November 12, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The news and headlines from The Daily Capital Journal:

Within Eight Miles of Naval Base, Dover, Destroys British Gunboat
Submarine Passed Through Recently Mined Field Without Mishap

Desperate Attacks Indicate Kaiser Is Making Final Effort to Reach Coast

When Kaiser Sees Germans Cannot Advance, Peace Will Be In Sight
Teutons Can Gain Nothing By Defensive War – End May Come Soon

In national news, the paper reported President Wilson’s anger that African-Americans would be offended by the President’s plan to segregate federal workers:

Washington, Nov. 12. – Negroes, representing the National Equal Rights League, attempted to “bait” President Wilson here today.

W. Monroe Trotter of Boston, spokesman for the league, so passionately attacked federal officers for segregating negro and white employes in federal departments that President Wilson reproved him. The negroes said they were disappointed at the president’s attitude.

President Wilson said he regretted the negroes considered such a question a political one and then practically told them if the negro race disliked what the administration was doing it could register its disapproval at the next election. He said the blacks should not consider the segregation of white and black federal employes here an unfriendly act.

The discourtesy of W. Monroe Trotter angered President Wilson. He openly rebuked him and told the negroes if they ever came to the White House again they should have another spokesman.

President Wilson said he had never been spoken to in his office before as the negroes addressed him.

Not content with reporting the racist sentiments of the President, the paper’s editor felt compelled, in what seems to be a fit of misogyny, to take a shot at the Pankhursts. The Pankhursts, Emmeline and Christable, mother and daughter, were prominent British suffragettes. Radical problems require radical solutions which in turn may require radical means. Sweet reason seldom mitigates entrenched prejudice. Their tactics, as a result, ceased to be ladylike as they forced themselves onto the public, male-dominated, stage.

In 1913, Emily Wilding Davison committed suicide when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the 1913 British Derby. The Pankhurst’s tactic was the hunger strike and, war notwithstanding, they were not about to retire to the kitchen or the drawing room:

There is a silver lining to every cloud, it is said, and England, while afflicted with a terrible war, is about to get rid of the Pankhursts on that account. By the way, why would it not be a good stunt to send Mrs. Pankhurst to Belgium and let her work her hunger strike game to a real finish?

A theme of organized labor was worker solidarity, a sentiment that some placed above national allegiance, as the is article, reporting a speech by a Canadian before the American Federation of Labor conference in Philadelphia:

R. A. Riggs, a fraternal delegate from Canada, appealed fervently to the American Federation of Labor, in annual convention here, today, to take steps toward ending the European war.

After urging “action which will enable the workers of the world to enter once again into brotherly relations, one with another,” he declared: “the spirit of brotherhood which is being engendered on this continent by unionism makes it safe for me to predict that the workers of Canada and those of the United States will never permit secret diplomacy or any other cause to induce them to fly at one another’s throats and spill one another’s blood.”

An article on page 7 reports the return of the Eckerlen family who, the headline reported, “Were in Heart of War Zone:”

No more wars for genial and altogether peaceable “Gene” Eckerlen, who, with Mrs. Eckerlen, arrived home last evening from a seven months’ sojourn abroad, during a great deal of which time they were in the heart of the zone of heaviest fighting in Alsace province, Germany, and more than four weeks they were within four to 20 miles of the scene of the bloodiest of bloody battlefields where the cannons kept up an incessant roar and thousands upon thousands of valiant soldiers upon both the German and French sides gave up their lives for their countries’ cause.

Mr. Eckerlen was but 15 years of age when the Franco-Prussian war was fought in the same territory in which the present terrible conflict is being waged between the mighty powers of Europe, when Germany wrested the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from the French, and he got over there just in time to get into the thickest of the fray between the same two warring nations; and this time, in the opinion of Mr. Eckerlen, it looks as though the French are destined to recover their lost territory. When he left the war zone that part of the Alsatian province was in the hands of the French and they were making slow but sure and bloody advance upon the Germans, with the latter contesting every inch of the advance with the sternest and staunchest valor and determination.


“When we went down into Alsace to visit my brother, the mayor of Colmar, we got into the thickest of it before we realized it and too late to get out. When the French began their advance the Germans, to retard them, destroyed the railroads and bridges behind them, and this made it impossible for us to leave until transportation facilities were restored to Strassburg and beyond. The heaviest of the fighting was at Muelhausen and Munster, about 15 and 20 miles distant from Colmar, but numerous engagements took place between the French and German armies within four miles of Colmar, where we were staying.

“Back and forth the two armies surged, the fighting all took place in the mountain passes, just outside of the town, and first the French troops would march through our town and go into camp for a season and then here would come the Germans, and the French would have to get out. The French soldiers were much the younger and lighter and had all of the advantage over the more heavily accoutered and clothed and more aged German ‘landsturm,’ who ranged in age from 35 to 45 years and wore heavy clothing and boots. At one time for four solid weeks there was fighting every day and night in that territory and the roar of the cannon and rattle of musketry was deafening, and the sight of the dead and wounded was heartrending.

“Only upon one occasion did we feel that we were in imminent danger of becoming involved in active battle and that was when over 5000 Germans marched through Colmar and camped just outside the town and news came that the French were coming and would engage in battle in our midst. The Germans, however, returned into the mountains to put up a defense, and then the French came through and the engagement took place in the mountain passes. Several times, however, the battle approached the town and the lookout, which was maintained in a church tower at all times, sounded the alarm. We were all packed up, as was all of the people of the village, and went to my brother’s house, where horses were kept hitched and in readiness to hustle us out of the zone of danger in the event of a battle within the city.


“The wounded upon both sides were accorded the same care and treatment, and so far as I was ever able to find out, there were no cruelties or atrocities practiced on either side. Of course, there were all kinds of stories going around about the harsh treatment of non-combatants out in the mountains and upon the scenes of battle, but we never say any of it or none came to our personal knowledge. When the mayors of some of the little villages were suspected of harboring the French they were shot, to be sure, but that is the case in every war.


Yes, indeed, we were glad to get back where we know everybody and where we have someone to talk to besides our immediate relations. We were like strangers in a strange land over there, and the statue of liberty on this side of the big pond was the most glorious and welcome vision I ever beheld.”


About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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