Preparations for Conflict

Click to expand. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. DIgital ID cph 3g10324.

Once the US entered the war in 1917, Spokane citizens participated in the war effort at home in a variety of ways.  The Inland Empire contributed immensely to the material demand for war, especially with wheat.  The enormous demand for food, both for the US allies and for America’s own military expansion, required a shift in how Americans consumed food at home. In an effort to alleviate some of the inevitable food shortages, Spokane homeowners were asked to plant “war gardens” around their property.  Expanding beyond merely suggesting a garden, The Spokane Press published diagrams on how to divide the allotted land around the home to maximize the growth of produce.  Their suggested layout included potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, and other produce.  Follow up articles covered additional gardening info like maintaining healthy soil.

This undated diagram from the Spokane Press instructs the reader on how best to make use of an area for a garden during the war.  Photo courtesy of Richard Sola.

While the small home landowner tended to their victory gardens, calls went out to turn vacant lots and parks into gardens too.  A “vacant lot” committee was established in an attempt to turn the many unused acres around Spokane into gardens.  Seeking both volunteers with unused land and workers willing to garden, the committee organized themselves with the goal of achieving as much self sufficiency for Spokane as possible. 1

Washington’s agricultural output, especially in the Palouse region, served as a major asset to the allies.  Years of fighting and blockades took a toll on both the Allied and Central powers.  Starvation posed a threat as serious as major military campaigns, and total mobilization of US farmers for wartime arrived as a major addition to the Allied war effort.  Sensing the agricultural importance to the war effort due to the abundance of wheat in the Inland Empire, steps were taken to take advantage of the vast wealth of farming land in Washington.

The federal government pushed for rapid war mobilization, including a sharp increase in agricultural output, via state led war councils.  Two months after the formal declaration of war, Washington Governor Ernest Lister established the Washington State Council of Defense.  The council involved themselves in virtually every community, of every size, throughout the entire state.  Motivated members developed various patriotic leagues to accelerate war production.  In Eastern Washington, tremendous amounts of volunteers were sought to help farm every available inch of the Palouse.  Inspiring patriotic zeal combined with shaming those who refrained from volunteering constituted the primary method of recruitment for the programs.

One Spokane newspaper, The Washington Farmer, put it bluntly: “Plow may be mightier than the sword”. The newspaper called for farmers to join the “Patriotic League of Washington”.  The papers editor, Major E. A. Smith, described the organization as having “only one purpose in view, and that in expressed by it’s pledge to increase the nation’s food supply, either by saving more or producing more food products.”2 Farmers were assured that their wheat would be sold at set minimum prices guaranteed by the English and US governments, or they would be reimbursed. Most Palouse farmers enjoyed great profits during wartime, however.  Before the war the regions wheat sold for seventy five cents a bushel, but by 1916 a bushel sold for an average of $2.20.3

Another farming institution, the Washington State Harvesters League, sought to recruit city men to help harvest crops. The statewide league based out of Seattle desired 50,000 volunteers from urban areas to spend their typical two week vacation time helping in the fields.  They also expected the volunteers to donate the money they earned during that time to the Red Cross. One of the members of the executive committee for the league, T.F. Wren from Spokane, petitioned the leagues case to the city: “The country must wage this war with bushels as well as with the sword. The last square yard of earth should be cultivated and garnering must follow the growing.”4

Food conservation also became a federal matter in the summer of 1917 with the establishment of the United States Food Administration. Led under the direction of Herbert Hoover, the administration oversaw food conservation efforts across the nation. Hoover proposed a pledge drive in which citizens promised to cut down on consuming food deemed valuable to the troops deployed to France.  A large portion of Spokane readily embraced the conservation effort.  In early November, the local Food Administration headquarters in Spokane on Wall Street reported thousands of signed pledged cards for the campaign.  One newspaper article in November of 1917 described an inability for the limited staff of volunteers to keep up with the high demand of pledge cards ready to be signed in and around the city. “Talk about go! They’ve got us on the jump to keep ‘em supplied.” said Dr. A. E. Stuht as he dropped off materials at the headquarters on Wall street.5

The pledge drive may have appeared voluntary, but newspapers warned of repercussions for non-participation.  Names and addresses of those who refused to participate were published and shamed. Dr. Stuht, a Spokane contact for the US Food Administration, warned that “Persons who refused to sign these food conservation cards are as much slackers in this war time as the person who avoids the draft.  The food administration desires to know just who these persons are, that they may be checked up on.”6

Similar repercussions existed for passing on purchasing war bonds.  To the south of Spokane, the Colfax Patriotic League shunned people who avoided the purchase of war bonds by publishing the names of non-participants.  Such tactics were often agreed on in “Patriotic Mass Meeting”s as one headline stated in a February edition of The Pullman Herald.  In the small, tight-knit farming communities of Eastern Washington, the slandering oftentimes worked.  Upon seeing his name published as a “financial slacker”, one man rushed to the bank to buy Liberty Bonds.7

Spokane newspapers often published the results of the city’s conservation efforts.  Photo courtesy of Richard Sola.

Even with the great wealth of wheat throughout the region, many in Spokane participated enthusiastically towards efforts to conserve the agricultural staple of Eastern Washington.  On one day, 25,000 loaves of white bread were saved in Spokane on behalf of Spokane bakeries, even before federal instructions arrived to explicitly limit wheat consumption at times.  “We have had no instructions yet from the food administration with regard to regulation of bakeries. We are anxiously awaiting these instructions and will aid the government in every way possible to conserve wheat flour” said David Ackerman of a Spokane bakery.

Conservation of goods wasn’t the only effort made in Spokane to help in the war effort.  In February of 1917, a “Waste paper day” was announced by the northern Board and Paper Company.  The endeavor sought the collection of books, magazines, newspapers, and other materials at $1.25 every hundred pounds.  Participants could drop off the materials for sale, one day out of the month, at any of the 10 locations throughout the city.8

A liberty bond propaganda poster from 1918. Individual citizens and businesses throughout the county raised millions of dollars for War Bond drives during the war. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital ID cph 3b35121.

Throughout the war, Spokane participated in a number of Liberty Bond drives.  In these campaigns, the US government called upon patriotic citizens to purchase war bonds to help fund the conflict.  Spokane newspapers reported daily progress of the campaigns and highlighted the major bond buyers, which allowed companies to advertise by buying massive bonds.  In one drive in October of 1917, the Great Northern Railway purchased $200,000 of bonds and applied their purchase toward the City of Spokane’s goal quota.9 The drive ended on October 27th with more than $5 million dollars raised throughout the area. 10  Italians of Spokane organized their own allied fund-raising drive to send relief back to their old country.  A.C. Bertolini of the local Italian-American newspaper noted that “Consul Paul Brenna at Seattle has asked me to do what I can in Spokane, and I shall suggest the donation of one days pay each month until the situation is relieved.”11

In February of 1918, the city announced plans to mobilize everyone in the county for the war effort, including not just adults, but also children.  “Our plan is a little different from that authorized by the department of labor” director McCrea said.  The plan to enroll adults and children served a two distinct purposes, according to McCrea.  “First, to ascertain just what service each person enrolled can render to the government in war time or after the war is over.  Second, to provide a list of prospects for soliciting of funds for war work, such as liberty loan investments, Red Cross, YMCA, etc.”12  Such total mobilization for the war effort already began late in 1917.  In December of 1917 the Chronicle reported of “An Army of school children volunteers to Red Cross”.  The superintendent of Spokane schools, Orville C. Pratt, offered the Red Cross the help of the districts 17000 enrolled children.  Although they wouldn’t solicit Red Cross offers, the children would be used to pass out literature on behalf of the organization. 13

As the European nations suffered with hunger after years of war, agricultural regions like that of Eastern Washington worked as breadbaskets towards the allied war effort.  But even with the abundance of wheat throughout the region, Spokanites actively participated in food conservation efforts and worked to transform empty areas throughout the city into food producing zones for the war. Citizens actively participated in local fund-raising organizations and helped collect millions for liberty drives to purchase war bonds.



  1. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 9, 1917. Page 15, Column 1.
  2. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 11, 1917.,6613235&hl=en. Page 20, Column 1.
  3. Lambeth, Robert. “The Slackers.” Columbia. Page 24.
  4. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 12, 1917. Page 22, Column 6.
  5. Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 2, 1917. Page 5, Column 1.
  6. Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 2, 1917. Page 6, Column 1.
  7. Lambeth, Page 23.
  8. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 17, 1917. Page 5, Column 1.
  9. Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 22, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  10. Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 27, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  11. Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 16, 1917. Page 1, Column 1.
  12. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 6, 1918. Page 1, Column 3.
  13. Spokane Daily Chronicle, December 6, 1917. Page 2, Column 1.