The past is behind us, the future is ahead. Let us all strive to make the future better and brighter than the past ever was - Gerrit A. Beneker 1918
Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I between the Allies and Germany. Like most organizations, the Mechanics’ Institute felt duty bound to aid in the war effort. Writing in his annual report of March 17, 1918, MI president Livingston Jenks outlined the effect of the war on the activities of the Institute over the past eight months since the nation declared war. There was the expected drop in new memberships, an 11% drop in circulation, and several popular lectures were offered on European history and military tactics. There also was as you might expect, an “increased demand for books pertaining to war, notably books of history and those that [dealt] with military and naval engineering”.
He also mentioned that as of March, 89 of our members had joined the naval or military forces. Ultimately this number would swell to some 174 known members by the war’s end. Our library was thrown open to all students of the United States military and naval schools, and active soldiers and sailors. A finding aid of the books in our collection on aviation, military and naval engineering was issued, and the various food bulletins which were sent to us by the government were cataloged. The library also sold Thrift Stamps, a means of financing the war effort, and donated books to the Red Cross Library at Mare Island and to the Soldiers and Sailors League of the San Francisco branch of the Red Cross.
At the beginning of the war James Spiers, a trustee since 1904, volunteered his services in the Ordnance Department and at the time of Jenk’s report, was serving “somewhere in France“ with the rank of Captain. Mr. A. Law Voge, who had charge of our reference department since 1914, resigned his position in January 1918 to accept a commission as Captain of Engineers in the Chemical Division. The Institute also subscribed $10,000 to the first issue of Liberty Bonds, $5000 to the second, and at the time of the report, was preparing to subscribe to the third issue. Mr. Jenks was very proud of the Institute’s efforts and wrote in closing that the Institute showed “loyalty and patriotism [in] its constant endeavor to assist the government in every possible way”.
The war’s end however was bittersweet for the Mechanics’ Institute. On the same day the armistice was announced, Livingston Jenks committed suicide in his home in Forest Hill (Placer County). The reason behind this action is unknown but he was rumored to have been ill.
November 11, 1918, was largely considered the end of “the war to end all wars”. Sadly, as the United States is now involved in seven official wars and conflicts, we see that is not the case. Nevertheless, today, I salute our veterans and the regular folks, like that at MI, who did what they could to aid the war effort; and I charge all of you reading this to remember the human cost of war and do more to prevent the next one.