World War I in Lawrence: ‘Great War’ brings new concerns about security on home front

With involvement in the “Great War” came new concerns about security on the home front, especially involving local bridges and industries. In speaking of the need for extra vigilance, city engineer E. H. Dunmire commented, “A little dynamite in the right place could do a lot of damage in the city.” In addition to the war and some “spy scares” in Kansas City, local officials were also casting a worried eye at the reported activities of the I.W.W. labor union in other parts of the country.

In August 1917, outdoor lighting was increased at the Lawrence Water Works, “making it lighter on the outside of the pump and boiler rooms than in the interior of the building.” Workers on the night shift began carrying firearms, and the men were “ordered to shoot and make inquiries afterwards.”

Like many other cities and towns, Lawrence formed a “Home Guard” which was designed to “defend the home industries in possible crises” and to “be useful in guarding the bridge, mills, university buildings, waterworks and other of the numerous public institutions.” Another article described the mission of the Home Guard as being “for the purpose of controlling any situation which might arise when the young men of the nation, organized or unorganized, are taken away by the war. The possibility of important service by such an organization in any part of the country has been shown by the recent uprisings of the I. W. W. in many localities, widely removed, over the country. Such affairs might easily prove serious if no organized force were in existence to put it down.”

Membership drew largely from the men who were too young, or too old, to serve in the military. Lawrence members began meeting in the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium in August and were reported to be learning military drills quickly and enthusiastically.