In addition to the World War I-centric events, there are other ways to gain a Kentucky perspective on WWI. Kentucky author David J. Bettez has written a book, Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front, which delves into the war’s impact on the state’s culture and economics.
“Kentucky played a strong, supporting role in WWI,” Bettez says. “Agriculture was important. We provided troops who were far less opposed to the war than did the more Southern states. Kentuckians did their part.
“Kentuckians also found out that they were part of a nation,” Bettez says, “and that the government—local, state and federal—was going to play a larger role in their lives. For a lot of Kentuckians, this was really new. During WWI, government influence became more pervasive than ever before.”
In his book, which won a 2017 Kentucky History Award from the Kentucky Historical Society, is considered the first comprehensive analysis on the subject.
Bettez examines all the issues of the day from multiple perspectives, including the Kentucky Council of Defense, religion, higher education, Kentuckians who served abroad, women’s suffrage, child labor and African-American life.
Bettez was surprised to find at how little dissent to the war there was in Kentucky. “Many in the South thought this was a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight,” he says. “That wasn’t the case in Kentucky. We were solidly Democratic.”
“I surprised a lot of county court clerks,” Bettez says.During his research for the book, Bettez discovered that during WWI, every county put together a history of the county’s efforts during the war. He started searching and found 30 of the compilations.
“A lot of the clerks were surprised when I asked to see their county’s book,” he says. “Many of them had never seen it. At one office, I was looking over the clerk’s shoulder and said, ‘There it is.’ The books are all bound the same and are kind of distinctive.”
For those who would like a more in-depth account of their county’s efforts during the great war, Bettez suggests a visit to the county clerk’s office. “A lot of people don’t know about them,” he says, “but there is a ton of material on WWI in them.”
Want to see the contributions of other states as well as Kentucky? Go to the national WWI website:www.worldwar1centennial.org. Each state has a section on this site.