Illinois: “A Man Is No Man That Is Not Willing to Fight”

  • Gerald E. Shenk


In the spring of 1918 Mrs. Marie Barbee of Hillsboro, Illinois, sent a letter to Selective Service officials in Washington, D.C., demanding they draft her son, send him to France, and put him in the trenches. Mrs. Barbee was a widow with one daughter in addition to her draft-age son. She lived in a rural village in the middle of the south-central Illinois corn-belt. In her appeal to draft officials, she called on the values that defined Progressive white manhood. A man must do something productive and useful, like working or fighting. But that alone was insufficient according to Mrs. Barbee. A man must support the women, children, or elderly in his family. Her version of “work or fight” was something like “work to support your family or fight to support your nation.” Mrs. Barbee’s primary goal was to get economic support from her son, and she would apply the twin prods of white Progressive gender ideology and the Selective Service System to force it out of him. She wrote:

To the War Department in regard to Lewis Barbee not taking care of his mother and little sister which he fill out questionnaire papers to do. He is working at Okla working in Schram glass factory and making $30.00 a week and wont sent me a cent to live on. He did not want to go to the war. So he put exemption that he had to take care of me his mother and his sister but he is not doing it so see what you can do about it. I think that a son wont take care of his poor old mother when she is not able to work they should be taken to France and put in the trenches. A man is no man that is not willing to fight for his own country. I only wished that I could go but I past that age. This is all. Let me know.1


National Guard Conscientious Objector Training Camp Draft Registrant Local Board 
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© Gerald E. Shenk 2005

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  • Gerald E. Shenk

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