Lynch on Burg and Maietta and Miele and Ott and Shade, 'Duty Calls at Home: Central Pennsylvania Responds to the Great War, 1914-1918'

Steven Burg, John Maietta, Peter Miele, Jennifer Ott, Mary Lee Shade, eds.
Michael Lynch

Steven Burg, John Maietta, Peter Miele, Jennifer Ott, Mary Lee Shade, eds. Duty Calls at Home: Central Pennsylvania Responds to the Great War, 1914-1918. Shippensburg: Center for Applied History, Shippensburg University, 2014. 282 pp. $16.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-312-06925-1.

Reviewed by Michael Lynch (U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)
Published on H-Pennsylvania (March, 2017)
Commissioned by Allen J. Dieterich-Ward

What Does It Mean to Me? Making Local Meaning from a Global War

Duty Calls at Home is a collection of essays that examines the effects of World War I on central Pennsylvania. Originally begun as a graduate class history project at Shippensburg University, the essays study different aspects of the war's effect on individual citizens, colleges and schools, and the communities of the region. Edited collections of this nature are often uneven and overlapping, but, at their best, also add to the richness of the discussion by incorporating multiple perspectives. The authors have mined a rich vein of primary sources, especially newspapers, to report the war’s effects as local people saw them.

The first two essays assess the effects of the rapid mobilization of soldiers on local communities. In “The Boys Are Called: Popular Response to the World War I Mobilization of the Pennsylvania National Guard,” John Maietta studies the mobilization of Pennsylvania National Guard units in Carlisle and Harrisburg, and the effects of that mobilization on those communities. Maietta provides a brief overview of National Guard history, which is important to understand local activities. The Pennsylvania Guard got early deployment experience on the Mexican border, beginning in July 1916 in support of the Punitive Expedition. Those regiments returned home in January 1917 to near-universal acclaim, and began mustering out. Fear of potential German sabotage and espionage kept some units on active duty, however, until President Woodrow Wilson federalized the entire National Guard in July 1917. Maietta’s study of the newspapers of the period reveals that public attitudes toward the National Guard units remained generally positive, though enthusiasm waxed and waned. The majority of citizens were very proud of their local “heroes” while a few denigrated the Guard’s border bridge duties. The call-up for war invigorated local residents, who turned out in large numbers to see the units depart. Maietta found that, in the Carlisle celebrations, “religion seems to have played proportionally a greater role in the community,” since much of the support came from the churches, but Harrisburg was no less enthusiastic (p. 36). This story ends in December 1917 when wartime censorship ended coverage of National Guard units in local newspapers. His analysis of the public’s attitudes is excellent, and he makes very good use of his source material. He might profitably have expanded the essay by studying those same sources after the war. His use of other secondary sources to fill out the story is also very good, but the inclusion of some, such as the discredited Abrams Doctrine myth, is troubling.

While Maietta explores the effects of units deploying from communities, Peter Miele takes the opposite approach in “Men, Morality, and Misbehavior: A Social Study of the World War I Camps at Gettysburg and the Town That Surrounded Them, 1917-1918.” Miele examines how the sudden influx of thousands of soldiers affected Gettysburg, as well as the town’s attempts to provide a wholesome environment for the soldiers. The arrival of large numbers of troops in and around a small town certainly had an effect on the citizens of Gettysburg and other towns in the region. Miele describes the efforts of the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA), local churches, and social agencies to provide wholesome entertainment for off-duty soldiers. This was as much for the soldiers themselves as for the safety of the citizens. Miele does an excellent job connecting the local efforts at instilling moral behavior in the troops to the larger Progressive movement in the nation. He could have made a stronger linkage to the Prohibition movement then underway in the country in order to reinforce the points about preventing soldiers from drinking. Miele notes that the local efforts under the aegis of the CTCA were largely, though not completely, successful. Though he focuses on central Pennsylvania, Miele provides a very helpful comparison between the camp at Gettysburg and Camp Merritt, New Jersey, and finds similar experiences. This indicates that the CTCA plans seemed to function at a national level. A more thorough comparison would have made the essay even richer. 

Part 2, “Echoes across Campus,” examines the impact of the war on educational institutions. The four essays presented explore Dickinson College, Wilson College, Cumberland Valley State Normal School (CVSNS) (now Shippensburg University), and Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) at the collegiate level, as well as Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIIS), Mercersburg Academy, and Westtown School at the secondary or prep school level. In his chapter, Gilbert Reinhart examines Dickinson College, CVSNS, and (CIIS). He argues that the schools had different wartime experiences, but their similarities are more striking, especially the colleges. Reinhart notes that the primary difference between the two colleges came with the addition of military training. Dickinson College established a Students Army Training Corps (SATC) under War Department auspices in 1918, and required all male students under age twenty-one to participate. The schools developed communications programs similar to that at other schools, cancelled sports seasons, and established Red Cross chapters so their female students could also participate in the war effort. Reinhart argues that, “by the time the war ended, Dickinson College in some ways resembled a federally-run military training base more than a private liberal arts school” (p. 89). On the other hand, CVSNS opted not to establish an SATC program, and its leadership instead focused on supporting the war effort by “remaining focused on the education of teachers” (p. 90). These schools, and in fact, all schools under the study, experienced declining enrollment as students left to enlist in the military or join other supporting efforts. Reinhart captures the mood of change on campuses very well, and he describes the effect of the war on Dickinson College equally well. His treatment of the school is uneven, however, with CVSNS meriting only two pages.

Reinhart's inclusion of CIIS with the two colleges is somewhat incongruous, because it had a completely different mission and student body than did the others. Nevertheless the school joined the war effort, and many of its students volunteered for service. However, the difficulty with including CIIS with the other two quickly becomes apparent. He helpfully includes a history of how the school was developed but does not include demographics of the student body, which included students much younger than military age. Reinhart argues that “the Carlisle Indian Industrial School endured the most change during World War I,” but offers little data to support that beyond the fact that a “high percentage of male students left school to enlist in the Army” (p. 91). Without numbers or percentages from the other schools to compare, this is not possible to verify. His assertion may rest on the fact that the school closed during the war, but Reinhart does not address the other issues, predating the war, that resulted in its closing. He concludes that “educational institutions were forced to change in different ways based on different levels of government involvement in their operation” (p. 93), but this is the least satisfying and therefore least convincing part of his essay. He crafts his argument so as to elicit sympathy for three helpless educational institutions that were apparently treated unfairly by an overbearing federal government, but this ignores the fact that Dickinson College requested its SATC, rather than having it thrust upon the school. He seems to argue that the SATC destroyed Dickinson’s educational mission, and only CVSNS was able to retain its purpose, but this is unconvincing, as later essays in the volume demonstrate. To add depth to this argument, Reinhart should have explored the effects that government funding, and lack of it, had on the two schools. To gain some perspective, he might also have evaluated the length of time the SATC was in effect. Finally, assessing the federal government’s involvement in the federally run CIIS is redundant. These issues aside, Reinhart has capably explained one aspect of World War I collegiate history that invites further study.

In her chapter on the evolving curriculum at Dickinson College, Wilson College, Pennsylvania College, and CVSNS, Christy Fic argues that curricular change occurred in four primary areas: addition of special courses, adoption of military training, relaxation of academic standards, and changes to language courses. She examines how the schools “struggled to balance their responsibility to offer students the best education possible [and] support the war” (p. 96). She contends that the schools “sacrificed academic freedom and relaxed educational policies” in an effort to meet the twin demands of education and national support (pp. 97-98). Fic does an excellent job of setting the context for the discussion by summarizing the existing historiography and tracing the development of that historiography over the years. She then examines the schools in the context of the demands made of them. To support the war effort, schools added “war-related” courses to their curriculum, such as Telegraphy, Stenography and Typewriting, Beginning French, Mechanical Drawing, Food Conservation and Hygiene, Economic Principles and Problems, Liquor Problems from the Economic Standpoint, and War Issues. The appearance of these courses in 1917 and 1918 indicates Dickinson’s desire to prepare students for possible war service, but at a century’s remove, none of the courses would seem out of line today (with calligraphy updated to current technology).

Fic’s discussion would have been richer with an examination of how the curriculum was broadened by these additions. In addition, her primary focus is on Dickinson and a fuller explanation of the other schools’ curricula would have made this essay stronger. Fic addresses the military training aspects of the colleges as Reinhart does, but points out that the faculty and administration of Dickinson College and Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) College requested SATC, and the students enthusiastically supported it. She includes CVSNS as well, but omits discussion of Wilson College. Perhaps there is no adequate information available because Wilson was a women’s college, but a discussion of whether or not Wilson addressed other issues would have made the discussion richer. All of the schools adopted flexible approaches to academics, but Fic argues that this was due primarily to declining enrollments rather than patriotic fervor. The one area in which all schools expressed some level of difficulty was in German-language instruction. She concludes that all except Wilson College were able to combat the rising anti-German feeling in the public and retain their German instruction.

Mary Lee Shade’s analysis of CIIS comes closest to an objective evaluation of the government’s role in wartime changes. As a creation of the federal government, CIIS was of course affected by government decisions. She gives an excellent view of the effect of the war on the students, and by extension the rest of the region. Her description omits the fact, however, that the Indian schools were on the way out before the war. The essay provides a brief history of the school, and then chronicles the activities of the students during the war. This, paired with information from other essays, provides valuable insights. To clearly establish the context, her essay would have profited from a better description of the national forces at work that led to the closure of the school.

The last essay in the group explores two very different secondary schools: Mercersburg Academy and Westtown School. Natalie Fox argues that these schools thrived despite one being founded by a German community and the other by pacifist Quakers. Fox notes the similarities and differences between the two schools, and the same comparisons to the schools in the other essays become obvious. Notably, both schools were able to maintain German-language instruction. While Mercersburg’s German roots clearly played a role, the more fundamental difference between the two schools and others was private versus public. The main focus of this well-written essay is the different approaches to patriotism. Mercersburg’s experience mirrored that of other schools with calls to patriotically support the war effort, especially the many Mercersburg alumni serving in the armed forces. Westtown, true to its Quaker roots, channeled its efforts into humanitarian but nonmilitary activities. The Quakers of Westtown linked their activities to those of its alumni, many of whom were missionaries. The strength of Fox’s essay lies not just in her description and analysis, but also in her acknowledgment that the paucity of resources presents a somewhat limited picture. She concludes the essay with some very insightful questions that will lead to greater study.

Part 3, “Communities of War,” consists of three essays that examine other aspects of community life, and how the local society was affected by, and adapted to, the demands of the war. Some of the essays highlight the increasingly important role that women played in society. Bradley Barlow’s “Helping from the Homefront: The American Red Cross in Carlisle, Pennsylvania,” compares the local Red Cross chapter to the national organization, and finds that women had greater leadership opportunities at the local level. His research shows that if the local chapter reflects national trends, then more women across the country may have had leadership positions than the national structure suggests. Barlow does an excellent job describing the growth of the local Red Cross mission and organization, though his narrative would have been strengthened by a better description of the Carlisle Red Cross structure and how it fit into the national organization. He would also have profited by describing exactly what “membership” meant to the organization in terms of workers or simply financial resources.

Barlow strengthens his argument by presenting contrary evidence to all the good work the Red Cross did, such as local questions about the need for Red Cross knitting efforts when the army provided sweaters. Like the other authors, he notes the overt appeals to patriotism to garner donations and support for the Red Cross. Barlow concludes that the “American Red Cross was one of the most important domestic organizations of the World War I era” (p. 212). He could have strengthened this assertion with another paragraph or two to outline the Red Cross’s total contributions to the war effort, with an emphasis on Carlisle. His argument about greater opportunities for women is important too, and deserves more follow-up research: Was World War I a momentary spike in opportunities for women solely because of the number of men mobilized and deployed? Or was it a watershed event that heralded future additional opportunities? A short survey of postwar Red Cross organizations might answer this question nicely.

Elizabeth Garlick explores the role of women in the national food supply, using an impressive array of primary and secondary sources to describe civilian food production efforts during the war, both in the United States and Europe. While Garlick provides a great deal of well-documented data, her somewhat unfocused narrative distracts a bit from her argument. She does an excellent job of bringing out the contributions of women to the war effort on the home front, and also illuminates the government’s efforts to recruit women to join gardening and farming efforts. She misses the opportunity, however, to fully link the wartime roles of women to their increased social and professional opportunities. Like some of the other authors, Garlick spends more time on description than analysis. Her initial literature review provides brief summaries of some of her sources, but she does not link them to an overall argument. Garlick offers an excellent explanation of national land food conservation efforts, so the issue of rationing is also sometimes muddled. This is an interesting story and worthy of explanation, but loses a bit of the linkage to the Carlisle area. A brief description of gardening efforts in Carlisle fails to analyze the effects of those efforts, for example, but given the short duration of America’s involvement in the war, such data may not exist.

The final essay, Sarah Pendleton’s “War through the Lens: World War I Photojournalism,” explores the development of photography as a journalistic medium. She argues that the use of wartime photos in newspapers inaugurated the development of photojournalism as we know it today. Pendleton reviews the historical literature of wartime photos used in newspapers from their origins in large newspapers and later to smaller publications such as those in Carlisle. The war was arguably most visible through the pages of these local newspapers, and the change in the tone and extent of coverage, especially in photos, was illuminating. The scope of the essays in this work was limited to World War I, but Pendleton provides an excellent and necessary extension of her analysis to the World War II era, adding depth and clarity to her exegesis on wartime photojournalism.

As a conclusion, Steven Burg, a professor of history at Shippensburg University and the instructor of the course from which the essays were drawn, summarizes the war’s impact on Shippensburg with a short story of the town’s first soldier killed in action in World War I. His essay captures the town’s attitude toward its war dead and the war itself in its immediate aftermath. He also explores the changing of those attitudes with the passage of time, providing an excellent coda to a collection of essays that revisits an old issue with new eyes.

In reading an edited volume such as this, I am tempted to focus on uneven accounts, minor stylistic errors, and one-sided evidence, and these things cannot be ignored. For example, all of the authors refer to government pressure on colleges to demonstrate their patriotism, but none define exactly what that pressure was. The arguments could have been stronger with examples of specific government actions or coercion, such as withholding funds or requiring certain classes to be taught. The absence of specific examples suggests that the authors equate public opinion and the national patriotic fervor with bureaucratic coercion. Moreover, the authors fail to discuss how federal government programs, such as SATC, potentially helped colleges remain solvent by paying tuition and giving incentives for students to remain in school.

Even taking problems such as these into account, however, Duty Calls at Home offers a rich history derived from underused resources and a fresh perspective that allows the reader to gain a much better understanding and appreciation for the impact of a global war on a local population. The authors have provided not just interesting and compelling stories but also interpretation of international historical events focused at the local level. “All politics is local”—so the saying goes—and the same may be said for history. The great value of these essays lies in their locally focused, important, tangible meaning from events made abstract by time and distance. The occasional contradictions are to be celebrated rather than scorned, as new and different interpretations of both old and newly discovered evidence advances the body of historical knowledge. For the reader seeking to make local meaning from a war a century ago in a faraway land, this collection of essays is an excellent resource.

Printable Version:

Citation: Michael Lynch. Review of Burg, Steven; Maietta, John; Miele, Peter; Ott, Jennifer; Shade, Mary Lee, eds., Duty Calls at Home: Central Pennsylvania Responds to the Great War, 1914-1918. H-Pennsylvania, H-Net Reviews. March, 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.