Home / Collections / Podcast & Blog » World War I


Collections Up Close

Two weeks until World War I Daybook launch!

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Our interns and staff have been hard at work, and in two weeks we will launch the World War I Daybook blog. Each day beginning April 1 we will be tracking Minnesota’s involvement in “The Great War” with items from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection, including diaries, letters, artifacts, newspapers, and more. Join us as we delve into the lives soldiers, nurses, senators and suffragists to examine the war from multiple angles.

Don’t miss the all of the World War I and homefront related artifact for that era in our Collections, now available digitally!

And mark your calendars for the Minnesota Historical Society’s newest exhibit WWI America, opening April 8 at the History Center in St. Paul.

Stephanie Olson
Collections Assistant

Bookmark and Share

World War I Daybook Preview: A Nurse’s Story

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Hello, my name is Rose Winter, and I was one of two interns working on the World War I Daybook project this summer. I spent my internship going through a variety of smaller manuscript collections in the Gale Family Library, my favorite of which was the Dee Smith collection.

Dee Smith left her clerical job with the Minneapolis Department of Education in June 1918 to go overseas with the Red Cross Department of Personnel in Paris. Her letters home, which are the main component of this collection, were usually addressed to her mother and a woman named Cora who may have been her sister. They are seldom about her work, and instead concerned matters such as going sightseeing, having fun with her friends, and descriptions of wartime Paris.

Letters from July 1918, when Smith was in New York waiting to ship out, reassure her family that she would not be needing a ball gown. This decision was farsighted because in September of that year, when she was in Paris, the American Expeditionary Forces took over the American Red Cross to the extent that Smith was considered service personnel and so wearing her uniform in public became mandatory for the remainder of the war. Smith was not terribly pleased with this decision, especially as it meant she had to wear it to the many dances she attended “to keep morale up.” The uniform also made her instantly recognizable as an American woman overseas.

Although writing of many lighthearted matters, Smith’s letters also directly address the war. Smith visited American troops in hospitals in some of her free time. In January of 1919, after armistice, she visited several battlefields, and that May she used her vacation time to tour Belgium and the defeated Germany. The letters she wrote about this tour show her extreme hatred for Germans, remarking that Germans were ugly, describing American troops stealing cabbage from a German woman for Smith and her friend to eat, and hinting that she thought German prisoners of war were so lazy they ought to be bayoneted. Considering that the application process for overseas Red Cross workers included letters of recommendation proving their loyalty and patriotism for the United States and its allies, this hatred is not entirely surprising. It was only long after armistice that she revealed she had been in Paris while it was being bombed, with bombs falling within blocks of where she was, as censoring had kept her from writing earlier. Other than censoring, her continual fear was that the boats with mail would be torpedoed and her letters would never make it home.

My favorite letter of Smith’s was written on January 23rd, 1919, during the Paris peace talks. While on her lunch break she and a friend went to buy as much jam as they could possibly carry, stuffing their arms and pockets so as to avoid the long lines at the store by reducing their number of trips. While walking back to work in this condition they suddenly realized that the man walking toward them on the street was President Woodrow Wilson, with his secret security agents following behind him. She states in the letter that, “We smiled our best, bowed, and said “Bon Jour” which is good morning in French. He [President Wilson] lifted his high silk hat, bowed and smiled. [...] We were in a perfect misery of indecision afterwards to as whether his affability was due to his delight in seeing us or our most amusing appearance of a grocery delivery wagon.”

See whole letter here: 1-23-19 complete

Look for more of Dee Smith’s letters in the World War I Daybook when it launches in April 2017!

Bookmark and Share

World War I Daybook Update – Knute Nelson Research

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Hello! My name is Martin Branyon and I was one of the World War I Day Book Researchers for summer 2016. My work this summer involved going through the MNHS manuscripts collection to find relevant documents for the Day Book. I specifically worked with the Knute Nelson Papers collection. Nelson was a Norwegian Immigrant who served for the Union during the Civil War and managed to rise through Minnesota politics to be a well-known Republican Senator by World War I. As a History and Political Science undergrad at the University of Minnesota I found sections of this collection to be right up my alley.

The collection sheds light on both the daily life of Minnesotans during the war and the local politics of the time period. I found particularly interesting the numerous letters that dealt with groups that were critical of the war. Many letters described how the government and citizens reacted to anti-war activity in the state.

Some of the most interesting documents concerning politics and groups opposed to war were dated from July 1917. I found a letter written on July 10, 1917, from a Minneapolis lawyer by the name of Jonas Weil to be particularly interesting. According to his letter a doctor by the name of Eugene Friedman had been held in Hennepin County jail for three weeks, without formal charges being known to him, for allegedly being “antagonistic to the United States Government”. The letter captured how suppression of alleged anti-war proponents was enforced through the government; however suppression of anti-war criticism being carried out by citizens is a common theme of the collection.

A letter from July 14, 1917, by Bemidji lawyer Elmer E. McDonald captures this theme. In a letter to Nelson describing the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizing among lumber and agricultural workers, McDonald nominates a local Bemidji man to infiltrate the IWW and essentially spy on their activity. McDonald clearly saw the IWW as a distinct threat that had to be aggressively targeted by the government and citizens. This sort of political suppression offers interesting insights to the lengths to which citizens would go to protect the war effort.

In addition to opposition to leftist groups, the war elicited strong nativist responses. A letter dated July 25, 1917, from the owner of a Duluth grocery store warned Nelson about the dangers of foreign born residents and citizens in the country. The Duluth man states that all foreign born non-citizens and citizens should be deported from the United States. A strange statement given that Nelson himself was born in Norway. However, it expresses a common theme in the collection of anti-immigrant sentiment during the war.

The Knute Nelson collection offers an interesting view of Minnesota and the home front during the war. The collection offers a personal account of diverse selection of Minnesotan political issues, from censorship and nativism to women’s suffrage and immigrant rights. Be sure to check out the World War I Daybook in April 2017 to learn more about the history and politics of Minnesota during the war!

Bookmark and Share

Ingvald Smith Diary

Monday, June 13th, 2016

My name is Matt Reicher, and I was the World War I Daybook Project Intern for the Spring 2016 semester. The majority of my time as an intern was spent in the MNHS Library working through the manuscript collections.

Reading the different manuscripts offered me the first-person perspective of events that is often lacking in historical literature. I found myself wrapped up in the life of the people involved, and hung on each of their words while their story took shape. Each story was unique, showing how different people handled the events unfolding around them while maintaining their sanity far away from their homes.

While I read many different types of documents in the library, the one item that stood out most was a diary written by former Glenwood resident Ingvald D. Smith. He was an American soldier who wrote notes documenting his service time in France almost daily. Titled “My Experience in the World War,” Smith’s narrative of events began in March of 1918 and continued through his honorable discharge from service on May 27, 1919. While it isn’t a day-by-day accounting, each of the diary’s 235 pages offered significant insight into the life of a soldier in war. Smith spared no detail, describing the seemingly mundane moments alongside events that unfolded while on the front lines of battle.

Two entries stood out in particular. First, on August 9, 1918, Smith’s sergeant came upon a makeshift gravesite that the group later discovered to be of US Private Herbert Holtke. Smith recognized the name, noting in an entry that Holtke was “one of the men in our group of four that volunteered for service and accompanied us on our trip to France.” Two entries mention Holtke, Smith’s first notation and the description of his gravesite. Though little else is revealed about Holtke and his death, it is a fascinating entry.

The second, written on October 2, 1918, found Smith describing how quickly the fighting could be upon them. “This evening while I was sitting beside a small fire making toast several enemy planes came over flying low, and with machine guns opened fire on the troops in the valley.” He noted after crawling out of a small fox hole that the four-hour barrage “was the worst thing that I have encountered yet.”

While Smith’s diary is captivating, the physical book itself is what I found most compelling. It is large, but pocket-sized and has a slight bend in it giving the impression that Smith carried it with him in his pocket during his time in France. Some of his notes, especially those during his early days in France, give the impression that they were written only moments after an event occurred.

The final few pages of Smith’s diary are a short synopsis of some of the events he took part in during the war. Smith notes his enlistment date, organizations he was attached to in France, as well as the five fronts he fought on – adding whether or not those battles were “offensive” or “defensive” engagements.

Look for Smith’s story, along with many others, when the World War I Daybook blog launches in April, 2017!!

Bookmark and Share

Progress on the World War I Daybook!

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Hello everyone! My name is Mary Lesher. I’m a senior History major at Vassar College and I was this summer’s World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern. I followed up on some of the great research the previous intern, Molly, did into the various kinds of World War I collections items the Minnesota Historical Society has acquired. I spent the majority of my internship in the Gale Family Library examining the Minnesota Gold Star Roll, which was compiled by the Minnesota Public Safety Commission in the years just after the close of the war. The Gold Star Roll is a record of every Minnesotan who died during the war from combat, plane, train and automobile accidents and influenza, which affected soldiers domestically and abroad. These records were filled out by close family members- mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and children- and include various details of these men and women’s lives, from their place of birth to their schooling, character, vocation and military service. Family members often sent in photos, letters they received during the war and newspaper clippings about their loved one who died to give a more complete understanding of who that person was. I combed through every single record to find stories, primary sources and photos to share with you in the World War I Daybook.

One of my favorite Gold Star Roll records is that of Miss Sabra R. Hardy, a nurse in the United States Army Nursing Corps. She was from Minneapolis and worked as a nurse in Minneapolis Hospitals before enlisting for service in WWI. Hardy trained at Camp Travis in Texas before shipping out to New York to finish her training and await her journey to Europe. When she reached England she wrote a brief note to her parents alerting them that she had arrived safely overseas, and told them she would write again once she was permanently located at a hospital near the French Front. This was the last her family ever heard from her, as Hardy contracted Influenza-pneumonia and died about a week after reaching France.

New York
Aug 23-18
Dearest Mother and Dave:

I am here at last and, I just can’t wait till I’ve got my gov’t. outfit together & my Red cross suit on. They are such a good looking blue serge suit [symbol] & U.S.A. emblems worn on lapels beside the Caducci [plural form  of caduceus] which stands for the medical dept. & a black sailor hat & heavy brown army shoes. The duty uniform is grey crepe & white (No. 2) aprons & bibs & caps…”

Citation: “Hardy, Sabra R.” Minnesota Publc Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota [114.D.4.3B]

Be sure to join us for more incredible stories from World War I when the blog launches in April, 2017!

Bookmark and Share

Stay Tuned for Another Daybook

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Research has begun for the forthcoming World War I Daybook blog!

My name is Molly Kamph, and through the Minnesota Historical Society’s internship program, I acted as the first World War I Daybook Research Intern. Over the past few months, I have surveyed the vast collections of the Minnesota Historical Society in order to lay the foundations for the World War I Daybook blog, scheduled to launch in April, 2017.

Much of my work involved reading through the huge collection of manuscripts and attempting to make connections to other collections like artifacts, photographs and posters, and even recorded pieces from the Oral History collections, through associated dates, events, or general themes. Many of the manuscripts I initially examined discussed the war efforts abroad, but I also found many sources that detailed the various examples of sociopolitical turmoil occurring in Minnesota and the United States.

One particularly interesting example from the MNHS manuscript collections was Walter E. Quigley’s reminiscence entitled “Out where the west begins”, which describes his time as an organizer for the Nonpartisan League (NPL), an organization advocating for state ownership of various farm-related industries. The League began in North Dakota and became fairly popular in Minnesota during World War I. Leading up to the election of 1918, the Nonpartisan League started the Farmer-Labor Party and endorsed candidates running for numerous positions locally, statewide, and nationally to further their left-leaning platform.

Nonpartisan League opponents immediately began to rally against the League. Many within the government were against the League and their aims. For example, Quigley mentions that on October 7, 1918, former president Theodore Roosevelt came to Minneapolis to endorse Governor J.A.A. Burnquist’s reelection and to denounce the NPL. Due to the mention of Roosevelt, I was able to make a connection between the Quigley manuscript and some photographs within the Audio/Visual collections. Two photographs from October 7, 1918 show former president Theodore Roosevelt speaking with Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company workers on behalf of Minnesota Governor J.A.A. Burnquist.

Some opponents of the Nonpartisan League were more violent. League supporters John Meintz and Nels Hokstad, were tarred and feathered by a mob of those opposing the NPL, who saw the League as “pro-German” and “yellow”. Meintz (top) and Hokstad (bottom) are shown in this photograph. Meintz’s ordeal is also mentioned in Quigley’s account. Quigley states, “Mob rule became the worse after the primary [of 1918]. W.W. Latta, editor of the paper at Luverne, and friend of the League, was deported into Iowa. John Meintz in western Minnesota was tarred and feathered… The homes of many League workers were painted yellow, organizers were chased out of dozens of cities and towns; and all in all, the campaign was intensified by the war spirit” (Quigley p.67, 73).

Overall, the collections at the Minnesota Historical Society demonstrate the varied aspects of this complex time in Minnesota and the United States. We hope that you all will join us in April of 2017 for the launch of the World War I Daybook.


  • Quigley, Walter Eli. “Out where the west begins”. Minnesota Historical Society. [P2302]
  • Men tarred and feathered in Minnesota during 1918 campaign by anti-Nonpartisan Leaguers. Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [J1.4 p26]
  • Theodore Roosevelt speaking to workers at Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company. Minnesota Historical Society. St Paul, Minnesota. [E435.19 p10]
  • Theodore Roosevelt speaking to workers at Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota. [E435.19 p11]
Bookmark and Share

U.S. Army Soldier’s housewife

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

U.S. Army soldier's housewife

United States Army soldier’s homemade sewing kit or “housewife” carried during World War I by James Martineau of the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The corduroy kit is lined in a polished cloth and fastens closed with a dark brown ribbon with a snap sewn to each end. It is folded three times and opens to reveal three inside pockets and a handmade image of the Sacred Heart. Some of the contents may have been added after the kit’s original period of use.

For details, view the housewife in our online collections database.

Bookmark and Share

Gas mask

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

World War I gas mask

U.S. Army issue, World War I-era gas mask and carrying bag.  Also included are a metal canister of anti-dimming compound with application instructions printed on the canister, a waxed paper envelope containing an instruction card, and a split ring and pin. Worn by Corporal Frederick A. Berlin of the 3rd Pioneers, Company F.

Bookmark and Share

Bread baked during World War I

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Bread baked during World War I

Slice of black bread baked in Germany between 1914 and 1918. Black bread, a coarse, dark rye bread, was commonly given by Germans to their prisoners of war.

For details, view the bread in our online collections database.

Bookmark and Share

Navy seaman’s trinket box

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Navy seaman's trinket box

Ditty box owned by United States Navy Seaman Edward R. Stensrud.  The wooden box, originally painted red, white and blue, is now yellowed from varnish.  The box fastens with an iron clasp and contains a removable tray.  It also contains souvenirs relating to Stensrud’s WWI service and subsequent life; see 1976.28.B – 1976.28.S.  One of Stenrud’s dogtags (1976.28.S) is attached to the front of the box.  The brass hinged lid and side of the box are carved and painted with details of Stensrud’s military service, including: “E.R. / STENSRUD SK-2C / EASTLEIGH, ENG. AVN. / WORLD WAR I / 1917-1918″, “U.S. NAVY”, and  ”E.R. STENSRUD / U.S. NAVY / APRIL 19,1917 / OCT. 21, 1919 / SK 2C”.  Railway tags have been pasted on each end of the box.  One reads “London and South Western Ry / TO / GOSPORT”.

For details and additional images, view the box in our online collections database.

Bookmark and Share

An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs