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World War I Draft: Topics in Chronicling America

The Selective Service Act becomes law on May 18, 1917 and men are being conscripted to fight in World War I. This guide provides access to materials related to the "World War I Draft" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"Registration progresses without dissension" June 5, 1917 Butte MT (Butte, MT), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“The significance of this cannot be overstated. It is a new thing in our history, and a landmark in our progress,” proclaimed President Woodrow Wilson about the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917. And it was “a new thing in our history.” By the end of World War I, approximately 72% of American troops were draftees, a much higher percentage than in earlier US wars. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

May 18, 1917 Selective Service Act or Selective Draft Act (Pub. L. 65–12, 40 Stat. 76) becomes law: “all male citizens, or male persons not alien enemies who have declared their intention to become citizens,” between the ages of 21 and 30, are required to register for military service.
June 5, 1917 First draft registration day in the 48 states and Washington, DC.
July 1917 First draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii, while round ups of alleged draft evaders, pejoratively called “slackers,” begin around the US.
January 7, 1918 Supreme Court rules that draft is constitutional.
June 5, 1918 Second draft registration day for men who turned 21 after June 5, 1917.
August 24, 1918 Supplemental second draft registration day for men who turned 21 after June 5, 1918.
August 31, 1918 Selective Service Act is amended to expand registration to cover men between the ages of 18 and 45.
September 3 - 6, 1918 Controversial “slacker raids” in New York and New Jersey round up over 50,000 men with aid of civilian American Protective League. Only small percentage of detained men are found to be evading the draft.
September 12, 1918 Third draft registration day for men ages 18 through 45.
November 11, 1918 Armistice Day, curtailment of activities of Selective Service System begins as World War I ends.
March-May 1919 Selective Service boards and state headquarters close.
July 15, 1919 Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder is relieved from duty, ending the World War I Selective Service.