Bringing World War I into the Iowa classroom
When the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, Iowans by and large supported it.
Though the war had been raging on in Europe for about three years, U.S. officials could no longer ignore the unrestricted sinking of unarmed merchant ships at the hands of German U-boats. Worse, they learned through an intercepted telegram that Germany was trying to woo Mexico, in which that government was promised U.S. land in exchange for joining forces with Germany.
Now, at the centennial of what was then called the Great War, it’s interesting to see how Iowans contributed to the war effort:
- Over 114,000 Iowa men either enlisted or were drafted. Of those, 3,576 died.
- One of the first U.S. men to die in battle was Iowan Merle Hay of Glidden.
- The first U.S. woman to die in the war was Marion Crandell, a former French teacher from Davenport. She died when an artillery shell exploded at the canteen in which she was serving.
- Armed forces were segregated at the time. On the south side of Des Moines, an Army facility called Fort Des Moines became the first in the nation to train African-American officers.
- At the time, a majority of the foreign-born people living in Iowa were from Germany. They faced difficult times in which their loyalty was questioned. In some instances, speaking German in public was prohibited.
- The war time was actually a financial boon for Iowa’s farmers, who were pressed into growing as much food as possible to feed the ally’s troops.
- An Iowan, Evan Jones of Ottumwa, was one of 128 Americans who died after a German U-boat sunk the liner Lusitania in 1915. This event, though it enraged Americans, has been erroneously cited over the years as the reason the U.S. entered World War I.
If you would like more information about the Great War for your classroom, check out these resources.
In addition, the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston is offering one-hour tours focusing on Iowa during World War I.
And finally, plan a field trip to the State Historical Museum on April 6 (3rd-5th grades) or April 7 (6th-12th grades) for the spring History Alive: World War I program. The program will highlight Iowa's World War I history through dynamic workshops and activities.