Hardin County and World War I

On April 6, 1917, the United States government declared war on Germany, thus ending 3 years of neutrality. The United States’ entrance into World War I would see 4,355,000 troops mobilize to help Britain, France, and Russia put an end to a war responsible for more casualties than any war in history. Company I would be the group of men who served from Hardin Co. The first group that mustered out on August 15, 1917 consisted of 16 men, all volunteers. This group of men would be sent to France and would become part of the Fourth Regiment and the “Rainbow Division”. The mobilization of American troops would mean that not only would women have to take up jobs in factories and other male dominated positions but also they would become a major force in providing the necessary supplies and equipment. During this time, the United States, especially in small towns, saw an increase in the creation of women’s groups. One such group that saw an increase in chapters was the Red Cross. The first group of soldiers left Hardin County, OH on August 15, 1917. In preparation for this an advertisement was placed in The Kenton Daily Democrat on April 7, 1917 by the Fort McArthur Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution announcing they would be taking steps to start a Red Cross Chapter in the county. The article encouraged women to enlist in helping with activities such as nursing, making bandages and surgical dressing and other various tasks. Without time to waste, the American Red Cross Chapter of Hardin County was founded on June 12, 1917 with a goal of 3,400 new members. To achieve this a drive was held on the public square which included booths encouraging women and the men left behind to do their part in helping troops overseas.
The Red Cross of Hardin County wasted no time helping prepare supplies for the soldiers going overseas. Knitting became the main activity of the Hardin County women. Women were encouraged to knit items such as sweaters, mufflers, etc. and a knitting machine was purchased to be used to make socks for the troops. Along with the knitting of items and the rolling of bandages, the Red Cross also helped to raise funds for different programs that would aid the troops or those whose main provider was fighting or killed. For Hardin County, OH, the news of the first loss of the war would come on March 7, 1918 from The News-Republican. The article stated that Sargent Forrest Watson lost his life at the age of 21 on March 3 in France. While he was unmarried, he left behind his parents. Being aware of the hardships faced by those families who lost their primary breadwinner, used its resources and funds to help those who could not financially support themselves. This fund was able to provide loans, grants and allowances with no interest expected. This money was used to pay for groceries, bills, and in many cases funeral expenses for those who had lost their lives fighting. It was through this program that many families, especially in small towns, were able to continue to feed and clothe themselves without the added burden of debt.

The Red Cross was not the only organization in Hardin County to contribute to the war effort. The Kenton Garden Association was called upon to distribute seeds that would be used to grow individual gardens. The governor of Ohio at the time, James Cox, set the initiative in motion hoping that Ohio would lead the way for the country. An article in the Kenton Daily Democrat explained that Women’s Garden clubs were not the only ones becoming involved in the distribution of seeds and helping to teach good gardening practices. April 1917 saw the early dismissal of high school and college students. The hope was that they would return to their family farms to produce items for their family’s consumption. Church groups also became involved. On April 11, 1917, church leaders and their congregations gathered to pray for the country and for the men serving overseas.

It has been 100 years since the United States entered World War I. It can be argued that this action is one of the major turning points in our nation’s history. The war would reach into every corner of the country and bring people together to support the men who served. Even in small rural places like Hardin County, people did their part to help with the war effort. There is not much available about those who served from Hardin County. What is available is found in newspaper articles. If you have a member of your family who served in World War I and would like to share, please contact the museum at 419-673-7147 or email me at sheena@hardinmuseums.org