The onset of World War I came as a surprise to many Mid-Southerners, yet, like much of the rest of the nation, Memphians joined the war effort with unprecedented determination. When the armed forces set up recruiting stations at the Tri-State Fair, able-bodied men lined up to enlist.
Citizens organized preparedness parades, and Memphis homemakers rallied to raise awareness about wartime rationing. Local mothers attended demonstrations on how to plan a menu for “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheat-Less Wednesdays.”
Newspapers highlighted acts of individual patriots, like 80-year-old Mary E. Hedgepath from Ripley, TN, who knitted a sock-a-day for the Red Cross. Other women did their part by taking factory jobs to fill the void left by local men who had joined-up.
At the same time, anti-German sentiment raged through the city. Schools stopped teaching German, and Germantown changed its name to Neshoba.
As the war progressed, more families felt the strains of their men leaving for the war, and tearful goodbyes at the train station became a part of life in Memphis.
To learn more about World War I history in Memphis, visit the Pink Palace Museum's new exhibit, Swords to Plowshares: Soldier Art and Music in the Great War, or on Facebook, or at http://www.memphismuseums.org.