Dakota Datebook

Labor Shortage


War news from Europe was somewhat grim in August of 1917, as the mobilization of troops in the United States was rapidly approaching.  French initiatives in the Alsace- Loraine region, at first meeting with some success, were now being repulsed by German advances.  Many sections of the line were deteriorating into trench warfare.


At home, those caught in the draft now found that their future was with the military.  In all probability, they would be heading to the front-line trenches in France.  With this realization, patriotism aside, a new wave of enlistments began, since those who enlisted could choose their branch of service or apply for the Officer Training School.


Across North Dakota, the labor market began feeling the pinch.  Farmers found fewer workers to help with the harvest, and what workers were available were demanding higher wages.  In previous years, farm workers who felt fortunate to receive twenty-five to thirty dollars a month plus board, were now requesting forty-five to sixty dollars a month.


On this date in 1917, the Grand Forks Herald lamented that the publishing world, filled with young, literate men, was also feeling the effects.  The Herald had seen its staff reduced by ten employees.  Three were members of the National Guard who had been mobilized, and two others with military experience had become commissioned officers in the Army.  One member joined the Navy and another the Aviation Corps. Two had been accepted into the Officer Training School, and one on inactive status from the Mexican Border campaign, was now being recalled by the Army.


Practically all institutions with any considerable number of employees had their ranks invaded by the demands of war.  Women were coming into their own to fill the void.  In a program initiated by the Northern Pacific Railway, the wives of agents and operators were being trained to fill their husband’s positions, as the men went off to war.  In Mandan, the freight depot was offering $75.00 per month for women to fill the positions of freight haulers.


The first military draft, in 1917, called over five hundred thousand men to service.  By the end of the war, another 2.2 million would be conscripted.  For many young men, the call to war meant postponing business careers or education.  But for women, the significant labor shortage saw a change of the accepted roles for women as they secured new positions in the workforce.


Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune, August 17, 1917

The Grand Forks Herald, August 15, 1917

The Hope Pioneer, August 9, 1917

The Bismarck Tribune, August 9, 1917

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