Today in History

Today in History: November 11

Veterans Day

Company E, 102nd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army
Company E, 102nd [Infantry Regiment], U.S. Army,
Curtiss Studio, photographers, September 10, 1917.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war, later known as World War I, to a close.

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson, Head-and-Shoulders Portrait
,
Pach Bros., N.Y.,
December 2, 1912.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Between the wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both world wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries call the holiday Remembrance Day.

In an interview with the Federal Writers' Project, World War I veteran Andrew Johnson remembered how his regiment stationed in northeastern France welcomed the end of the war:

Armistice Day found us before Metz. We were waiting to storm a great walled city which would have cost us many men, as we would have to cross a level plain about two miles long.

Andrew Johnson,
Levi C. Hubert, interviewer,
Brooklyn, New York, November 20, 1938.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

When Johnson and his mates finally arrived in the United States the following spring, he recalled, "We were given a bonus of $60, an honorable discharge, and the 368th Infantry regiment became a part of history."

Welcome Home
"Welcome Home,"
Ed. G. Nelson, music, Bud Green, words,
Barbelle, Albert W., illustrator, 1918.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

On the home front, the armistice was celebrated in the streets. Massachusetts shoe laster James Hughes described the scene in Boston:

There was a lot of excitement when we heard about the Armistice…some of them old fellas was walkin' on the streets with open Bibles in their hands. All the shops were shut down. I never seen the people so crazy…confetti was a-flying in all directions…I'll never forget it.

James Hughes, "The House that My Uncles Owned in Ireland,"
Jane K. Leary, interviewer,
Lynn, Massachusetts, April 28, 1939.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

The American Memory collections are rich in sources pertaining to World War I:

I Want You for the U.S. Army, the famous recruiting poster from World War I, is included in the American Treasures of the Library of Congress exhibition.

Uncle Sam
I Want You for the U.S. Army,
James Montgomery Flagg, lithographer, 1917.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Search for newspaper accounts of the Armistice, wars, veterans, and more in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers to find articles about the Armistice, for example “WAR IS OVER,” published in The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.) on November 7, 1918 (final edition, image 1), and “ARMISTICE IS SIGNED” in the The Evening Missourian. (Columbia, Mo.) 1917-1920, November 11, 1918, Image 1.

Events featuring veterans from between the two world wars and during World War II also are featured in American Memory.

Washington: the Evergreen State

Panoramic View of Lake Chelan in the Cascade Mountains, Washington
Lake Chelan, in the Cascade Mts., Wash.,
c 1908.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison declared Washington the forty-second state in the Union. Less than fifty years after pioneers began entering the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail, the United States borders extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Spanish and British explorers landed on the Northwest coast in the 1770s; American explorers followed. In 1818, the United States and Britain jointly occupied the "Oregon Country," of which Washington was a part.

In 1844, presidential candidate James K. Polk urged an aggressive stance with regard to ownership of the land below the 54th parallel. The slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" became a rallying cry of the Polk campaign. Two years later, the U.S. and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty setting the Canadian-American border at the 49th parallel and granting the United States territory that included present-day Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In 1848, Congress designated this newly acquired area the "Oregon Territory."

City of Olympia, 1879
Bird's Eye View of the City of Olympia…,
E. S. Glover, lithographer,
1878.
Map Collections

Racial exclusion laws prompted the first settlers to venture into the Washington region. In 1844, George W. Bush, a man of African-American or possibly East Indian ancestry on his father’s side (his mother was Irish), was among the early pioneers to Oregon Country. He and his family left Missouri, a slave state, which forbid nonwhites from possessing land and becoming citizens. They set off with their friend, Michael Simmons and his family, along with three other white families on the Oregon Trail.

The Bush and Simmons parties soon learned that the Oregon Provisional Government also prohibited black people from owning property. Bush's party evaded control of the provisional government by crossing the Columbia River and heading north—away from the American settlers and their government. They settled in late 1845 on land that was under the purview of Britain's Hudson's Bay Company—where the restrictive laws were not actively enforced. This land was later named Tumwater, of which Olympia, the state capital of present-day Washington, traces its settlement. The 1846 Treaty of Oregon, however, brought this land under the Oregon Territory's discriminatory laws.

Bush, a generous man and friends with many of the new territory's legislators, was now without a clear legal claim on land that he and his family had cultivated. Members of the first session of the Washington Territorial Legislature voted unanimously to petition Congress to validate Bush's title to his land. Congress read twice and committed a bill on January 30, 1885, "An Act for the Relief of George Bush, of Thruston County, Washington Territory." The bill passed on February 10, 1885.

With fertile rivers, dense forests, and a natural harbor, the land offered riches to those willing to work. Yet, the region gained slowly in population. Friction with the Cayuse Indians discouraged some settlers while discovery of gold in California lured others. By 1850, natural resources and ready access to California's growing market spurred migration to Washington. Officially a part of Oregon Territory, popular agitation resulted in the organization of Washington Territory in 1853.

Visiting the West in 1865, newspaper editor Samuel Bowles admired Washington's lush forests and economic potential. He called the area around Puget Sound, already dotted with saw mills, the "great lumber market of all the Pacific Coast." Little Olympia he wrote, "puts on the airs and holds many of the materials of fine society; and entertained us at a most comfortable little inn." Noting the delicious meals he enjoyed there, Bowles joked:

If there is one thing, indeed, more than another, among the facts of civilization, which the Pacific Coast organizes most quickly and completely, it is good eating….When the Puritans settled New England, their first public duty was to build a church with thrifty thought for their souls. Out here, their degenerate sons begin with organizing a restaurant, and supplying Hostetter's stomachic bitters and an European or Asiatic cook. So the seat of empire, in its travel westward, changes its base from soul to stomach, from brains to bowels.

Our New West (Hartford, CT: Hartford Publishing, 1869), 462.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

During the period 1878-89, Congress consistently rejected appeals for Washington statehood despite its growing population. Denial of statehood was largely due to a concern that the lack of an interstate railroad connection would interfere in the effective governance of Oregon as a state. More significantly, the legislators hesitated to disturb the delicate balance of Democrats and Republicans in Congress by creating another state. Finally, a decade after its initial request, Congress admitted Washington into the Union along with Montana and the Dakotas.

The Pacific squadron at Puget Sound Navy Yard
The Pacific Squadron at Puget Sound Navy Yard, 1908.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

"California as I Saw It": First Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 contains personal accounts of travels in the West, including one by journalist Edward S. Parkinson. His Wonderland; Twelve Weeks in and Out of the United States details a cross-country trip he took during the spring and summer of 1892. Parkinson admired Washington's natural beauty:

The shore of Puget's Sound, on each side, is densely wooded with forests of pine, fir and hemlock, beginning at the water's edge and reaching to the snow-line on the high mountains. The landscape forms a most beautiful picture of water, forest and snow-capped mountains.

Edward S. Parkinson,
Wonderland; Twelve Weeks in and Out of the United States,
(Trenton, NJ:  MacCrellish & Quigley, 1894), 169.
"California as I Saw It": First Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900

Find out more about Washington State and the Oregon Territory: