Times Past

Sacrifice made by SLO County women during WWI made equal rights obvious

Dan Krieger
Dan Krieger jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“Women should never be seated on juries,” said San Luis Obispo County state senator Archie Campbell, arguing against the Butler Bill, which would have made women eligible to serve on juries, according to the Tribune on April 23, 1915.

Campbell “was loaded with evidence of things women should not (be permitted to) hear while serving on juries.”

Some women whose delicate ears Sen. Campbell was trying to protect would soon be seeing service as nurses in a war where man’s capacity to mutilate his fellow man defied all imagination.

America’s innocence was about to be shattered.

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been assassinated by a Serbian fanatic.

The European alliance system would plunge the world into the most catastrophic war in human history. Nevertheless, San Luis Obispo remained aloof from the fray.

The “H-Leipsic Clothing Store” took out a large front-page ad every day in the Morning Tribune. One such ad cheerily compared the reliability of the store to “the Kaiser’s Battle Cruiser Leipzig.”

Great Britain’s Royal Navy sank the Leipzig, along with two of her sister ships, off South America on Dec. 8, 1914, with a loss of 2,200 officers and men.

Some German-American families felt the need to come to the aid of their “Fatherland.” They were aware that England controlled access to the trans-Atlantic cable and in Reuter’s News Service had a large propaganda machine in the United States.

This advertisement appeared on page 1 of the Morning Tribune on Sept. 11, 1914: “Germans and Americans of German Descent: Meet at City Hall … (in order to start) a relief fund for the widows and orphans of German soldiers.”

On Sept. 23, 1914, the Tribune reported that the Rev. G. E. Kirchner, August Vollmer and Louis F. Sinsheimer helped head up the newly formed German-American assistance group.

Local farmers anticipated an agricultural boom: “Prices Upward: The War Will Make U.S. Great Market of the World” trumpeted the Tribune on Aug. 9, 1914.

“Only the war has saved the country from what otherwise would have been the most disastrous period of hard times in its existence,” the Tribune noted in a “Letter from Washington on June 4, 1915.”

Baron J. H. von Schröeder, owner of the North County’s famed Eagle Ranch, heard a similar call from the Lorelei of the Rhine. He and his family departed for Germany.

Baron Johann Heinrich von Schröeder Courtesy photo

On Feb. 2,1915, the Tribune proclaimed that the colorful Baron von Schröeder “now sleeps in ammunition wagons.” This was a double entendre, perhaps, recollecting reports of the Baron’s many sexual escapades in San Francisco and Marin County hotels.

Lt. Richard T. Vachell fighting for Great Britain was son of our county’s most famous English resident, the novelist and playwright Horace Annesley Vachell of Arroyo Grande and grandson of our region’s greatest land developer, Chauncey Hatch Phillips, and was killed in the north of France on Aug. 1, 1915.

His father, writing in his 1937 autobiography, “Distant Fields,” wrote: “(Richard) was engaged to be married to his first love, whose engagement to another man had been broken off.

“He expected to be gazetted a captain and a flight commander.

“... He was killed, not knowing he had been gazetted a captain.”

There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded in Europe.

The lives of 116,516 Americans would be lost before it was over.

America lost its innocence. By Armistice Day, 1918, our legislators no longer worried about what a woman might hear if she sat on a jury. Women would soon have the same political rights as men.

Dan Krieger is professor of history, emeritus at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo--He is Past President of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.
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