Rankin-invitation-tintI freely admit that I put Serakh out of my mind, although I did remember my promise about the prayer shawl. So much happened in 1917, and most of it I’d rather forget. The one bright spot was Jeannette Rankin, so I’ll start there.

In March of that year, when President Wilson was starting his second term, Jeannette was sworn in as the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Mim was ecstatic. Ephraim stayed home with Paul, so she and I about two dozen of our friends celebrated another victory for women. You know, some women still couldn’t vote in this country then—Wilson should have done so much more for us. But that’s water under the bridge now. And we had such a fine luncheon. Blue-ribbon trout and big sky apple pie.

By 1917 the Great War was raging full force in Europe, threatening to draw is in. In April, sure enough, Wilson took us to war against Germany. Jeannette was one of the few people in Congress to vote against our sending our boys over there to fight. I wish we’d had a hundred more congressmen like her.

Conscription started the next month. The law required all men between 21 and 30 to register for service. Mim was beside herself, because Ephraim was 29. And by then he was an American citizen.

Times were hard, with the shortages for the war and so many young men gone. Ephraim took a second job as a night watchman in a munitions factory. Mim scrimped and saved. She returned work at Shaker Press for a few hours every week, while little Paul stayed in his playpen there and watched her. The typography work was good for her, I must say. She enjoyed being back at the presses. With her first pay check she bought a jade plant.

“I want something green and alive that’s not part of a victory garden,” she told me. “A jade is so hardy, a real survivor, like my Ephraim. And maybe it will bring us luck.”

I can’t tell you how many times Mim paced my kitchen wringing her hands with worry. Thank goodness—or that jade plant—the war ended before they called Ephraim to active duty.

Sow_victory_poster_usgovtI was involved then in design work for the government, through a connection I had at the art gallery. You wouldn’t believe how quickly they geared up the propaganda machine. Here I am in a poster for victory gardens. All the pro-America business seemed fine, but I felt sick at the way our government turned every German into a villain. Mim was half-German, you know. I was so glad she was born in this country and her last name was now sounded Polish rather than German. Look WWIHunNatlArchivesat this poster. And it wasn’t the worst.

Don’t even ask me about the events in Russia. Horrid, horrid, horrid. Count Alexei was a member of the Tsar’s family—a Romanov in exile. By then there was no doubt that the revolutionary forces would sweep the old regime out of power. Alexei feared for his family’s safety, and I later he was proved right.

In the midst of this, we women were simply asking for the right to vote nationwide. Was that too much to ask? Did they really think we were traitors? Suffragists held a vigil at the White House, and it was peaceful for the most part. Still, they jailed the leaders and beat them—yes, they beat them. In Occoquan Workhouse. November 15, 1917. Haven’t you heard of the Night of Terror?

Mim was furious. “Last March, at that luncheon for Jeannette Rankin, everything looked so hopeful,” she told me. “Now it seems we are on the edge of disaster.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>