Fueling The War Economy and, also, What’s A Girl To Do? –
The large banner headline on the front page “To Smash Outrageous Coal Prices” as the governors of 15 states met in Chicago to plan an effort to bring down consumer prices for coal, even if it might mean state takeovers of the mines. At the same time, the 25,000 miners in Kentucky were preparing to go on strike. Coal was then the main fuel for not only power plants, but for the railroads, industry and even home heating. Meanwhile, in Bloomington, the faculty of IU were coming up with their own scheme to beat the high price of coal. Several professors formed a cooperative venture to buy coal at a wholesale rate. They then opened their group up to anyone employed by the University, at cost, with no one making a profit from the sale.
Another major economic concern was food. Armies and nations both run on their stomach and in 1917 that meant there were a lot of people out in the field harvesting the crops – about 30% of all workers nationwide were on a farm, compared with less than 1% today. Between the coal mines, the munitions factories and the railroads (which were making a record profit according to another story in the Evening World, no doubt hauling around the men, munitions, coal and food) it is easy to see just what spectacular pressure the labor force was under, it’s no wonder the local draft board was still moving very slowly to mobilize men with only 15 men out of 100 examined fit and not asking for exemption.
One surprising solution at this time point in the war was to organize teenage boys for agriculture work. Although it is often thought that the category of “teenager” was not really differentiated from “adult” in the 1910s, the armed services were drafting men only from age 21 to 30, at this stage in the war, and the army did not take volunteers under 18 (and 18-21 only with parental approval). The younger men were instead being organized into the “U.S. Boy’s Working Reserve” as detailed in both an article and an advertisement in the Evening World.
Another way to deal with the labor shortage would be to organize the women, but Bloomington of this era seemed somewhat unsure how women should conduct themselves in wartime. The Evening World dedicates the lead local story to controversy over female dancing instructors at Indiana University stirred up in another nearby paper, the Columbus Republican. They conclude in hoping that the women find less frivolously named dances by fall, perhaps trading the tango and “walking the dog” for “darning the sock” and “rocking the baby.” All of which seem equally useless for war mobilization to my mind. Elsewhere, it was reported in the national news; in an automobile plant near Chicago, and on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad women were beginning to take on heavier roles in industry (they already dominated the workforce in canneries, textile mills and clothing manufacturing). In Bloomington women were directed toward Red Cross volunteering and Hoover’s Food Pledge.