World War I

By: Katherine Kuehler Walters

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 27, 2022

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on June 28, 1914, set off a series of events that quickly led to a global war, called the Great War and later World War I, between the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and their allies against the Entente or Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, and later joined by Japan and Italy. The United States, determined to stay out of European affairs, formally remained neutral until declaring war against Germany and its allies on April 6, 1917, and stayed engaged militarily until fighting ceased on November 11, 1918. Texas and Texans made significant contributions to what was then called the Great War on the front lines, on the home front, and from positions within the federal government. Although U.S. involvement on the front lines was relatively short, events and conditions of the war created long-lasting changes in Texas militarily, socially, economically, and politically.

Before U.S. entry into World War I. Texans were interested in the events of World War I from the beginning of the conflict. Most Texans agreed with the decision of the United States to remain neutral and not intervene in European affairs. Maintaining neutrality meant they could continue exporting cotton, cattle, oil, and other commodities to nations on both sides of the conflict and make use of the newly-opened Houston Ship Channel. Texans who were in Europe at the start of the war immediately made preparations to return home. Julia Ideson left Liege, Beligum, only a few hours before Germany laid siege to the city in the war’s first battle. Both in Germany, Olga Kolhberg and Ima Hogg witnessed initial mobilization before making the difficult journey home. Back in Texas, German and Austrian immigrants and first generation citizens raised humanitarian aid for the German and Austrian Red Cross organizations to help those wounded and displaced, and a few German immigrants returned to Germany to join the military.

Most Texans, however, were focused on a war closer to home. Texas had been a staging ground and smuggling source for the Mexican Revolution, a war that quickly became a component of World War I strategic diplomacy between Germany, Britain, and the United States since Mexico was a leading exporter of oil. From its start in 1910, violence along the border increased dramatically. Between 1910 and 1920, at least 127,000 migrants fled Mexico to Texas to escape the war. Although the border had always been porous on both sides of the Rio Grande, these migrants moved farther into the interior of Texas for work and stayed longer, if not permanently settled in the state.

Texas farmers felt the first impact of the war through cotton prices. In July 1914 cotton exchanges closed for three months and cotton prices for the year fell to an average of 7.22 cents per pound, 40 percent less than the previous year (see COTTON CULTURE). At the time, Texas produced one-third of the nation’s cotton and one-fifth of the world’s cotton. Once the cotton exchanges reopened, however, prices rose dramatically and continued to rise in 1915 and 1916. In 1917, when the U.S. entered the war, the average price per pound in the state was 26 cents and increased to 29.48 cents by war’s end in 1918. This created a sense of prosperity for cotton farmers, their creditors, and communities that depended economically on the crop. By the end of the decade, farmers increased their tilled acreage but faced a labor shortage as many poor White and Black farmworkers moved from rural areas to larger towns and cities for better employment and education opportunities (see PROGRESSIVE ERA). This urbanization process increased as the war in Europe began and as more African Americans left the South altogether, in what historians call the Great Migration, for northern cities to find improved racial conditions and escape racial violence (see LYNCHING and RIOTS). As labor shortages increased during the war, farmers relied more on Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans to fill this need and to keep wages low. Throughout the state, these groups also faced Jim-Crow-like discrimination, segregation, a biased and sometimes punitive justice system, and racial violence.

In 1915 expected border violence and Germany’s continued use of unrestricted submarine warfare led to increased support for the U.S. entry in World War I on the side of the Allies. Texas newspapers reported rumors of German and Mexican spies traveling through the state and fear of sabotage increased, as did suspicion of anyone foreign, especially those of German or Mexican descent. The torpedoing of the Gulflight and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German submarine also shifted public opinion in the nation and Texas in favor of preparing for possible U.S. entry into World War I. The Gulflight, an American tanker owned by Gulf Oil Corporation, was torpedoed and heavily damaged near the Isles of Scilly on May 1, 1915. One of the first American ships torpedoed by the Germans during World War I, it had launched from Port Arthur, Texas, where many of its crew resided, including Eugene Chapanta, who drowned.

The Lusitania, a British passenger liner sailing from the United States to England, was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915. Of the more than 1,100 passengers that drowned, more than 120 were Americans. Several passengers on board the Lusitania had a connection with Texas: W. Broderick Cloete, a British rancher and coal mine owner in Mexico, purchased a ticket in San Antonio, where he was a frequent visitor; Thomas J. Silva, a Georgian-born cotton buyer, lived in Temple; Ralph Troupe Moodie, a British cotton buyer, had resided in Gainesville, Texas, since at least 1910. Sailing with Moodie was Robert J. Timmis, another cotton buyer from Britain (and a resident of Gainesville), who survived. Timmis and Moodie both gave up their life-vests, called lifebelts, to frightened women before water overtook the ship. Another survivor, Ada Mina Campbell, a teacher who moved to Dallas to live with her brother in 1913, sailed on the Lusitania to move back to her family home in Scotland. Charles E. Swenson, a mechanical engineer from Wichita Falls, wrote his family that he had booked passage on the Lusitania but ultimately sailed on a different ship.

Texans had mixed responses to the tragedy. Reflecting the public at-large, most newspapers condemned the attack as underhanded and uncivilized but were mixed about how the nation should respond. The Texas Senate passed multiple resolutions on May 10, 1915, that condemned the sinking, expressed confidence in President Woodrow Wilson and his administration, and urged the United States to sever all ties with Germany but stopped short of wanting war. Governor James Ferguson urged caution against drastic action.

Texans in the federal government also had mixed reactions to the attack but eventually supported a preparedness movement or lost their office. Texan and Wilson’s closest advisor Edward Mandell House had been in London since January to negotiate the possibility of war mediation when he learned of the tragedy. He counseled Wilson to begin preparations for possible war and be firm in his response to Germany. Wilson followed that advice. The Texas congressional delegation split on their support for Wilson’s preparedness proposals, particularly his decision to strengthen and expand the military. Many of those who voted against it, including John Hall Stephens, Francis Oscar Callaway, and James H. “Cyclone” Davis, lost their seats in the next election. James L. Slayden of San Antonio, an area with a large German American population, held on to his seat but was voted out in 1918. In February 1916, when Germany resumed its unrestricted submarine warfare policy, Atkins “Jeff” McLemore submitted a U. S. House resolution to ban Americans from traveling on belligerent ships; Wilson stopped the resolution and criticized it as unpatriotic. McLemore too lost his seat in 1918.

After events leading to and including the El Paso Race Riot of 1916 and Pancho Villa’s raid into New Mexico in early 1916, Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing to pursue Villa and his supporters in a punitive expedition along the border and, soon after, federalized the National Guard in border states and the Midwest. Although this expedition proved unsuccessful, the increased military spending by the federal government and buildup of United States forces along the border helped prepare the armed forces for entry into the World War. Texas National Guard officers gained valuable experience commanding, supplying, and maneuvering large units. The feeling of possible war with either Mexico or Germany also encouraged military preparedness among civilians. Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio was one of many military bases across the nation to hold a four-week summer military training camp for civilians to learn basic military training under regular commissioned officers without obligation of future military service.

As support for preparedness increased, so did patriotism. During late 1915 and throughout 1916, cities and towns across the state held grand patriotic displays and parades for numerous holidays throughout the year. In November 1915 huge crowds turned out even after midnight to see the Liberty Bell as it traveled through Texas (see LIBERTY BELL TOUR OF TEXAS). For Flag Day in 1916, El Paso held a “Preparedness” parade with 10,000 flag-holding participants. San Antonio’s Fourth of July parade included local fraternal organizations, veterans from the Civil War and the Spanish American War, and a Boston Tea Party float. In late September 1916 a column of nearly 15,000 troops stationed at Fort Sam Houston marched eighty-three miles from San Antonio to Camp Mabry in Austin, where they were met by flag-waving crowds, state and local officials, the municipal band, and veterans from the Texas Confederate Home. Upon their march back to San Antonio, that city held a large banquet complete with patriotic songs and decorations. From the pulpit, many ministers preached strict national loyalty and that patriotism was a religious duty of Christians.

Across the country and in Texas, patriotism quickly equated with nationalism, often called "Americanism," that had racist and nativist overtones. Starting in 1915 Texas saw increased intolerance of dissent and suspicion of anyone viewed as un-American, some of which was encouraged by the Wilson administration. In speeches President Wilson openly questioned the loyalty of immigrants, including those naturalized, to the United States and included an Americanism plank that claimed conspiracy of foreign-born citizens and organizations. To counter this increased suspicion, German Americans made a special effort to show their patriotism and support for their adopted country. The San Antonio Order of Hermann Sons held their own celebration with speakers praising George Washington, patriotic songs, and an exhibition of Columbia, the first German colonists, and how Germans contributed to the United States. During the San Antonio parade, an angry mob attacked a Mexican man who insulted the American flag. The El Paso parade included naturalized Chinese and Mexican immigrants, “women of the southwest,” and delegations from every African American organization led by the Sixth Infantry band.

Entry into World War I. At the start of 1917 events quickly pushed the United States into a declaration of war against Germany. On January 31, 1917, Germany declared it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare, in which submarines sank vessels without warning, which it had halted twice after sinking the Arabic in 1915 and the Sussex in 1916. On February 3, 1917, the United States severed relations with Germany. Later that month German submarines sank two American merchant ships. In response, Secretary of Agriculture David Franklin Houston, former president of the University of Texas and Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University), pressured Wilson to ask Congress to pass a bill, often referred to as the “armed-neutrality bill,” to arm merchant ships. A filibuster by noninterventionists in the Senate defeated the bill.

On March 1, 1917, the Wilson administration released to the public the Zimmermann Note, a secret telegram transmitted in code to the German ambassador in Washington for transmittal to the president of Mexico. Intercepted and decoded by Britain, the message promised Mexico that if it would join Germany and encourage Japan to join the Central Powers, Germany would assist Mexico to regain its former territories in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. After Germany’s support of Victoriano Huerta, the Ypiranga incident, the Plan of San Diego, and Villa’s raid, the Zimmermann Note firmly tied Mexico and Germany together in many Texans’ minds and led many to assume a de facto war already existed. The Dallas Morning News ran a political cartoon called “The Temptation” that portrayed Germany as a devil making a bargain with Mexico for Texas. The San Antonio Light suggested that if a German-Mexican army overran Texas, Texans would fight to the death.The El Paso Times and the Houston Post, however, urged caution out of concern of going to war. The Texas National Guard halted demobilization.

After German submarines sank three more American ships in March, Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany on April 2, 1917, stating “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Congress passed his war resolution and officially declared war four days later. Representative Jeff McLemore was the only Texan among the fifty-six members of Congress to vote against it. Texas showed its support through loyalty pledges, parades, and civilian military drills conducted in town squares, at universities, and at the state Capitol.

Texans at home and in Washington, D.C., were more divided on the issue of conscription, often referred to as the draft, which had been discussed since 1915 but undesirable compared to volunteerism as late as February 1917. Some claimed it was undemocratic and thought volunteers made better soldiers. In April Representative Daniel E. Garrett, who initially opposed conscription but ultimately voted for it, had printed into the Congressional Record dozens of letters and telegrams from across the state that represented a variety of opinions but leaned in favor of the draft.

On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act which mandated all men, including foreign residents, between the ages of twenty-one and thirty to register for military service. In 1918 the age range expanded to include men ages eighteen to forty-five. It was the second time the nation employed conscription and the first time it was used for service overseas. Unlike during the Civil War, substitutions were not allowed. The government allowed for some exemptions based on religion, occupation, and/or number of dependents, but these guidelines disfavored the sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and day laborers. Immigrants from nonbelligerent countries who had applied for citizenship were subject to the draft until July 1918 when Congress excluded those from countries neutral in the war. The system was administered by a decentralized organization made up of local and district draft boards appointed by state governors and overseen by the U.S. Provost Marshal General’s Department. These local three-member civilian boards oversaw registration, reviewed exemptions, handled draft summonses locally, and reported those who did not register, often referred to as “slackers.” Registrars assigned a number to each man. National registration days for all states (territories held them on different days) were June 5, 1917; June 5, 1918; August 24, 1918; and September 12, 1918. Each county had a draft quota that was offset by voluntary enlistments. District boards in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston, and Tyler were appointed by Governor Ferguson and reviewed exemption appeals and submitted the accepted numbers to the national level. Texas had 280 boards, one for each county and every city with 30,000 residents. Although some White women served as registrars, only White and, in some border counties, Mexican American men served on the exemption boards. A national lottery chose registration numbers on July 20, 1917. Local newspapers printed the selected numbers and draft summonses were sent through the mail. Draftees then reported for a required medical examination to certify them as fit for service. If they passed, they received a date to report for basic training from the local board. The United States Army stopped accepting African American volunteers a few days after the U.S. declaration of war and all other volunteer enlistments on December 15, 1917.

During the first registration period, more than 409,000 men registered in Texas. Of those, registration numbers for 139,929 Texans were chosen, and 50,108 were found fit for military service. The government listed another 14,173 Texans as slackers. By the end of the war approximately 990,000 men in Texas had registered. With control in local hands, decisions on registration and exemption enforcement were often tainted with local bias, racism, and abuse of power. Statistically African American men were more likely to be drafted than White men. The boards used local law enforcement and home guard units to conduct slacker “round-ups” and arrest draft dodgers. According to the federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas had jailed the largest number draft dodgers proportionally. Many of these so-called slackers had not intended to subvert the rules. Some men, especially in rural areas, did not know their age, were illiterate, or moved frequently as farm laborers and either registered in the wrong county or missed their summonses. Many Mexican nationals feared they would be drafted, despite national policy exemptions for foreign residents, and returned to Mexico. Under pressure from Anglo farmers, Governor Ferguson issued a manifesto restating the national policy and had it printed in English and Spanish-language newspapers. This effort did not curb out-migration, and Mexican nationals were still drafted if they were unable to or did not know to acquire proof of Mexican citizenship from consuls.

Open opposition to the draft was not widespread although several incidents of armed protest on registration day ended in arrests. Many were socialists who thought industrialists had pulled the nation into a foreign war. Editor Tom Hickey of The Rebel railed against conscription, called Wilson a czar, and was arrested for abetting draft resistance. The most substantial case of draft opposition came from the radical Farmers’ and Laborers’ Protective Association which allegedly planned violent responses to conscription.

Through the draft and voluntary enlistments, a total of 184,493 Texans saw service in the armed forces during the course of the war. Of those, 127,797 were drafted into the United States Army, 37,704 volunteered for the U. S. Army and National Guard (see THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION and NINETIETH DIVISION), 16,889 volunteered for the United States Navy, and 2,103 joined the United States Marines. Approximately 5,000 Mexican or Mexican American and 31,000 African American men from Texas served in the military during World War I. Soldiers with Spanish surnames like José de la Luz Sáenz served alongside Anglo soldiers and were not segregated but faced discriminatory treatment by officers. Despite this treatment, others, such as Mexican citizen and enlistee Marcelino Serna, one of the most decorated soldiers in Texas history, turned down offers for a discharge. Many African American soldiers served in segregated army units, and the few black enlistees allowed into the U. S. Navy were restricted to food services. They were not allowed to join the U.S. Marine Corps or the Signal Corps (later named Air Service) of the U.S. Army, and Texas did not have black National Guard units. Most black soldiers were not allowed to fight for their country in Europe. They served in the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth United States infantries and the Ninth and Tenth United States cavalries which were assigned garrison duty in the United States or stationed in the Philippines. After black soldiers protested racist police practices in the South which resulted in violence in Waco, San Antonio, and Houston (see HOUSTON RIOT OF 1917), the war department decided to use African American draftees primarily for stevedores and menial labor. Under pressure from black leaders, it created a black officer training camp where numerous Texans were commissioned, including physician George W. Antoine, Aaron Day, Jr., and Carter W. Wesley, and two African American combat units. Day and Wesley with the Ninety-second Division and Antoine in the Ninety-third Division fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Also in the Ninety-third Division, the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” or “Black Rattlers,” included more than sixty-five Texans. Members of these divisions as well as several entire regiments in the Ninety-second and Ninety-third divisions received the French Croix de Guerre. In addition, 450 White Texas women served as nurses in the Army Nurse Corps or Navy Nurse Corps in coordination with the American Red Cross. Initially the military and the Red Cross did not accept applications from African American nurse volunteers. This policy met with public pressure from black organizations. The military and the Red Cross then certified more than 1,800 black nurses nationwide but only allowed eighteen black women to serve, without pensions or benefits, when the military faced a critical nursing shortage caused by the Spanish influenza epidemic in late 1918. If any were from Texas is unclear. Texans were probably among the 13,329 White women who served as “yeomen” in the U. S. Navy or Marine Corps or the 223 women (later referred to as “Hello Girls”) who served as telephone switchboard operators in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps.

At least 5,170 Texans died in the armed services, including seven "Gold Star" women from the nurse corps. More than a third of the total deaths occurred inside the United States, many of them as a result of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, which spread quickly throughout the army camps in September 1918. Four Texans were awarded the Medal of Honor: Samuel Sampler, David Hayden, Daniel R. Edwards, and David Barkley, the first Hispanic American to win the Medal of Honor.

Texas had numerous military installations before the war and became a primary area for military training during the war. When deciding base and camp locations, the war department eventually shelved concerns about soldiers’ easy access to vices such as alcohol, prostitutes, and gambling venues in San Antonio, Waco, and other cities. Already the location of Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio had the largest number of military bases, staging and training camps, training and holding air fields, and other military sites. Military camps established to train men for service were Camp MacArthur at Waco, Camp Logan at Houston, Camp Travis (originally named Camp Wilson) at San Antonio, Camp Mercedes at Harlingen, Camp Scurry at Corpus Christi, Camp Crockett at Galveston, and Camp Bowie at Fort Worth. These worked in conjunction with the long-established Camp Bullis at San Antonio, Camp Mabry at Austin, and those created to support military units for border patrols: Camp Kingsville at Kingsville, Camp Del Rio at Del Rio, Camp Holland near Valentine, Camp Marfa at Marfa. A reserve officers' training school, the Leon Springs Military Reservation, and an officers’ training school at Camp Stanley (originally called Camp Funston) were established at Leon Springs, near San Antonio. The military also made full use of Texas’s other forts: Fort Bliss at El Paso, Fort Brown at Brownsville, Fort Clark at Brackettville, Fort Crockett at Galveston, Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass, Fort McIntosh at Laredo, Fort Ringgold at Rio Grande City, Fort San Jacinto and Fort Travis at Galveston.

By mid-1917 the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps began constructing twenty-eight new training fields and schools for aviators and ground support personnel. The nine fields built in Texas included Barron Field near Everman in Tarrant County, Brooks Field in San Antonio (later Brooks Air Force Base), Taliaferro Field in Fort Worth (later Hicks Field), Call Field in Wichita Falls, Carruthers Field in Benbrook near Fort Worth (later Benbrook Field), Ellington Field in Houston (later Ellington Air Force Base), Love Field in Dallas, Rich Field in Waco, and Kelly Field in San Antonio (later Kelly Air Force Base).

Kelly Field was at the forefront of San Antonio’s historic connection to aviation, and more pilots of World War I earned their wings there than any other airfield in the United States. Stinson School of Flying, which was opened in San Antonio by sisters Katherine Stinson and Marjorie Stinson and their family in 1915, also served as an important training ground for pilots. Katherine Stinson offered her services as a pilot when the U. S. Army called for volunteer aviators during World War I, but she was rejected and ultimately volunteered and served as an ambulance driver in Europe during the war. Her sister Marjorie continued as a flight instructor in San Antonio throughout the war and has been credited as the only woman inducted into the U. S. Aviation Reserve Corps (in 1915). Interestingly, San Antonio’s airfields and military installations later became the backdrop for the World War I motion picture Wings (1927), winner of the inaugural Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Canada utilized three training fields located near Fort Worth to train during the winter. Between November 1917 and April 1918, the RFC Canada also trained pilots and support personnel for the Signal Corps (later designated Air Service) for the U. S. Army and ultimately trained ten squadrons that served in Europe between December 1917 and March 1918. The Air Service established eight ground training schools throughout the state, including one at the University of Texas at Austin. Following ground training the aviation cadets travelled to the Camp John Dick Aviation Concentration Camp, built on the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas, and waited to receive an assignment to one of the aviation training fields. War industries established in the state benefited temporarily.

Universities were also used for military and war skills training. Texas A&M University was the first to volunteer its grounds and trained thousands as surveyors, mechanics, and radio operators. The University of Texas hosted a school for military aeronautics. In 1918 Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) trained nurses and soldiers. After the war many universities in Texas, including black colleges, established Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units to provide military training.

War work on the home front. To create and coordinate war programs, the federal government created a bureaucracy of agencies that included the Council of National Defense, the Food Administration, the Committee on Public Information, and the Treasury Department—all with public officials at the state and local levels. The Texas State Council of Defense was established to cooperate with the National Council of Defense and organize county councils, women’s committees, and black auxiliaries. Some restrictions were placed on the customary freedoms of speech and press. Each public school was required to be equipped with a suitable flag and to spend at least ten minutes a day in teaching intelligent patriotism. "Give Till It Hurts," "Do Your Bit," "Buy More Bonds," and other slogans found a place in the popular mind. Texans bought Liberty and Victory Bonds and War Savings Stamps and contributed to the Black and White auxiliaries of the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, Black and White women’s clubs, and other wartime organizations. Volunteer nurses with the Red Cross included African American women in the Priscilla Art Club in Dallas and Jovita Idar de Juárez at Campamento Amistad. Texans also cooperated in the food-conservation program known as "Hooverizing," so nicknamed after U. S. Food Administrator Herbert Hoover. The program included wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays, meatless Tuesdays, and porkless Thursdays and Saturdays; fat and sugar were to be conserved every day. War gardens were planted, and Texas farmers devoted new space to food crops. To conserve food, segregated home demonstration agents taught canning techniques and organized canning clubs. Extension agents, also segregated, of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service demonstrated scientific farming to increase production per acre. Concerned for the moral and physical health of soldiers, the Texas State Council of Defense organized the Committee for Civilian Cooperation in Combating Venereal Diseases—sexually-transmitted diseases were considered an emergency during wartime. Consequently, young promiscuous women were arrested for prostitution and jailed or, if White, were kept at reformatories and girls’ detention homes funded by the federal government. In 1918 a state law passed that prohibited the sale of alcohol within a ten-mile zone (called a white zone) around any military installation. Some areas like San Antonio passed a similar ordinance pertaining to prostitution. The state council also created health and sanitation committees that published guides on proper sanitation in the home, which became a matter of urgency as the nation faced widespread influenza.

The Spanish influenza pandemic reached Texas by late September 1918. United Press reported that more than 200 cases (of the estimated 20,000 in army camps nationwide) had broken out in two army camps—Camp Travis in San Antonio and Camp Logan in Houston—and the Texas State Board of Health warned city and county officials to be vigilant for the flu’s outbreak among the civilian population. By October, mayors and other officials in cities throughout Texas issued health proclamations prohibiting public gatherings in the effort to slow the spread of sickness. Mayor August Klein in Victoria, for example, directed that all schools, churches, movie theaters, and societies be closed—a measure that lasted through mid-November. Hospitals treating the sick, mortuaries burying the dead, as well as grocers and other businesses were overburdened with the effects of the influenza epidemic—which waged a particularly virulent war on healthy adults (age twenty to forty). Almost every family dealt with the devastating effects of the Spanish influenza pandemic or knew others who did before it finally waned in 1919.

To suppress domestic dissent, the federal government passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts constructed in part by U.S. attorney general Thomas Watt Gregory. Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson had a significant role in enforcing these acts through the postal service and targeted any radical publications. The Rebel, printed in Hallettsville, was the first paper he shut down in the country. The Bureau of Investigation also investigated any Texas subscribers of the Chicago Defender.

Industries considered essential to the war saw higher wages and encouraged further migration away from rural farms, so farm labor wages increased also. The federal government nationalized railroads and other industries necessary for the war and created a conciliation agency within the Department of Labor to mediate disputes but actively suppressed more radical socialist or anarchist elements. These efforts failed to prevent the Oilfield Strike of 1917.

Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, Texans were encouraged to report any suspicious activity and often immigrants, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and German Americans were unfairly targeted. Foreign-language newspapers had to give translations to the post office to ensure they were not criticizing the U.S. government. The Alien Registration law labeled all male Germans, age fourteen and over, that had not applied for citizenship as alien enemies. If they did not start naturalization or register with local law enforcement, they could be arrested like Max Werkenthin of Waco. Werkenthin, a teacher, Boy Scout leader, and radio operator, was reported by an anonymous source to the Bureau of Investigation as a possible spy. He was arrested and, without due process, sent to a labor camp in Florida. Assimilation, referred to as Americanization, became a primary concern of school boards and church groups. The United States Bureau of Education adopted the slogan “America First” to promote speaking English, and the third Liberty Loan campaign used on their posters the phrase “100 per cent American”; the phrase was used later by the Ku Klux Klan. In early 1918 the Texas legislature passed Loyalty Laws that prohibited use of the German language or display of German culture, including symbols in public. The Texas State Council of Defense did little to dissuade vigilante attacks on Germans—in one such incident, home guard members publicly whipped, tarred, and feathered a German who failed to buy Liberty Bonds in Wharton County.

After the war ends. Fighting in Europe ended on November 11, 1918, and the war ended with the Treaty of Versailles. The war had a lasting impact on the state and accelerated the pattern of urbanization. The war advanced temperance campaign efforts to get national prohibition through the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. After significant war work done by women, the Woman Primary Suffrage Law in Texas and the federal Nineteenth Amendment finally recognized a woman’s right to vote (see WOMAN SUFFRAGE), but racial discrimination still barred African Americans and many Mexican Americans from full suffrage. The war also heightened White society’s anti-immigrant and racist attitudes that fed the federal government’s passage of immigration restrictions and the Ku Klux Klan’s growth in the 1920s. The war to “keep the world safe for democracy” spurred a decade of civil rights activism and organization of activist chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the creation of numerous Mexican American organizations, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The “Red Summer” in 1919 saw a wave of violence nationwide and in Texas as the government cracked down on radicals and race riots broke out. Farmers, who were encouraged to plant in every available lot and field during the war, found that their prosperity ended after the war when Europe returned to farming. Oversupply and competition caused a drastic drop in agricultural commodity prices. Military presence in Texas remained significant, and many war camps and airfields remained long after the Treaty of Versailles.

Austin American, September 30, 1914; November 1, 1914; July 5, 1916; April 3, 1917. Austin Statesman, May 19, 1916; June 14, 1916.  Gregory W. Ball, Texas and World War I (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2019). Virginia Bernhard, “Ima Hogg in Europe, 1914: A Texan Experiences the Beginning of the Great War,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 119 (January 2016). Jami L. Bryan, “FIGHTING FOR RESPECT: African-American Soldiers in WWI,” January 20, 2015, African American History, Army History Center, Army Historical Foundation (, accessed October 22, 2019. Walter L. Buenger, The Path to a Modern South: Northeast Texas Between Reconstruction and the Great Depression (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001). Carole E. Christian, “Joining the American Mainstream: Texas’s Mexican Americans during World War I,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 92 (April 1989). Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863–1973 (Washington: GPO, 1973). Cotton Production and Distribution: Season of 1917–18, Bulletin 137, Department of Commerce (Washington: GPO, 1918). Sandra Denise Smith Davidson, Propaganda, Pressure, and Patriotism: The Texas State Council of Defense and the Politics of Gender, Race, and Class During World War I (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Houston, 2017).  El Paso Times, June 14, 15, 1916; March 2, 1917. Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1916. Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Houston Post, September 20, 1914; November 2, 1914; May 5, 8, 9, 11, 1915; March 27, 1916; July 5, 1916; March 2, 1917. Jeanette Keith, “The Politics of Southern Draft Resistance, 1917–1918: Class, Race, and Conscription in the Rural South,” The Journal of Southern History 87 (March 2001). Alexander Mendoza and Charles David Greer, eds., Texans and War: New Interpretations of the State’s Military History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012). Nancy Mitchell, The Danger of Dreams: German and American Imperialism in Latin America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison, ed., The Texas Left: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Liberalism (College Station: Texas A&M University Pres, 2010). José A. Ramírez, To the Line of Fire!: Mexican Texans and World War I (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2009). F. N. Samponaro and P. L. Vanderwood, War Scare on the Rio Grande (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Courtney Q. Shah, “‘Against Their Own Weakness’: Policing Sexuality and Women in San Antonio, Texas, during World War I,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 19 (September 2010). Barbara W. Tuchmann, The Zimmermann Telegram (New York: Delta, 1958). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Victoria Daily Advocate, September 24, 1918; October 12, 1918; November 16, 1918. Katherine Kuehler Walters, The Great War in Waco: African Americans, Race Relations, and the White Primary, 19161922 (M.A. thesis, Southwest Texas State University, 2000). Ralph A. Wooster, Texas and Texans in the Great War (Buffalo Gap, Texas: State House Press, 2010).

Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Katherine Kuehler Walters, “World War I,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022,

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