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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


In May 1917, one month after the U.S. entered World War I, the Council of National Defense, created by the National Defense Act of August 1916, asked each state to organize its own council. With vague direction from Washington, D.C., the state councils had a wide range of tasks, including publicity, conservation of food and fuel, and military preparedness, as well as promoting Liberty Bond, war savings stamp, and Red Cross campaigns. Because the Oklahoma Legislature did not convene during the war, Gov. Robert L. Williams established an extralegal state council. He appointed James Monroe Aydelotte, the chair of the State Board of Affairs, to head the twelve-member council. Williams selected Roberta Campbell Lawson, president of the Oklahoma State Federation of Women's Clubs, as chair of the Oklahoma Woman's Committee of National Defense.

On May 16, 1917, the Oklahoma Council of Defense met and established eleven committees, including munitions, manufacturing, supplies, labor, publicity, and finance. In July 1917 Governor Williams appointed prominent entrepreneurs to be on the county executive committees. Throughout the state a million volunteers formed thousands of community councils at the school district level. To communicate instructions to the statewide workers, the state council published a monthly newspaper, Sooners in the War.

Newspapers and public speakers informed the public on the causes of the war and the need for a concerted effort to win the war. The state council provided weekly material to newspapers to be published under the heading "We Must Win the War." The council created the Oklahoma Patriotic Speakers' Bureau, whose members gave speeches using a pamphlet, "The War: Its Justification and Purpose," written by Dr. Angelo C. Scott, a faculty member of the University of Oklahoma. The pamphlet provided uniform information explaining why America had entered the war, the atrocities of German crimes, and the need to support the government. In Oklahoma more than three thousand volunteer speakers served as "Four Minute Men," who gave brief patriotic speeches. National and international speakers, such as Secretary of the Interior Franklin D. Lane and French Lt. Paul Perigord, spoke to enthusiastic Oklahoma crowds.

The state council organized an Oklahoma Loyalty Bureau and cooperated with the American Protective League to locate dissenters and to jail those who remained disloyal. Oklahomans had to sign a pledge card, declaring loyalty to the government and agreeing to report any disloyal statement or act. Approximately half of Oklahoma's two million population signed cards. Before the federal government passed the Sedition Act of 1918, amending the Espionage Act, the Loyalty Bureau asked cities and towns to pass antisedition ordinances. The bureau employed a number of secret service agents, who worked in communities in which a large portion of the population was suspected of sedition.

Because the Oklahoma Council of Defense was an extralegal organization, numerous incidents of extreme measures occurred to eliminate dissent. Men were beaten with leather straps and tarred and feathered. Liberal use of yellow paint designated individuals and businesses suspected of disloyalty. The Tulsa County Council of Defense, one of the more zealous, hired a detective and formed a secret organization to watch for dissenters.

Like other states, Oklahoma banned the speaking and teaching of the German language. Local communities used vigilantism to force German-language newspapers to cease publication. In 1918 the names of three Oklahoma towns with German connotations were changed from Kiel, Bismark, and Korn to, respectively, Loyal, Wright, and Corn.

Several county Councils of Defense prevented traveling tent shows from performing. Officials believed that the shows brought a bad influence into communities and diverted money away from war finance campaigns. The state council agreed with their action and used a publicity campaign to prevent traveling tent shows from coming to Oklahoma.

In July 1918 the State Councils Section in Washington, D.C., sent a directive to the southern states strongly recommending that they establish a separate organization so that African Americans could receive recognition of their efforts, which would otherwise be intermingled with the white councils. By October 1918 all southern states had a working African American organization except Oklahoma.

Oklahoma had received bad national publicity in August 1917 following the draft-resistance movement known as the Green Corn Rebellion. Thereafter, state officials worked diligently to guarantee that Oklahomans buy their quota of war bonds. Anyone who had money, but refused to buy war bonds, was called a "slacker" and would have to ride in the "slacker wagon." Consequently, Oklahomans met or exceeded the state's quota in the four Liberty Bond drives. Slacker also became a popular term to describe men who avoided the draft and individuals who did not grow their own vegetables.

Armistice occurred on November 11, 1918. Before the state and county councils disbanded in January 1919, county demobilization committees were formed to assist the returning veterans with legal advice and to help them obtain a job. In 1919, as a result of the anti-German language movement during the war, the Oklahoma Legislature passed an English Language Law requiring that only English be taught through the eighth grade in schools. Hysteria and fear continued after the war with the Red Scare in 1919.

Linda D. Wilson


Edda Bilger, "The 'Oklahoma Vorwärts': The Voice of German-Americans in Oklahoma During World War I," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 54 (Summer 1976).

William J. Breen, Uncle Sam at Home: Civilian Mobilization, Wartime Federalism, and the Council of National Defense, 1917–1919 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984).

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 17 May 1917, 8 June 1917, and 31 March 1918.

James H. Fowler, II, "Creating an Atmosphere of Suppression, 1914–1917," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 59 (Summer 1981).

James H. Fowler, II, "Tar and Feather Patriotism: The Suppression of Dissent in Oklahoma During World War I," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 56 (Winter 1978–79).

Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City), October 1917 to November 1918.

O. A. Hilton, "The Oklahoma Council of Defense and the First World War," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 20 (March 1942).

David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

William T. Lampe, comp., Tulsa County in the World War (Tulsa, Okla.: Tulsa County Historical Society, 1919).

H. C. Peterson and Gilbert C. Fite, Opponents of War: 1917–1918 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957).

Charles W. Smith, "The Selling of America in Oklahoma: The First and Second Liberty Bond Drives," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 73 (Winter 1995–96).

Sooners in the War: Official Report of the Oklahoma State Council of Defense, From May 1917 to January 1, 1919 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State Council of Defense, 1919).

W. E. Welch, J. S. Aldridge, and L. V. Aldridge, comps., The Oklahoma Spirit of '17 (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Historical Publishing Co., 1920).

Robert L. Williams Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Oklahoma Council of Defense,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OK038.

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