BATH

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the United States entering into World War I, Maine State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. on Saturday reflected on life on the Maine homefront.

Although World War I began in the summer of 1914, it wasn’t until the spring of 1917 the the U.S. officially entered the war under President Woodrow Wilson.

In Bath and along Maine’s coast, shipbuilding was vital to the war effort.

“It is no surprise that because of our great maritime heritage and because of our great coastline, that Maine would become actively involved in the war effort in terms of shipbuilding,” said Shettleworth, speaking at a lecture hosted by the Bath Historical Society at Patten Free Library. “There was a huge amount of shipbuilding activity in Bath during the war, to the the point where the emergency fleet corporation decided that they needed to construct two workers housing communities in Bath.”

While they were not completed before the war drew to a close, Shettleworth pointed to them as a “fascinating example of how the war impacted Maine, and particularly Bath.”

Other activities stateside would have a significant impact on the success of U.S. armed forces in the war.

“The homefront, I think more so than in the Civil War, was very focused and very mobilized,” said Shettleworth.

A major contribution to the war effort at home was the purchase of war bonds and stamps to help fund the war.

“A very important aspect of the war effort, and the first of many different approaches to engage the public in the war effort, was the selling of bonds and war savings stamps,” said Shuttleworth. “The theory behind war savings bonds and stamps … was to raise large amounts of money through loans … so that the government could finance the war.”

By the end of the war, Mainers had spent $118 mil- lion on war bonds and $8 million in stamps. That comes to an average of $147 per person in Maine, noted Shettleworth.

Victory gardens first popped up during World War I, said Shettleworth. With food production taking a hit due to the war, the use of private and public gardens helped increase the food supply, indirectly helping the war effort. In typical Maine fashion, a week was designated as Maine Potato Week to encourage Mainers to eat more homegrown potatoes.

“Our entry into the war really was followed by a brief but very intense 19- month period in American history — a period which, in many ways, altered the way we both viewed ourselves in the world and the way we were viewed in the world,” said Shettleworth. “It would, in many ways, set the direction for America for the next century.”

Recruitment efforts began immediately, and the Maine National Guard was called up. “In Maine, the response to the war was immediate, and overall very positive,” he said.

“In Maine, there were a fairly large number of localized National Guard units,” Shettleworth said. “Very quickly, these units become federalized.”

Ultimately, 35,000 men and women from Maine joined the military, mostly in the Army and Navy.

“I view World War I as a highly significant chapter in American history: so brief, yet so defining,” said Shettleworth.

Shettleworth’s most recent book with co-author Jason C. Libby, “Maine in World War I,” came out earlier this month. The book contains a collection of images documenting Maine’s involvement in World War I.

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