After Women's Suffrage
The Minute Women of Washington
by Shanna Stevenson
In Washington State as in many other states, women organized for home front service before and during World War I.
Minute Women pin. WSHS - All rights reserved.
This paper will outline the activities of women in Washington State during World War I as part of the Council of National Defense, the State Council of Defense, Woman’s Work, (known as the Minute Women) and the National League for Women’s Service. The effectiveness and cooperation of these organizations among themselves and with parallel men’s groups will also be discussed and some analysis regarding the differences for Washington women from other states because of their status as voting women will be explored. Also, the role of the Minute Women after World War I and their legacy in keeping alive the memories of the men who fought in the war and serving the needs of veterans will be outlined.
World War I
President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. This was after a period of neutrality of the United States. However anticipating a war, a Council of Defense had been created in August 1916 by Act of Congress which included the Secretaries of War, Navy, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor to coordinate home front support for a conflict. This group created a Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense on April 21, 1917, chaired by noted suffragist Dr. Anna Howard Shaw.
The creation of the Woman’s Committee was pre-figured by a meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in February, 1917. This meeting was called at the request of Carrie Chapman Catt. By resolution, it was determined that NAWSA would offer their war service by forming a National Committee of representatives from each national organization of women. The resolution outlined the areas of work for such women’s groups—Women’s Employment; Food Supply; Red Cross; Americanization and a Conference Committee.1
These home front efforts were aimed at creating support for a war which many Americans did not understand and a war in which America had remained neutral. The government has also been cited as promoting propaganda and restricting civil liberties in the effort to create a mobilized country. This was also true in Washington State.2
National League for Woman’s Service
Organization with overlapping membership of Minute Women
Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense
Merged with Minute Women, end of 1917
Washington State Council of Defense
Minute Women after World War I
Activities of the organization after World War I
The focus has seemed to be in recent years on the service of women in World War II—often in active service or replacing men as “Rosie the Riveters.” The story of the great mobilization of women in World War I in Washington has not been widely explored. HistoryLink has presented a fine story about knitting in World War I—indeed that was an active part of service but the work of women in home front and European relief has not been fully documented.
These women poised for service and energized by their organizational abilities honed through women’s clubs jumped in full force to fulfill the directives of the federal and state government for war services and to provide international relief. The National League of Women’s Service worked with the State and National Committees but branched out to international relief, influenza service and even as substitute workers during the Seattle General Strike.
Using both their new-found and traditional skills, Washington women contributed significantly to the war effort and to their stature as partners with men in patriotism and preparedness. Washington’s women were not fighting for the vote as were so many others nationally during this period, having attained full suffrage in 1910. Suffrage has often been cited as a rationale for such active service nationally and in other states. Also in Washington coordination under the Minute Women of bond sales, complementing men’s work and state and national directives provided for a more collaborative effort.
It is evident that the Minute Women were called upon to carry out, at least in some measure, the anti-sedition efforts of the State Council—through their “patriotism” efforts and monitoring of war bond sales.
So well-organized were the Minute Women, that they determined to continue their work after armistice in 1918, bringing solace to the often maimed men who returned from their service in Europe. The women exerted their influence not only in matters related to veterans, but for World Peace, preparedness, radicalism and myriad other causes which were traditionally associated with the club movement—including beautification and support for legislation that benefited women. They participated in making sure that the deaths of Washington soldiers would not be forgotten through memorials in the state and in France. Finally they gave out—many having devoted more than 25 years to the cause and facing yet another test of a world at war by the end of the Minute Women in 1943.