What a Difference a Century Makes: 1917           

By:  M. Callahan

City of Arras, France after Battle

1917 US Population:  103,268,000

President: Woodrow Wilson
Vice President: Thomas R. Marshall
Sect. of State:  Robert Lansing
Virginia Governor:  Westmoreland Davis
Chief Justice Supreme Court:  Edward Douglass White
Speaker of the House:  Champ Clark (D-Missouri)
VA Senators: Thomas Martin  & Claude Swanson

John F. Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ernest Borgnine, Ferdinand Marcos, Jackie Robinson

Queen Liliuokalani, August Rodin, Buffalo Bill Cody, Edgar Degas, Mata Hari, Scott Joplin


  • Pres. Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress on April 2nd at 8:30 pm to declare war on Germany citing:
    (1) German renewal of their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on all ships trading with Britain including the US. (Germany had temporarily suspended the practice after the sinking of the Lusitania, which met with massive public outcry.) 
    (2) Discovery of German ploy to ally with Mexico against the USA.  In part, he remarked, “Tyrants could not be allowed to destroy the bonds of civilization by engaging in inhumane and immoral actions that oppressed their own people and threatened their neighbors.  The world had to be made safe for democracy.”
  • British offensive called the Battle of Arras was designed to break through the German lines and into open ground so the Brits could engage the numerically inferior German forces in a war of movement rather than a war of attrition. It was not successful.  Battle of Arras:  160,000 British / 125,000 German Casualties.
  • During 1917 the Second and Third Battle of Ypres were fought, to include the Battle of Passchendaele where 250,000 fell on both sides.

Some of the Major Battles of 1917:  Battle of Khadairi Bend, Battle of Nahr-al-Kalek, Capture of Baghdad, Samarrah Offensive, Seizure of Fallujo, First Battle of Gaza, Battle of Vimy Ridge, Second Battle of Aisne and Gaza, Battle of the Boot, Battle of Messines, Battle of Ramadi, Battle of Caporetto, Battle of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, Battle of Tikrit, & the Fall of Jerusalem.

  • Chicago businessmen found Lions Clubs International, now the largest service organization in the world.
  • Love Air Field in Dallas is opened.
  • Fr. Edward Flanagan founds Boys Town in Omaha.
  • TE Lawrence joins Arabian sheik Feisal al Husayn.
  • Jeanette Rankin becomes 1st woman elected to the US Congress.
  • Congress passes first excess profit tax on corporations.
  • First American Expeditionary Force under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing is ordered to France.
  • Street Cars premier in San Francisco.
  • Russian Revolution begins, Czar abdicates.
  • British Dreadnaught HMS Vanguard sunk at Scapa Flow due to internal explosion of faulty cordite---804 on board died.
  • Munitions explosions at factories in Chester, PA, Britain, Bohemia, and onboard ships kill thousands. Most caused by sparks igniting black power or cordite from faulty equipment, or carelessness due to exhaustion of overworked employees. (Most munitions workers were women and girls.)
  • US pays Denmark $25 million for Danish West Indies later renamed the US Virgin Islands.
  • Selective Service Act passes US Congress.
  • First Pulitzer Prize awarded.
  • Jones Act passed by US Congress granting US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.
  • Outbreak of world-wide influenza pandemic. By 1920, almost 20 million are dead; 500,000 die in US.
  • Spy Mata Hari is convicted & executed by firing squad near Paris.
  • The first op-ed page appears in the New York Times.

Federal spending:  
$1.95 billion
Consumer Price Index:   12.8
Cost of a first-class stamp:   $0.02 ($0.03 as of 11/3/17)
Unemployment: 4.8% down from 5.1%
Loaf of bread:  $0.08
Gallon of gasoline:  $0.25
Pound of Butter:  $0.43
One dozen eggs:  $0.39
Quart of milk:  $0.131
25# Sack of Sugar:  $1.89
Pound of Bacon:  $0.22
Roast Beef:  $0.18 per pound
Pound of Coffee:  $0.19
Pound of Tea:  $0.29
Movie Ticket:  $0.07
Newspapers:  $0.01
1 Oz Gold:  $20.67

Cost of Average Automobile: Production down after July 2017 while attention was given to military vehicles on auto production lines. 

New Chevrolet, 4 & 8 cylinder motors $490.00
Dodge Touring Car $785.00
Dodge Winter Touring Car $950.00
Dodge Sedan $1,185.00


World Series:  Chicago White Sox defeats NY Giants (4-2)

Stanley Cup:  Seattle Metropolitans
Wimbledon Women: Not Held (WWI)
Wimbledon Men: Not Held (WWI)
Kentucky Derby Champion:  Omar Khayyam
NCAA Football Champions:  Georgia Tech (9-0-0)
Boston Marathon:  Billy Kennedy

Nobel Prize for Literature:
Karl Gjellerup (Denmark) and Henrik Pontoppidan (Denmark)
Nobel Peace Prize:  International Red Cross


Union Station, Washington DC 1917

Washington, DC:  1917

Suffragettes peacefully protested in front of the White House asking for the right to vote.  On Nov. 14, 1917, thirty-three women were arrested & charged with obstructing traffic.  Without any due process they were forcibly taken to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. 

Superintendent WH Whittaker, a particularly harsh critic of The Suffrage Movement admitted publicly, “I am willing to practice cruelty.”  He ordered the guards to beat and torture the suffragette inmates. Some were cuffed to window bars with their arms stretched overhead for days on end.  They were housed in freezing cold cells without blankets, water, or sanitation arrangements.  However, the worst depravation was the food chronicled as, grits with worms, rancid meat, cornbread covered in green mold, sprinkled with rat droppings & dead flies. No medical attention was ever provided and few visitors, including their lawyers, were admitted. 

Six months was the average term of incarnation.  To gain attention, possibly even freedom as their jailors did not want deaths attributed to their callous care, some of the women began a hunger strike.  Their jailors reacted with even more severe treatment.  The women, including the elderly, were strapped to a table with one male guard kneeling on their body, others holding them down while a tube was forced down their throats and into their stomachs.  Hot, often rancid gruel or even raw beaten eggs, were forced down the tube.  This cruel and inhumane torture continued three times each day for weeks.

Eventually, legal representatives petitioned the court for relief.  The women, who had never been provided with due process, were released from the workhouse and completely exonerated.  Their imprisonment was worse than most US soldiers ever experienced at the hands of German captors.

It was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed permitting women the vote.  By then it was impossible to postpone since The Suffrage Movement was being promoted in the rural regions as well as the cities.  Women had also proven to even the worst skeptics, that US war efforts could not have been managed without the huge force of women who distinguished themselves by mastering  every job sector previously held by men, as well as the home front. 


Women Take the Jobs Left Behind by Men
Women became bank clerks, ticket sellers, elevator operator, chauffeur, street car conductor, ambulance driver, mechanic, delivery persons, railroad trackwalker, section hands, locomotive wiper and oiler, locomotive dispatcher, block operator, draw bridge attendant.  They were employed in machine shops, steel mills, powder and ammunition factories, airplane works, boot blacking and farming. (1)


For More History Articles


The ENDEAVOR News Magazine


 (1)  “Protecting the Working Mothers”  Seattle Union Record.  April 24, 1918                      
Photographs from Library of Congress, Imperial War Museum, Library of Virginia, Wikipedia, & Private Photographic Archives.
Reproduction of this story and photographs, in part or in whole, requires the written permission of the author.

War News 1917


HMS Vanguard sunk at Scapa Flow from internal explosion of faulty cordite


 Wlaking on Duck Boards

 Battle of Arras, France

Munitions Worker

March 5, 1917:  Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural.  He ran with a motto, “He Kept Us Out of the War.”  Just 5 weeks after he began his second term, he signed a declaration of War against Germany after Germany resumed unrestricted sinking of all ships doing business with Britain.

Women Mail Carriers 1917 Washington

Women learned to drive ambulances and become mechanics during WWI

Women now employed in many roles formerly held solely by men

Suffragettes Picketing the White House 1917


Silent Sentenials in front of White House

NY Ave. Washington DC 1917

Pictures are from Wikipedia, the Library of Congress, Private Collections, and the Imperial War Museum, with right of use reserved.


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