St. Louis and the Great War

St. Louis and the Great War

The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, which originally opened in 1938, reopened in November of 2018 after an extensive renovation. The grand reopening of the Soldiers Memorial, now part of the Missouri Historical Society, coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.

An exhibit about St. Louis and World War I will remain on display through June of 2020. The book “St. Louis and the Great War” by S. Patrick Allie is a companion to that exhibit.

This beautifully illustrated book details the ways the war changed St. Louis, and how St. Louisans contributed to the war effort at home and abroad.

“St. Louis and the Great War” is a large, glossy volume packed with gorgeous images. Vivid photographs of artifacts reinforce the story of St. Louis before, during and after the war. Reproduced letters and newspaper clippings are easily read. Even names scratched into the side of metal gas mask containers are legible.

Allie writes about local contributions to the war effort. One was Base Hospital 21, located on a racetrack in Rouen, France, and staffed by officers, nurses and enlisted men drawn from faculty and students of Washington University. Base Hospital 21 was praised for the use of a rudimentary X-ray machine to examine incoming wounded soldiers before surgery, leading to dramatically better results.

Another local export valuable to the war effort was the Missouri mule. Despite the widespread use of tanks, trucks and airplanes, horses and mules remained a reliable way to move equipment. Missouri mules were prized for their toughness by the British and French armies, as well as by American troops.

St. Louis was also changed by the war. The shortage of workers opened opportunities for women and African Americans, contributing to the movement for women’s suffrage, but also increasing racial tensions. The East St. Louis riot of 1917 brought national attention to racial mob violence. This awareness and the determination of returning African-American soldiers who had fought for their country overseas helped the growth of the civil rights movement.

Anti-German sentiment during WWI inspired the changing of street names, the removal of German language from classrooms and newspapers, and the barring of Germans from industrial parts of the city.

Allie’s book and the exhibit at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum offer an intriguing examination of St. Louis during a pivotal time in history.