The stories of Americans in World War I—General John J. Pershing, soldiers, nurses and Red Cross volunteers—are the focus of a major exhibition at the Library of Congress opening April 4, 2017.
“Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I” will be in the the Southwest Gallery on the second floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition—which is made possible by The Library of Congress 3rd Century Fund—is free and open to the public through January 2019, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Tickets are not needed.
The exhibition will mark the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the Great War, on April 6, 1917, when Congress formally declared war on the German Empire.
“Echoes” will feature 200 items in the initial installation, but during the exhibition’s 21-month run, hundreds more will be rotated into the display. On view will be correspondence, music, film, recorded sound, diaries, posters, photographs, scrapbooks, medals, maps, and materials from the Veterans History Project.
Many extraordinary stories dating to this turbulent time will be told in the exhibition, including those of General of the Armies John J. Pershing; African-American soldier Charles Hamilton Houston; Red Cross volunteer Dorothy Kitchen O’Neill; soldiers who were brothers, Paul and Robert Roy Rugh; and nurse Clara Hoke.
General John J. Pershing
In his diary, dated Sept. 26, 1918, Pershing, as top commander, describes the opening day of the deadliest battle in American history—when U.S. forces launched the Meuse-Argonne offensive, their largest attack of the war against the German front. In this six-week battle, lasting until the war ended on Nov. 11, Americans suffered 117,000 casualties. Of the battle’s first day, Pershing wrote that the failings of green troops and new staff officers, who did not work well together, hindered progress. The most serious problem of the day was mending the roads across No Man’s Land “because all of this ground has been fought over since the beginning of the war and absolutely every trace of the former roads there was lost.”
Charles Hamilton Houston
Houston enlisted in and graduated from the nation’s first officers training camp for African Americans as its youngest officer. He later served in France during the war. His experience
permanently influenced his commitment to civil rights. Upon his return from Europe, he dedicated his life to the law, arguing against segregation before the Supreme Court, thereby earning the moniker “the Man Who Killed Jim Crow” and, as dean of Howard University Law School, training a cadre of civil rights lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall.
Dorothy Kitchen O’Neill
At age 25, Kitchen O’Neill—like thousands of American women—volunteered for the Red Cross during the war. She served two years overseas. On her trip to Europe, Kitchen O’Neill and her colleagues were early victims of the worldwide influenza epidemic that broke out in 1918, which she describes in a letter. She survived, but the flu killed more than 30 million people around the world.
Paul and Robert Roy Rugh
Paul Rugh and and his younger brother Roy Rugh, both born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, registered for military service in July 1917. Paul, who had already served two four-year enlistments in the Marines between 1903 and 1912, joined this time to protect his younger brother. Instead, Paul was severely shell-shocked, disabled, discharged and sent home where their brother Edward cared for him. Paul died at age 80 in 1962. Roy saw action at Toul, Second Marne, Chemin des Dames and St. Mihiel. He suffered lung damage from gases used at the front, but returned home able to work. Roy died at age 93 in 1984.
Hoke had been a nurse several years before U.S. entry into the war. She enlisted at the first opportunity and soon found herself assigned to field hospitals across France and a large facility in Paris, a site visited by both General John J. Pershing and President Woodrow Wilson. From her position in the jaw ward, reserved for patients suffering from facial injuries, Hoke bore witness to the physical and emotional impacts of the war’s weaponry on soldiers. Αn excerpt from her audio history, from the collections of the Veterans History Project, will be included in the exhibition. More on Hoke.
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