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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What a horrid year! Men left for war. Women did the best they could on the home front. Victory gardens. Liberty Bonds. Red Cross volunteer work. Everyone dreaded the news from “over there.”

We struggled through the frigid winter of 1917-1918, which was the second arctic winter in a row. Then came influenza, a plague of biblical proportions. While our soldiers were dying in trenches in Europe, we were dying in our beds back home.

In early October, influenza took Ephraim’s sister, Rivka. Until then I’d never seen a man so distraught. Ephraim insisted that Mim stay back in California with Paul, while he buried her back in Portland. By then Mim was three months pregnant with their second child, and he was afraid for her health.

I was there with Mim on the day after Rikva’s funeral when Ephraim telephoned with miraculous news. Mim’s Uncle Hermann and Aunt Sophie in Portland would care for Rikva’s three orphaned children. […]

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A corset might have been a delightful garment in medieval France. The word came from the diminutive of “cors” meaning “body” and it meant a lace bodice. But by about 1800 a corset referred to a stiff, restricting undergarment.  Miriam Josefsohn in Blue Thread, was thankful that she wasn’t wearing one during her travel back to the steppes of biblical Moab.

Corsets…I don’t know how Mama can stand them.

Here’s an ad for a corset from the Morning Oregonian, February 18, 1912. The corset featured here boasts of steel rods that never rust. Ouch!

By 1908, corsets reached to well below the hips, making it difficult to sit down. Coutille (similar to denim) was used for the less expensive corsets, but one could buy a corset made from brocade, ribbon, and lace for an extravagant $50. Corsets began to “loosen up” during World War I (1914-1918), when women took jobs in business and industry to replace men who had left for military service. […]

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