While continuing to process acquired documents from the Chicago Theological Seminary, I recently found two large volumes of bound surveys about Congregational Churches' nation-wide and their activities during World War I. The surveys are organized alphabetically by city and state and ask various questions related to the church's activities as of 1917. The vast majority of the surveys were filled out by pastors as well as occasional clerks and trustees, mostly in the spring of 1919.
These are an incredible font of information! The raw data contained in the surveys touch on so many potential research questions regarding churches roles related to the war, not the least of which include: differing geographical views of the war, potential anti-German sentiment in German ethnic enclaves, the role of clergy volunteering on behalf of the government outside of church providing propaganda, as well as the role of children and women in the war effort.
WWI Survey image from FCC in Amherst, NH
click to enlarge
An overwhelming number of churches had children from their congregations assist the war effort by participating in the Junior Red Cross, Boy Scouts, and by raising money for war bonds. The children in one church in Hopkins, MI even sold candy to raise money to adopt French orphans from the war.
A number of pastors volunteered as "Four Minute Men" -- volunteers to the Committee on Public Information, established by President Wilson by Executive Order in 1917. Four minute Men spoke about the war at social events for four minute time periods, highlighting the war effort as it pertained to the draft, war rationing, war bonds, victory gardens, and reasons for America's involvement.
While these are some universal themes of church involvement in the war, there is also a strong strain of individualism that comes through in these surveys. Seeing varied levels of involvement and church individualism isn't a surprise given Congregational History, but it is fascinating to see and may be most readily identified in answering the question:
What did your pastor consider the main message of the pulpit during the war?
Answers vary wildly; here are some examples:
- "Modern Crusade to overthrow the anti-Christ"
First Congregational Church, Somerville, MA
- “1. To support the Administration
2. Conserve Food
3. Prevent Waste
4. Trust in God
Interlaken Congregational Library, Stockbridge, MA
- "Cooperation with the government despite party affiliation and insistence on an attempt at world-wide and eternal peace."
First Congregational Church, Amherst, NH
- "Remember this is our war. Keep the church fires burning for our own righteous enthusiasm and for the encouragement of the boys 'over there'. Cultivate a loyal spirit toward the President and all leaders in the war. Sacrifice in accord with Hoover's and Garfield's requests. Be firmly antagonistic but not bitter toward the enemy."
First Congregational Church, Jamestown, ND
- "At first, God is yet over all. Next, We must protect our weak neighbors and the suffering ones abroad. Third, We must fight Germany. Later, 'I hate them with a perfect hatred.' The intensity of our hatred of evil being the measure of our loyalty to God and right. Last, We must help the starving, and aid in restoration."
First Congregational Church, Fairport Harbor, OH
While this raw data is amazing, it unfortunately comes with no provenance -- information, context, or history -- to go with the documents. I am researching more about survey's origins and outcomes in National Council Minutes, but have generally found little documentation in Congregational records. We will continue to search, but ask if you have any information or possible leads about this WWI era survey work, please share them with us!