On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Congressionally-approved declaration of war against Germany. Thus the United States formally entered World War I. Now on this 100th anniversary, I’m posting an especially interesting excerpt from Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s Chronicle of America’s Wars: World War I. This is the story of the Four-Minute Men.

Poster advertising the Four-Minute Men

In March, 1917 . . . more Americans seemed ready to enter the Great War. Donald Ryerson, a Chicago businessman, thought war was inevitable. Ryerson enlisted in the Navy. While waiting for his orders, he organized a group of speakers called the Four-Minute Men.

America in 1917 was filled with immigrants. Many of them, as well as many native English speakers, could not read English. Ryerson’s men found a clever way to inform and persuade these people. Each day, about 10 to 13 million people went to the movies. The movies were on film wound around two or more reels. […]

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I 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. […]

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Election Day, 1912. Miriam and her family in Blue Thread search the night sky:

Red lights on the corners of the building’s massive tower flashed the signal that Mr. Wilson had won the presidency. The red and white lights on The Morning Oregonian tower and the horizontal sweep of searchlights across Council Crest confirmed the news.”

Several months later, Chief Justice Edward D. White administered the oath of office to Woodrow Wilson on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol. Look at that crowd!


There’s a crowd today, too, for President Obama’s second inauguration. He’s being publicly sworn in on January 21, after a private oath-taking ceremony yesterday.

Presidential inaugurations in Wilson’s time were still on March 4, on the anniversary of the date that the U.S. Constitution took effect in 1789. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified shortly before President Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, shifted the date to January 20th:

Section 1. […]

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