World War I in Storrs CT: The Civilian’s War

A new World War I art gallery is put up in Homer Babbidge Library commemorating US entry into WWI. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

On April 6, 1917 the United States came to the aid of its allies across the Atlantic Ocean, marking the beginning of its involvement in the first World War. This decision would have a lasting change on the country on the global stage.

For the first time as a nation the U.S. directed its efforts and attention to a collective war effort, manufacturing weapons and vehicles as well as training new soldiers. But this change affected more than just the men and women of the military.

The civilians of the nation had a war to fight too. From farmers and mechanics to scientists and doctors, the war had a profound effect on the nation.

Students, staff and community members are able to peer into this historic time-period 100 years later thanks to the “Commemorating the Centennial Exhibits” that is now on display in the Homer Babbage Library and the Dodd Research Center’s common areas and lobbies.

The collection of exhibits includes a wide range of photographs, handbooks, official documents and artifacts that are organized into different themes all reflecting varied aspects of the home front efforts.

In the west corridor of the Dodd Center visitors can find the posters of World War I. Graphics of varying sizes and messages are currently strewn about the walls, everything from recruitment of men and women to donation of food, money and clothing. The Library of Congress made these portals into early 20th-century propaganda possible.

“When I first heard about this part of the exhibit I imagined, ya know like, Uncle Sam with the whole ‘I Want You’ theme to be the dominant vibe but it seems like much of the posters here are aimed at people at home,” said Elizabeth McNeely, a second semester economics major.

In the Exhibition Gallery of the Dodd Center, a much more close-to-home portion of the collection can be found. Titled “The Land-grant College at War: A Centennial Retrospective,” this gallery traces the turn-of-the-century activities and role of Connecticut Agricultural College through its involvement in food production, research, military training and the active participation of its staff and students.

More propaganda can be found here as well but with a more agricultural spin. Citizens were encouraged to grow “Victory Gardens” around their homes to feed their families and take stress off of the domestic agricultural sectors that had been weakened by the war.

Appropriately located in the Babbage Library’s main lobby is the portion titled “From Library War Service to Science: Bibliotherapy in World War I.” It outlines the implementation of a theory that books can heal. Put in practice in Connecticut during World War I, doctors and librarians joined together to apply reading as a form of therapy. Traumatized both during and after the war, many veterans found solace between the pages of donated books as their physical and mental wounds healed.

These exhibits will be open to the public from April 6 to May 15. The hours of operation for the Homer Babbage Library and the Dodd Research Center on the Storrs campus can be found online through UConn’s website.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.