UNIVERSITY CITY AND THE GREAT WAR
When President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 2, 1917, Republican Jacob Edwin Meeker, who represented University City as part of Missouri’s 10th district in the U.S. House of Representatives,was unable to vote on the resolution. He was seriously ill from the influenza pandemic that would ultimately kill between 50 and 100 million people world- wide. Meeker died from the illness on October 16, 1918.[i]
The other two congressmen from the St. Louis area, Leonidas Dyer (Republican, 12th district) and William L. Igoe (Democrat, 11th district) split their vote. Igoe joined 49 other representatives (including three additional Missouri congressmen) who voted against declaring war; Dyer voted yes. The two U.S. senators from Missouri also cast opposite votes: James A. Reed, Democrat, voted in favor of the war while William J. Stone, also a Democrat and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted no. The issue of whether the United States should enter the war thus sharply divided Missouri.[ii]
Only months earlier, University City voters had cast ballots in the presidential election of 1916. Republican candidate Charles Evan Hughes had carried the city with 54 percent of the vote against Wilson who received 44.8 percent. The president, however, narrowly won the state with 50.6 percent of the vote and was re-elected while Hughes received 47 percent of the vote.[iii]
Once war was declared, University City residents supported the American soldiers and sailors who fought in the conflict. The percentage of eligible males (ages 18-31) who served in the military is not available but 177 University City men were enlisted: 141 in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under the command of General John Pershing, 24 enrolled in the navy, 5 joined the marines and 7 were assigned to the army air force. Three men were killed in action on the Western Front in France, one perished at sea and one died from influenza at San Antonio in Texas.[iv]
At home, chauvinistic war fever and repeated violation of civil liberties , countenanced by the public and reinforced by the Espionage Act of 1917 (still on the books) and the Sedition Act of 1918, made any criticism of the war or its conduct perilous, chilling the political environment. All things German were frowned upon. The use of German liturgy in churches was discouraged as was the teaching of German in schools. In 1919 the University City Board of Aldermen changed the names of two streets. Berlin Avenue became Pershing and Von Verson Avenue was changed to Enright.[v]
The war, however, boosted University City’s economy and population. In 1910 the population was 2,417 of whom 490 were foreign born, 1,706 were of foreign ancestry, 71 were African American and the remainder were unidentified. By 1920 the number of residents had almost tripled to 6,792. Land annexations in 1916, 1918 and 1919 expanded the city’s boundaries.[vi]
In December 1919 a new school, Pershing, was dedicated. General John J. Pershing, in whose honor the school was named, was on hand for the event and the school was opened to students in September 1920. Four years later, in 1924, yet another school, Flynn Park was dedicated. The new schools reflected the growth of the city and the increase of school age children. The “Great War” was now consigned to history textbooks.[vii]
[i] “Jacob Edwin Meeker,” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Edwin_Meeker Accessed July 14, 2017; http://history.house.gov/people/Detail?ed=18111&cid=38165&cs=1&ce=1158&f=ALL Accessed July 13, 2017; Jeffrey B. Lewis,”Congressional District Boundaries-58th to 72nd Congresses” https://github.com/jeffreyblewis/congresssional-district-boundaries/blob/missouri-58-to-72.geojson Accessed July 13, 2017.
The author thanks Kara Krekeler, Reference Librarian, University City Public Library, for her research and assistance in locating these sites through the Political Science Department at University of California in Los Angeles.
[ii] Vote on Declaration of War https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/65-1/h10 Accessed July 14, 2017; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_L._Igoe Accessed July 14, 2017; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonidas_C._Dyer Accessed July 14, 2017.
[iii] C. Edwin Murray and Ilene Kanfer Murray, University City, Missouri: Its People and Events, 1906-1931 (St. Louis, The Historical Society of University City), 213. I am indebted to Sue Rehkopf for bringing this book to my attention.
[iv] Ibid., 142-168; U.S. War Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year 1918, Vol. ! (1918), 11; Mitchell Yackelson, “They Answered the Call: Military Service in the United States Army During World War I, 1917-1919,” Prologue: Selected Articles (Fall 1998), Vol. 30, #3. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/military_service_in_world_war_one.html Accessed July 23, 2017.
[v] Nini Harris, Legacy of Lions (University City: The Historical Society of University, 1981), 87-88.
[vi] Ibid., 89,92; Murray and Murray, University City, Missouri: Its People and Events, 169.
[vii] Ibid., 287-88;397.
HENRY W. BERGER IS PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF HISTORY AND BOOK REVIEW EDITOR OFCOMMON READER AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS.