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'Milwaukee During the Great War' Looks at a Divided City

Aug. 1, 2017
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2017 marks the centennial anniversary of American involvement in World War I. In Wisconsin, 122,000 service members joined the fight in Europe, even though many local residents remained sharply divided over participation in the war. For the large German American population in Milwaukee, as well as a strong Socialist political base in the city, the declaration of war in 1917 led to much uncertainty and raised suspicions of German American patriotism. 

In his book, A Crowded Hour: Milwaukee During the Great War, 1917-1918, author Kevin Abing examines the diverse social, political and economic forces that Milwaukeeans faced during and after World War I. Abing, a Marquette University graduate who has worked at the Wisconsin Historical Society for 10 years, has researched the complicated stories of city residents who found themselves facing intense scrutiny by pro-war patriots who questioned their loyalty and urged widespread efforts to suppress German culture. 

Despite some outspoken opposition, most Wisconsinites did not oppose the war and many state industries enjoyed wartime prosperity. In addition to sacrificing the lives of 1,800 residents, the state was the first to organize a State Council of Defense to educate citizens on the war and its required sacrifices such as meatless and wheat-less days.

In addition to wartime struggles, Americans were also facing pressures over long-debated social crusades including women’s suffrage and prohibition, skyrocketing inflation and growing ethnic tensions. Abing’s book shows the myriad of ways that the war dramatically transformed Milwaukee. He will discuss A Crowded Hour at Boswell Book Co., 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 3. 

Book Happening:

Poetry in the Park

6:30 p.m., Aug. 8

Juneau Park

900 N. Prospect Ave. 

Making the most of summertime, the outdoor reading series Poetry in the Park celebrates the written and spoken words of provocative community voices. The series’ August event features Destinny Fletcher, Richard Meier, Mauricio Kilwein-Guevara and Lisa Fishman. Bring chairs or blankets, snacks and beverages. Relax, listen, and enjoy. 

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