To kick off the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917, the Ross County Historical Society’s 2017 Spring Speakers Series will feature three programs that look at the impact of the war on the home front here in Ross County and across the State of Ohio.

The first program takes place on Wednesday, April 26 with a presentation titled “The Doughboys of Camp Sherman” featuring guest speaker Larry Strayer of Dayton. Strayer, a military historian, avid collector, and authority on World War I material culture, will talk about the role of Camp Sherman's 83rd Division during World War I.  As a national army division of draftees, the 83rd was slated to serve as replacements for Regular Army and National Guard divisions already in France. Yet about half of its sub-units ended up serving with their original organizations left intact, including the entire 324th Field Artillery, the 308th Engineers, and the 332nd Infantry (which was the only American combat unit to serve in Italy). Strayer will also explore the wartime service of Chillicothe's own Company H, 4th Ohio National Guard, which was among the earliest groups to go overseas in 1917. Reassigned as the 166th Infantry of the legendary 42nd “Rainbow” Division, these men served for over 18 months in five major operations and in the Army of Occupation before returning home to be demobilized at Camp Sherman. Strayer will also look briefly at the 84th & 95th divisions that trained at Camp Sherman. 

The program is free and open to the public and will take place from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Ross County Heritage Center, located at 45 West Fifth Street, Chillicothe.  Refreshments will be served.  

The Ross County Historical Society’s 2017 Spring Speakers Series will also include the following programs:

Wednesday, May 10, 7:30 p.m. – “World War I on the Ohio Home Front,” featuring Susan Talbot-Stanaway, retired director of the Zanesville Museum of Art, Zanesville. From 1917 through 1918, thousands of Ohioans engaged in the battles of the “Great War” in Europe.  Those who stayed at home were exposed to new roles, beliefs, and new sense of national unity.  People were urged to support the families of soldiers, purchase war bonds, plant Victory Gardens, undergo the hardships of rationing, and report spies.  Women entered the workplace for the first time, supported wartime charities, and joined organizations like the Women’s Land Army.  Ohio manufacturers shifted to producing munitions, dramatically increased their work forces and recruited African Americans from the South to operate assembly lines.  Susan Talbot-Stanaway will explore how Ohioans participated in World War I and how that participation helped shape important social and political changes. 

Wednesday, May 24, 7:30 p.m. — “Chillicothe during the Great War, 1914-18”, featuring Pat Medert, historian, writer, and Ross County Historical Society archivist, Chillicothe.  Medert, author of the new book Chillicothe, Ohio and the Great War, 1914-18, will speak about the Conscription Act of 1917 and how it led to the construction of Camp Sherman on the outskirts of Chillicothe for the training of drafted men. The presence of 40,000 soldiers near a town of 16,000 people had a profound effect on the community. City leaders were overwhelmed with problems arising from insufficient housing, hotel rooms, and restaurants; inadequate public transportation; and a limited number of police officers. The programs developed by the War Department, designed to ensure parents and wives that the young men forced to become soldiers would remain spiritually, morally, and socially the same as when they left home, required the cooperation of “army towns.” Medert will explain how the people of Chillicothe and Ross County directed most of their activities to make the soldiers feel welcome and to accommodate the serge of out-of-town visitors on weekends.

All Spring Speakers Series programs are free and open to the public.