The New Hampshire newspaper headlines of April 6, 1917 greeted readers with bold announcements that the United States was now at war. The Nashua Telegraph added a slightly smaller headline at the top of the front page “McElwain Co. To Have Big Addition” then posted two rows down “President Signs War Proclamation.” On that day the addition of new jobs to Nashua would have felt more important than the conflict in a distant land.
It would be two more months before conscripted and troops would be trained and sent “over there,” and families were still focusing on ‘here.’ The newspaper story goes on to say that President Woodrow Wilson had signed the resolution of Congress at 1:11 o’clock, after it was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. A state of war now existed between the United States and Germany. The official proclamation continued to the second page.
Of course 1/3 of the front page of that same newspaper needed to fulfill its advertising commitments, but it seems surreal to see advertising for clothing at Talbot’s (“Be Properly Dressed For EASTER”) and sales of Philip Morris & Co. of Easter novelties, cards and booklets and bulbs and bowls. The C.H. Avery Furniture Co. on Factory Street was pushing its house furnishings with the slogan “Now if Ever is the time to Buy and Save.” No one could foresee the losses and changes in everyone’s life that was imminent.
The Portsmouth Herald, perhaps because of the presence of a naval shipyard filled most of the front page with the news that “STATE OF WAR IS DECLARED.” Several other news stories on that same page add to the weight of this announcement. “An unconfirmed but persistent” story of a submarine waiting in the Gulf of Mexico should the United States enter the war was reported. The Brazilian steamer, Prana, had become the latest vessel to be sunk by a German submarine.
The Derry News front page of the same day offered a small “WAR DECLARED” box that was 1/4 of the size of Wilson’s Market advertisement “If Chicken Chowder Won’t Make Your Hens Lay They Must be Roosters.” Making Plans for Easter seemed to be the priority that day.
The Milford Cabinet of the prior day (April 5, 1917) consigned most of the war news to the second and third pages. The front held mostly local information with two exceptions. There was an article about the Signal Corps needing eight more enlisted men to fill its quota. A second story speaks on the push for all residents to become involved in the Red Cross, and that boy scouts would be going door to door.
The Newmarket Advertiser of April 6, 1917 completely left the newly declared war announcement off the front page, focusing instead on Easter Eggs for Everybody and the local Star Theater’s feature of plays. You have to get to the seventh page to finally see a the article headlined: “PRESIDENT WILSON CALLS FOR DECLARATION OF WAR.” There is a second story about “FIRST AMERICAN SHIP IS TORPEDOED” describing the American steamship Aztec, an armed merchant vessel sunk without warming by a German submarine off the coast near Brest, France.
If newspaper headlines are any indication of general concern, then it seems that it had not quite sunk in that the country was at war. When faced with a great danger, normalizing it by continuing on with safe and happy events is a psychological way of escaping. Does it sound a bit like today?
[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for the entire listing].
**ADDITIONAL READING **
Bob Cottle has an interesting story about the headlines in the Conway, New Hampshire newspapers: US Declares War on Germany One Hundred Years Ago Today.