On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act. This authorized President Wilson to draft soldiers into the United States Army in direct response to the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. To register draftees, the government held three national registration days. The first was on June 5, 1917 for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.1 The second was a year later for those who turned 21 after the first day (Fig. 1).
According to the Sarasota-Times, on the first registration day, 238 of those who registered were Sarasotans. This number included 86 African-Americans. In response to these numbers, the Sarasota-Times reported,
Taken all in all, this speaks very favorable to the young men of Sarasota, as it must be remembered that at the present time we have over 70 men serving in different capacities in the navy and in the army. In the navy alone, we have 60 of the best young men of this vicinity–and that they are ready and willing to do ‘their bit’ goes without saying.2
The long article spoke proudly about the number of draftees from all over the nation. The rhetoric of this piece also certainly acted to inspire those who would be called upon to sign up on the subsequent registration days. Speaking for all men who registered on the 5th, the paper wrote, “They are content to leave the question of exemption to the exemption boards. They have no claims to make, but are ready to do their share, whatever it may be.”3
To put the Sarasotans’ showing in the context of the state, the article also provided some estimates about Florida’s overall registration. The paper predicted, without certainty, that the number of those registered in Florida “will go over 106,000.”4 In reality, over 42,000 Floridians ended up serving in the Great War. Though it is unclear how many of these soldiers came from Sarasota, the Florida Memory Division of Library & Information Services has a record of service cards from 138 Sarasotans who served between April 6, 1917 and November 11, 1918 (see Fig. 2).5
The U.S. Census estimated Florida’s population in 1917 as 925,641. The population of Manatee County, which then included Sarasota, was approximately 16,878.6 The population of the city of Sarasota, only a small part of Manatee county, was much less. There is no readily available age breakdown for these numbers. Based on the Sarasota-Times alone, however, the county was understandably quite proud of its number of draftees.
As shown in Fig. 3, on September 20, 1917, the paper reprinted an article from the St. Lucie County Tribune (St. Lucie sits about three hours from Sarasota on the state’s east coast). The selection emphasizes the pride Sarasota felt for its soldiers, as well as its desire for peace.
Fig. 1. “Draft Registration, June 5, 1918,” Sarasota-Times, May 23, 1918, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.
Fig. 2. “Horace W Mink WWI Service Card,” April 26, 1918, reproduced with permission from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project, WWI Service Cards Collection, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/193289 (accessed March 13, 2015).
Fig. 3. “Called to Service of Country,” Sarasota-Times, September 20, 1917, courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources, Sarasota, Florida.
- David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 150.
- “The Youth of This Nation Respond Nobly to First Military Census That Has Ever Been Taken,” Sarasota-Times, June 7, 1917.
- “World War I Service Cards,” State Archives of Florida, https://www.floridamemory.com/collections/wwi (accessed March 13, 2015).
- “Estimates of Population, 1917,” United States Census Bureau, http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/13346688ch1.pdf (accessed March 11, 2015).