WWI’s Impact on Connecticut

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By Elizabeth J. Normen (c) Connecticut Explored, Winter 2014/2015

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“Knowledge Wins!” proclaims a World War I-era poster featured in the Winter 2014-2015 issue’s photo essay. That seems an apt theme for the entire issue. Last August marked the centennial of the advent of World War I, and though the U.S. would officially stay neutral for the next two years and eight months, Connecticut’s citizens were, as were citizens elsewhere, drawn into the Great War in various ways: flying for the Lafayette Flying Corps (American volunteers who flew for the French, see neam.org/lafayette-escadrille), driving ambulances, serving as nurses, and here at home manufacturing munitions and contributing to war relief.

JTBT 3The war’s impact on Connecticut was profound. Restricted immigration and immigrants’ return home to fight for their native countries caused labor shortages just as arms manufacturing in the state was ramping up. The migration of African Americans from the South to fill those jobs transformed Connecticut (see Stacey Close’s “Southern Blacks Transform Connecticut,” Fall 2013). By the end of 1915, Bridgeport’s factories, as Cecelia Bucki notes in her Winter 2013/14 article “The Labor Movement in Connecticut,” were “supplying two-thirds of the small arms and ammunition into the European war theater.” But Bridgeport was also the center of labor conflict that, Bucki goes on to note, “attracted national attention and concern of the federal government” when workers went on strike to secure an eight-hour day and to air other grievances. Women in Connecticut were advocating for the vote, and their wartime work helped them get it [See Spring 2016].

With this issue we formally launch our coverage of Connecticut in World War I. Unlike our coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, to which we devoted two entire issues, our plan is to cover the Great War with stories sprinkled throughout the four-year anniversary period (and in a few past issues, too, including “When Books Became Enemy Propaganda,” in the Fall 2014 issue).

This issue’s World War I coverage explores women’s efforts to support the war in Europe with a story from Greenwich Historical Society’s new exhibition “Greenwich Faces the Great War.” We also offer a selection of propaganda posters—an important vehicle in the days before radio, television, and the Internet—from the collection of the Litchfield Historical Society, and a piece about the unprecedented efforts of local and federal governments to address the dire shortage of housing for munitions workers—with a very different outcome than WWII housing produced.

We’re featuring stories from other wars, too: a fascinating look at how Connecticut paid its Civil War bills in the era before a national currency and banking system, a surprising story about one of Connecticut’s own Monuments Man, artist Deane Keller, who is the subject of an exhibition at the New Haven Museum, and a piece about one of the giants of anti-Vietnam War activism: Yale’s William Sloane Coffin Jr. These stories help put our WWI experiences in historical context.

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Elizabeth J. Normen
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