Recruitment and Conscription

Click to expand. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital ID cph 3g09659

Some Spokanites felt the war approaching and prepared for what might be their parts in it. Even before the US’s formal entry into the war, recruitment of fresh companies began for a new regiment in the National Guard.1 At the same time, men attending Whitworth began to practice drill voluntarily.2 Veterans initiated the call for military organization in a number of ways as well.  Local Spanish War veterans negotiated with Army officials for the use of Fort George Wright as an officers school in preparation of the war. Their leader, Captain Robert A. Koontz, head of United Spanish War Veterans of Spokane, boasted of upwards of half a million veterans from around the nation, “all trained men-ready to fight at the call of the president”. 3 Towards the end of February of 1917, the Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars made an appearance at a post in Spokane where he boasted of the thousands of veterans ready for the call to war.4

Tragedies like the sinking of the Laconia combined with frequent stories on British losses at the hands of German raiders fired up Americans for war. In Spokane, even before a formal declaration of war, the Army and Navy saw local recruitment records shattered. The Army witnessed a 50% increase of recruitment in February of 1917 compared February of 1916. The Navy witnessed an even more impressive 300% increase for the same time period. The Spokesman Review frequently published the names of the new enlistees.5

With the Selective Service Act of 1917, all men between the ages of 21 and 30 were required to register for the draft. Spokane newspapers published the first results in early June. Almost 11,000 men registered as ordered. Close to 8000 registered in the city, the rest from the surrounding countryside. The results published reveal interesting information on the men eventually drafted from the region. Numerical data reports the numbers of the registered with disabilities, judicial positions, legislative positions, and dependents. Information on non-whites and non citizens were also printed, included enemy aliens, or non citizen Germans. 59 of the registered were listed under “colored”, while 1059 were listed under “alien”, 55 of which received the designation “Enemy aliens”, meaning they were citizen of the Central Powers.6

This excerpt from the June 7th edition of The Spokesman Review breaks down the demographics of men registered for the draft boards.

Almost 4000 of these men in the city of Spokane alone desired exemption waivers to evade the draft.  According to the Selective Service Act of 1917,  married men with dependents were temporarily deferred or exempt(depending on their income) from selection. State and federal officials, clergymen, the disabled, enemy aliens, and men with felony records were deemed ineligible for selection. Providing for dependents and suffering with disabilities proved to be the most common reasons for men seeking exemptions. The sheer volume of waiver requests resulted in strict requirements for exception status. In early August, men seeking exemption status with only their wife claiming dependency were turned down by the draft board in Spokane.7

The volume of men looking for a way out became a burden for local attorneys. A front page story of The Spokesman Review in August claimed “Draft dodgers arouse ire of the bar association head”. The president of the Spokane Bar Association, W. W. Zent, vented about the workload on local attorneys:

“The men just go from one attorney to another. Some boy happens to decide he does not want to serve and he brings his father in to tell us he is needed on the farm. In some cases a man without children brings his father-in-law who does not want to take care of his daughter. I have told some of the men they better hire a lawyer without a reputation if they wish to get false affidavits prepared. A lawyer with any patriotism or sense is not going to fix up a false affidavit to satisfy the whim of some old man or angry youth who wishes to dodge the draft.”8

Zent wasn’t alone in his cold attitude towards young men looking to avoid the war.  The term “slacker” soon became widely used to shame people.  Initially used for draft dodgers, many eventually used it to to classify anyone deemed not productive enough in the war effort.  One’s part could eventually include non participation in city wide food conservation drives, or simply not buying war bonds. This method of shaming intended to scare anyone considering protesting.  Only two days after the selective service registration requirement in June, Spokane papers began publishing information on draft dodgers.  William Crane, arrested for failing to register for the draft, had his name, place of work, and the neighborhood of residence published on the front page of the Spokesman as the paper boasted “Nab first man here as slacker”.9  Just three days later the same paper reported that Crane and four other dodgers(whose names were also published on the front page) would face a federal grand jury for their crimes.10

On August 12, 1917 The Spokesman Review published the results of the draft boards, pictured here. Notice that 270 men failed to appear.


The draft order did not determine the first group of Spokane draftees sent away for training. Instead, the first 34 draftees from the city were picked to fulfill critical needs of the early mobilization effort, like their previous military service or their civilian job experience.11

The publication of draft status became a frequent sight in Spokane newspapers.  Regular updates gave the city an idea as to when district units left for training and provided information on dodgers.  They also helped inform Spokane of the most current numbers of the cities quota status, since the draft boards made it clear exactly how many men should come from specific counties. As the quotas were met and the soldiers organized to leave, the city made sure to show their appreciation for their service.  In early October, when men fulfilling the third quota for the Army left Spokane, 7000 people gathered to send off the 1000 recruits from eastern Washington.12 People in the region enjoyed frequent updates on the soldiers and their training.  Most of the drafted men trained in Fort Lewis in Companies 51 and 52 of the 166th Depot.13

Between the first Selective Service registration date of June 5, 1917 and the second call on June 5, 1918, Spokane provided thousands of men for war.  By July of 1918, the Army in the Spokane district recruited upwards of 11,000 men.  Thousands of others joined the Navy or Marine Corps.14  Recently commissioned officers from Spokane received headlines on the front page at times, and men from as far as Montana traveled to Spokane to enlist in the Army.15 16 Even as Spokane witnessed the majority of their most eligible men drafted, the anti slacker sentiment grew.

During the final year of the war one headline in May read “GET USEFUL JOB OR GO TO WAR”, as the draft boards began to adapt to an even wider reach of Selective Service candidates. By June the Chronicle reported that few slackers were left in the city, however federal “slacker raids” continued throughout the US to within a month of the war ending.  The raids sought men who defied the act of registering for the draft of September, just two months before the armistice occurred.17 18 19

Spokane provided the Department of War with over ten thousand soldiers, sailors, and marines. Local veterans from the Spanish American war provided the area with motivated leadership in recruitment and mobilization. Although many eagerly devoted themselves to the war, a substantial number of men looked to avoid the conflict. If the hundreds that failed to appear before draft boards wasn’t evident enough, the tone of the Spokane newspapers towards “slackers” demonstrate how divisive public perception of the war became.



  1. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 7, 1917. Page 5, Column 1
  2. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 7, 1917. Page 20, Column 1.
  3. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 2, 1917. Page 2, Column 1.
  4. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 26, 1917. Page 2, Column 6.
  5. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 8, 1917. Page 5, Column 6.
  6. Spokesman Review, June 7, 1917. Page 5, Column 1.
  7. Spokesman Review, August 11, 1917. Page 1, Column 1.
  8. Spokesman Review, August 15, 1917. Page 1, Column 1.
  9. Spokesman Review, June 7, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  10. Spokesman Review, June 9, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  11. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago Today in Spokane: First Spokane Draftees Headed for War Training.” September 04, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2018.
  12. Spokesman Review, October 7, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  13. Spokesman Review, October 13, 1917. Page 3, Column 1.
  14. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago Today in Spokane: First Spokane Draftees Headed for War Training.” September 04, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2018.
  15. Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 8, 1917. Page 3, Column 1.
  16. Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 24, 1917. Page 1, Column 1.
  17. Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 26, 1918. Page 1, Column 3.
  18. Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 1, 1918. Page 1, Column 3.
  19. Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 23, 1918. Page 1, Column 1.