World War I in Lawrence: City Commission declares ‘Registration Day’ holiday

Military recruitment following the U.S. entry into the war had been slow but steady in the Lawrence area. On May 14, 1917, the Journal-World reported that all Lawrence National Guard organizations had been ordered to recruit to war strength, giving companies authority to recruit 50 more men in addition to the 100 authorized in earlier recruiting orders. Speculation arose in Lawrence as to when local units would be called to active service, but that question went unanswered until May 18, when it was reported that all the nation’s National Guard units would be called to active service between July 15 and August 1. Units in the eastern U.S. were to be called first, with the Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma units scheduled to be called August 5.

The next day, it was reported that President Wilson “named June 5 as the day on which all Americans between the ages of 21 and 31 years must register for war service.” This was the first registration for the new Selective Service Act. In an effort to increase local interest, the city commission declared June 5 “Registration Day,” to be a holiday in Lawrence, complete with a “patriotic meeting” to be held in the Bowersock Theater.

The new draft was expected to have a big impact on the student body at the University. According to the Journal-World for May 21, “Practically all members of the junior and senior class yet remaining in school are twenty-one years old and are expected to come under the provisions of the conscription act.” KU officials discussed the feasibility of moving Commencement from June 6 to June 4 in order to give graduates an opportunity to return to their hometowns for registration; however, as students were permitted to register by mail, it was thought likely that the original date would stand.