Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The treasure of Jasper County -- 1918 women's registration!

As part of the national mobilization for World War I, in April 1918 thousands -- perhaps millions -- of American women filled out cards giving their names, ages, birth countries, marital status and husband's name if any, employment if any, educational level, skills, and detailed health status. All this was done under the auspices of the quasi-governmental Council of National Defense.

In Jasper County, Indiana (population under 14,000), more than 3,200 of these cards were preserved. According to Sue Caldwell, the Indiana Genealogical Society's county genealogist for the county, a cabinet was specifically designed to hold them. The cabinet resided in the Rensselaer courthouse for years
"prior to being given to the Jasper County Historical Society for display in their museum. Unfortunately, the members looked on the old cabinet as a treasure to be displayed and for many years didn’t recognize the value of the contents. It is not known what other counties did with their cabinets or registration cards. Research is continuing to locate the balance of Indiana’s registration records."

 Above is the front side of one of the Jasper County cards, for 66-year-old Miss Elizabeth E. Alexandera of Kniman, who was knowledgeable about dairying, gardening, poultry raising, cooking, housekeeping, and sewing and millinery. (The back had room for remarks and health issues.) The historical society has indexed the cards by name, husband, and address, but the index is not yet on line. Plans for analyzing and imaging the cards are afoot.

Caldwell notes that
"Fields were provided for age, country of birth, country of naturalization, color or race, persons dependent upon them, present occupation and by whom employed, education level completed and details on advanced education, and the type of business experience and training broken down into 154 different categories. Women could volunteer to be trained in some categories such as making bandages for the Red Cross. Comments were to be made on the 'Personal Equipment' of the woman including health, physical defects, voice, sight, and hearing."
Jasper County is big enough to have a historical society, and small enough that these days the society is open just six hours a month. These cards are not known to have survived in any other Indiana county, nor had the state archives staff ever seen one. Says Caldwell, "These cards could be the greatest genealogical find of the last hundred years if cards from all of the states could be located. No other survey contains the mass of data about women that the registration cards do."

A seemingly well-documented Wikipedia article surveys the CND's history and refers to a 1984 scholarly book by William N. Breen, Uncle Sam at Home: Civilian Mobilization, Wartime Federalism, and the Council of National Defense, 1917-1919, available in numerous college and university libraries. A quick Google search reveals that many states do have records of the Council for National Defense in their archives. It's not clear whether any of them include any of these registration cards. The agency also appears in National Archives Record Group 62.

If nothing else the cards offer brief glimpses of life 95 years ago:
Mary Prohosky (Mrs. J) “cannot talk English and is not able to do hour work. Went to school in the old country and is not the same in here.”

Miss Nettie J Ellis had a Dayton, Ohio address, but was serving as acting principal at Monnett School.

Belle Warne’s card noted “This woman is physical unable to do anything and has six children under eight”.

Julie Nafziners was “born in France, naturalized US, 4 yrs experience in a post office and 4 yrs experience as a bookkeeper”. She also attended Onarga Seminary.

Stella Newbold has “14 yrs experience in teaching music, but health has failed since injured in tornado”.

Olden Ouida has “2 ½ yrs in Mexico—knows some Spanish, 2 yrs work under Kate J Adams of Coulter House Chicago. Can use typewriter. Has travelled all over U. S. capable, reliable, has ability (executive ability)”.

Almira Prather completed a card but disclaimed any responsibility for the war work because she didn’t start the war.
Anyone with thoughts -- or better still, knowledge -- about these cards and where any more like them may be found, inside or outside of Indiana, please comment below, or communicate with Sue Caldwell at suecald1 "AT" embarqmail "DOT" com.

Harold Henderson, "The treasure of Jasper County -- 1918 women's registration!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 April 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Brenda Leyndyke said...

Congratulations on being a Family Tree Top 40 Blog. It is a well deserved award.

TinaSlabach said...

So very thrilled to have not only learned of these rare treasures today but also for the chance to find cards from a few of the matriarchs in my family tree!!! What a thrill that these registration files were kept in tact and offer so much more about the lives of these early settlers. Thank you Sue for your assistance, your devotion and for your excitement for this preservation and genealogical endeavor.