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This is the latest entry in a series of blog posts spotlighting stories and records of Virginia’s involvement in World War I.

The Council’s activities covered everything from transportation to livestock. Local branches did a great deal of practical work and funneled information which might require action back to the state council. The Second Virginia Council of Defense records, now organized as part of the Records of the Virginia War History Commission, contain a wealth of interesting and sometimes unexpected information about the war effort of 1917-1918.

Preparing and supporting soldiers was one of the council’s chief goals. To that end, the collection contains examples of small handbooks for soldiers offering legal guidance on organizing their affairs and ensuring their family’s protection after deployment. Similarly, it includes information on special life insurance programs for departing soldiers. The records also contain literature suggesting ideas for community patriotic programs, letters to religious leaders encouraging pro-war sermons, and the published texts of pro-war speeches meant to boost morale and foster a national spirit.

One subject covered at some length by the council is venereal disease. At first glance that might seem an odd topic, but during World War I sexually transmitted diseases caused the Army to discharge some 10,000 men—not to mention all the man-hours lost to those on sick leave. Concern about debilitated soldiers became so widespread that within the first year of the war 32 states, including Virginia, passed laws requiring prostitutes or other persons that officials deemed promiscuous or suspicious to undergo compulsory examination for venereal disease. In 1918, a council official wrote a letter to a Colonial Heights judge who had released two suspected prostitutes after they filed writs of habeas corpus. The official reminded the judge that no one held under this suspicion was to be released on bail before being examined and found free of disease.

The breadth of subjects related to U. S. mobilization and preparedness that the SVCD addressed may be surprising. In the records one will find pamphlets and publications on topics ranging from children’s health and wellness (“your community[…] realiz[es] how much the health of babies means to their fathers and brothers who are fighting in France”) to recreation and personal fitness (“For a Stronger America”) to appropriate war work for children (the Boy Scouts played a role). Also covered are gardening and rationing (“Sow the Seeds of Victory!”) and “Americanizing” new arrivals to the U.S. Diving into these records is a fascinating and sometimes sobering reminder of all that goes into or goes away during a nationwide war effort.

–Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist

Vince Brooks

Vince Brooks

Senior Local Records Archivist

7 Comments

  • Mr. Dana Jackson says:

    My grandfather used to tell me about the War Savings Certificates and Savings Stamps (often called “Liberty Stamps”) during this time. I love to see presentations like this; please keep it up.

  • Rami Yoakum says:

    I did some research for a local history book about the Spanish flu (Chillicothe, Ohio: Camp Sherman). There the government/US Army imposed a five mile “health zone” around the camp, as well as making it a crime for taxi drivers to transport women who might be prostitutes and soldiers. Dozens of women were involuntarily “quarantined” in the county’s poor house/infirmary. VD was certainly a concern and one that the military took seriously.

  • Kathleen Severance says:

    In addition to the Hoover food pledge cards, there was a women’s survey/registration that took place during WW1 as part of the National Council of Defense’s Women’s efforts: do any of the original cards still exist in the collections in the state of Virginia? Thank you so much for the interesting article.
    Kind regards,
    Kathy

    • Vince says:

      Ms. Severance,
      It appears that the cards do still exist in the Virginia War History Commission Records. The finding aid (http://search.vaheritage.org/vivaxtf/view?docId=lva/vi00958.xml) contains several references to the Woman’s Committee. You can search inside the finding aid for all references, but Series XI Office Files, Subseries F Index Cards (Box 195-196), Series XIV Second Council of Defense, Subseries A Source Material (Box 258-259), and Series XV Margaret Kern Papers (Box 280) contain most of the references.
      We’re glad that you enjoyed the blog post.

  • Larry Yates says:

    I came here because of a reprinted news item from 1918 in the Winchester Star that mentioned the Council of Defense, which I had never heard of. Thanks for this info.
    The article describes an activity by the Council immediately after the Armistice which is a bit different than those you describe.
    “Alarmed over the outbreaks which have occurred in various places since the ending of the war, three of which have taken place in Virginia, the Council of Defense has sent out circulars to mayors, police and sheriffs, calling attention to the fact that there have recently been in Virginia unusually and uncalled for purchases of firearms, and asking that measures be taken at once to stop such purchases. In Winchester, it is said, no hardware dealer or other person has a license to sell firearms.
    Nov. 20, 1918”

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