by Paul R. Spitzzeri
When the United States entered the First World War in April 1917, an immediate priority was to establish a draft for personnel to serve in what was known as the American Expeditionary Force. In mid-May, the Selective Service Act was passed by Congress to provide for the registration of every American male between the ages of 18 and 45.
Because there had been so much immigration to the country in preceeding decades, there was no citizenship requirement for registration. Obviously, those who enlisted voluntarily were not drafted, while many of those who registered for the draft were not “called up” and did not serve.
In all, there were 24 million men who registered, about 98% of the male population in the nation of about 100 million. There were three mass registration dates, with the first taking place on 25 June 1917 and applying to all males between 21 and 31 years of age. The second date was exactly a year later for those who turned 21 during the previous year and for those who had not previously registered. A supplemental date of 24 August was for those who became 21 in the preceding two months. Finally, there was a date of 12 September 1918 with registrants being between 18 and 21 and 31 and 45.
Information captured on the card included full name; home address; date and location of birth; occupation and employer; physical characteristics; and other information, in addition to a signature. The original cards are stored at a National Archives faciility in Georgia and were microfilmed. Users of Ancestry.com, including me, find these documents to be very useful in doing genealogical and other research and can be helpful in tracking an adult male’s life between the 1910 and 1920 federal censuses.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a registration certificate issued by Local Board Division No.18 for the City of Los Angeles, based in the Lincoln Heights neghborhood of the city. The registrant was George Warriner Simons (1882-1966), who lived in nearby Highland Park. He was 36 years old, a native of Kansas, married with two children, and was a former member of the Los Angeles Fire Department who then owned a billiard parlor for many years.
The certificate acknowledged that Simons “in accordance with the proclamation of the President of the United States, and in accordance with law . . . has submitted himself to registration” and was registered on the 12 September 1918 date that was the last of the mass draft dates.
The document was signed by the board division registrar and was stamped on the reverse with the address of the board at North Broadway and Workman Street, the latter thoroughfare being named for William H. Workman, former Los Angeles mayor (1886-1888) and city treasurer (1901-1907) and nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman.
The certificate is one of the several artifacts museum’s holdings that are from the First World War, the centennial of which has largely been ignored despite its importance in our nation’s history. Visitors to the Homestead, however, can see an exhibit, just installed in the Homestead Gallery by my colleagues in the collections and public programs areas of our institution dealing with the aftermath of the war, specifically how it was memorialized and commemorated. A post on the exhibit will be published here very soon, so be sure to check that out.