Librarians’ book offers a look at Sacramento’s efforts during WWI

Amanda G. DeWilde
Amanda G. DeWilde Brian DeWilde

Two Sacramento librarians have written a book about the region’s response to World War I, uncovering nuggets of information from special collections that show how area residents pulled together during the great conflict.

Amanda G. DeWilde, archivist for the special collections of the Sacramento Public Library, and James C. Scott, a reference librarian for the special collections’ Sacramento Room, have written “World War I and the Sacramento Valley.”

The slim, 160-page book covers the training of many of the United States’ first air units for combat at Mather Field, how local farm production was ramped up to feed the Allied forces and how America-first thinking purged German clubs and language classes from schools.

The book also documents how groups tracked down suspected German sympathizers and how women worked on the railroad and in ironworks when many men went away to war.

A portion of the sales will support the Sacramento Public Library. Books can be purchased at The Avid Reader at Tower, at 16th Street and Broadway, and through Arcadia Publishing for $21.99. The library also has copies for checkout.

Scott and DeWilde individually handled different chapters. They answered some questions posed by The Sacramento Bee about their book:

Q: Why did you want to write about Sacramento during World War I?

Scott: In addition to realizing that we were in the centennial cycle, we also knew that the story just hadn’t been told. We sort of looked at each other and thought, why not us? It was also the nation’s first real encounter with total war on a global scale. That sort of undertaking can tell you a lot about a community – the good and the bad. It was a unique opportunity, so we jumped on it.

Q: Where did you find your material?

Scott: Almost all of what we used for researching the book came out of the Sacramento Room or our periodicals collection. As a library system, our collection power is tremendous. We always hope that we can inspire folks to write a book of their own on a given topic, just by coming downtown.

Q: Did Sacramento embrace the call to action?

DeWilde: I was very impressed by how a community that may have initially been pretty reluctant to get involved in the “European war” by the end was absolutely sold on the idea and willing to sacrifice everything for the cause.

Q: What were Sacramento’s greatest contributions to the war effort?

DeWilde: Sacramento’s greatest contribution had to be food. California sent more food than any other state, and Sacramento received millions in foreign contracts for barley, rice and beans, along with canned fruit, vegetables and meat. Over the 18 months we were involved, Sacramento essentially doubled the number of its farms, and the value of all crops more than quadrupled.

Q: Was there much backlash against Sacramento residents with German heritage?

Scott: One out of every 10 Sacramentans was German or Austrian or had a parent who was. The Committee for Public Information was a revolutionary body, a veritable tax-funded public relations firm that only cared about convincing you: One, the value of day-to-day sacrifice; and two, why the Germans were a damaged race. Despite public signs of support for the war effort, ethnic Germans from Siskiyou County to Stanislaus County were humiliated in a number of ways. Obviously, 25 years later, the nation was doing so much worse to Japanese Americans. It is a recurring hobgoblin of American democracy – balancing national security with civil liberties.

Q: Any particular person stand out for his or her courage on the battlefront or service stateside?

Scott: There are a lot of figures that burrow their way into your heart, but I can’t help coming back to the baby-faced Louis Baptiste Schuler. He graduated Sacramento High School, attended church at St. Paul’s Episcopal at 15th and J, and worked as a gunsmith at Kimball-Upson Sporting Goods at Sixth and K. He was one of the few Sacramento kids to join up right away. His mother, Jennie, was half-French, which may have influenced his decision. He trained for nearly a year to be a medic, but never made it beyond his first night in the trenches of Chateau Thierry, where he died tending to his fellow Marines. Louis is still in France, buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery. His mother visited him as a Gold Star Pilgrim in 1929.

DeWilde: Anastasia Miller, a Red Cross nurse from Sacramento, served on the front lines in France during the war. She wrote back very colorful letters, which are featured in the book. She treated refugees and wounded soldiers in the middle of the war zone. I love a quote from one of her letters near the end of the conflict. She was offered an assignment to go to Archangel, Russia, and she wrote, “I was first and for a time the only one and was quite a popular heroine for they explained to me the voyage, the six months darkness and the fact they I might have to eat candles and freeze to death, but I told them I took the chance of being blown to pieces and that freezing hadn’t nearly the horrors for me.”

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews