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World War One and After

Most Kansans, like most Americans in the early 1900's, were isolationist. They did not want to become involved in the war that was going on in Europe at this time. But stories about the barbarity of the Germans and the economic benefits of war, eventually convinced the country to enter World War I on the Allies side. During World War I, Kansas wheat acreage rose from about 6 million acres in 1913 to 9 million acres in 1914. 

After the United States entered the war, anti-German sentiment created hardships for German Americans living in Kansas. Germans had become one of the most successful and respected immigrant groups prior to the war. However, during the war they became viewed by many as disloyal to the American cause. Kansans of German descent were frequently required to show public signs of patriotism and support for the Allies. They were often harassed by "night riders." Wartime hysteria also caused many Kansans to worry about enemy attacks. The Wichita water pumping station was guarded by National Guard troops, as some believed there were German spies in the area with plans to damage to station.

One of the largest military training centers in the nation was created at Fort Riley. It was known as Camp Funston and was capable of training 50,000 troops at a time. Many Kansans saw combat in Europe. The 35th Division, made up of Kansans, Missourians, and other Midwesterners, suffered about 7,000 casualties at the Argonne offensive. Of the 77,000 Kansans who saw service during the war, 2,500 died.

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Soldiers of the 353rd regiment, 89th Infantry division, training at Camp Funston. (Photos courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society)

An influenza epidemic swept the country following the war in 1918 and 1919. The effects were felt particularly hard at Camp Funston. The Kansas economy suffered as the demand for products across the nation declined after the war. In other post-war developments, the women's temperance and suffrage movements found success with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and the 19th Amendment in 1920. The passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in all elections. The passage of the 18th Amendment began the era of prohibition. While the intentions of this amendment may have been good, the results proved ineffective. The ban on drinking was a benefit to the illegal trade of alcohol and organized crime. The social changes, technological advances and illegal trade in alcohol during the 1920's resulted in that decade being known as the Roaring 20's.

The Ku Klux Klan's influence in Kansas grew in response to the political and economic problems following World War I. The Klan was a racist organization which advocated white supremacy. They harassed African-Americans, Catholics, Jews and other minorities. An example of the Klan's racism was their criticism of Charles Curtis, a Kansan of Native American descent who was Herbert Hoover's Vice-President. Curtis is the only person of Native American descent to be elected Vice-President. Once again, William Allen White played a role in speaking out against injustice. He entered the race for governor in 1924 because of his dislike for the Klan. Although he didn't win the election, by ridiculing the Klan in many of his campaign speeches, he caused the Klan's popularity to fade. In 1925, the Kansas Supreme Court banned the Klan from doing business in the state.

Additional Resources

bulletFind out more about World War One at the World War I Document Archives.
bulletRead more about Kansas' involvement in World War  I.
bulletRead World War I letters of Kansans.

Study Guide Questions

  1. How did the attitude of Kansans about World War I change over the course of the war?
  2. How did World War I affect German immigrant populations in Kansas?
  3. What was the role of Camp Funston during World War I?
  4. How did William Allen White help suppress the Ku Klux Klan in Kansas?

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