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GUEST COLUMN: How major events change history

Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

I’m still thinking about coal being dug in Floyd County during World War I. I doubt without the war we would have never known about coal in Floyd County. As it was, we heard about it but as soon as the shortage was over, we put it out of our memories and went back to sleep. I guess that’s why amateur historians like me and Russell McClanahan, along with Marlin Teat and others, had never heard of it. I begin to wonder how big of an impact WWI had on society.

With Woodrow Wilson as president, following “Teddy” and Taft, we were safely in the middle of the progressive era. Wilson tried every way in the world to dodge the U.S. getting into the European War, but to no avail.

Were things going to change? They had to in order for the allies to survive. The handwriting was on the wall. In February of 1918 in the United Kingdom, what once was unthinkable happened. They gave women the vote. Well not all women, but those over 30 with property and male sponsorship. In other words, about two out of five women could now vote, but not hold office, or work in the legal profession. And prior to this date men who didn’t own property could not vote. In the British equalization act, it was now permissible for all men 21 years or older to vote. Young men, 19 years of age in the military, were also permitted.

In the U.S. several states had passed laws allowing the female vote, but it would be 1920 before it became a constitutional amendment. World War I was given credit for hurrying along the passage of such an amendment. The women’s right movement was now on its way.

The war in the U.S. put the country to the test. Although the country was only actively at war for 19 months, it was one of those events that changed the course of history. Most employers shied away from hiring women for factory or office work prior to our entry, and during 1917 they tried everything they could do to refrain from hiring them. 1917 was a preparatory year for our country. But as 1918 began we were shipping 10,000 men a day to the killing fields of Europe. Somebody had to take their jobs. Not only to do the jobs, but output was going to have to increase significantly. By mid 1918 women were the dominant force on the assembly lines. They were making trucks, all sorts of heavy equipment and weapons of all descriptions. It was soon discovered they had a better feel for putting explosives together than men, and would never again give up the majority of office work.

The negative affect was the strain it put on family, and the way it affected children. They were torn apart from a stable family relationship. With the men in the family gone, and their mothers holding down mill and factory jobs, they had to grow up fast.

President Wilson recommended children’s groups of all kinds. Boy Scouts and Camp fire girls were involved in pushing bond and stamp drives, and rounding up all the scrap metal they could find. They were the gardeners of many small towns, and used for nationalism and patriotic posters which the country was involved in pushing. Their childhood was cut short due to the war. Many of them also lost their lives, or watched family members lose theirs to the ‘Spanish Flu’ or from battlefield casualties. Many children of the day later wrote their childhood ended in April 1917, when the United States entered the war.

Twenty one million lives were lost in WWI. Only 116,000 were U.S., but the effect on the family was horrific. Many men came home with injuries they would never get over, and many more were ‘shell-shocked,’ now known as PTSD.

Life before 1917 was gone forever. Even in education, text books were now portraying the English of the American Revolution not to be such bad guys, and the portrayal of the Germans carried on into WWII by many of the youth of 1918.

The citizens tried to bring it all in check, and elected an isolationist in 1920, but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag. As I said earlier, the 19th amendment was now law, and many, many women enjoyed the freedom from household servitude, and refused to give up the jobs and freedom they were living. WWII would intensify this even greater.

With so many men dead or injured, the need for women in the work place was still necessary. There were still many things in the UK and the US that women were not allowed to participate in, but the die had been cast. Young girls could look toward adulthood with a greater anticipation of what their life may be like, and the choice would be theirs.

And we can, almost to the letter, pick out major events in history and track the changes they caused. I liked the guy the RN-T mentioned during that time period who invited his neighbors to share in coal on his mountain. We also must mention our lady friends discovering themselves during a war.

They were volunteering for Red Cross and other organizations to help with the war effort. Many went home and ran the farms to produce food stuffs the country was crying for, and others were on the front lines and hospitals working as nurses and staff. And back on the home front, they were helping the old folks, and taking care of the sick.

“Sugar and spice and everything nice.” True enough but don’t push her.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at or