiastic about the partnership as the director of junior membership
for the Northwestern Division of the Red Cross reported to the Oregon superintendent
of public instruction
in August 1918: " Almost universally I find that both teachers and pupils
are eager for work- so eager, in fact, that it has been quite a difficult task
at times to find things for them to make which are both useful and educational
at the same time."
Indeed the children did stay active in a variety of ways for the cause.
A report documenting the work of the Junior Red Cross in Oregon for the
year ending June 1, 1918 noted just some of the typical accomplishments:
The Grants Pass Red Cross school auxiliaries showed off some
of the war work of students in this display. (OSA, Oregon Defense
Council Records, World War I Photographs)
ASTORIA: Have gathered 2500 pounds of digitalis [medication made from
the foxglove plant]. They are beginning to gather sphagnum moss [used
as a surgical dressing]. The
6000 surgical dressings.
HARNEY: Made 1000 Red Cross badges for Seniors.
JOSEPHINE: Helped the Seniors at sales. Sent in Red Cross song.
LA GRANDE: Made filing card boxes, paper holders, and sock stretchers for Chapter.
MORROW: Juniors took care of small children while Mothers went to Red Cross meetings.
One shoulder shawl made of old woolen stockings by a teacher in Morrow County
aroused a great deal of comment at the exhibit at Pittsburgh.
PORTLAND: Portland Juniors made and sent 144 pints of marmalade to Vancouver
THE DALLES: Juniors distributed cards for Food Administration, ran errands, et
Participation was remarkable. Clatsop County alone accounted for 28
school auxiliaries with a total membership of 2718. By the end of the
war, the county's Junior Red Cross had produced a large number of items
designed to make life a little easier and more enjoyable for the men
in military training camps and in combat. These included 1000 joke books,
100 bedside tables, 150 bedside bags, 460 property bags, 400 handkerchiefs,
and 46 pillows. The chapter's children also had the distinction of gathering
80% of the foxglove used by the United States in
the war. The children were active in other ways as well, buying large
amounts of liberty bonds and war savings bonds, gathering used clothing
for drives, running errands, carrying packages, designing posters, and "adopting" several
Josephine County children divided the work according to grades. High
school boys made bedside tables while the girls made bags, layettes,
and similar items. The grade school students made wash cloths, tray cloths,
and napkins. Children also competed for prizes to collect the most magazines
and first class paper. The Red Cross then sold the items to fund programs.
(Oregon State Defense Council
Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 16, 37, 38, 45)