Home  »  The Americanization of Edward Bok  »  A War Magazine and War Activities

Edward William Bok (1863–1930). The Americanization of Edward Bok. 1921.


A War Magazine and War Activities

WHEN, early in 1917, events began so to shape themselves as directly to point to the entrance of the United States into the Great War, Edward Bok set himself to formulate a policy for The Ladies’ Home Journal. He knew that he was in an almost insurmountably difficult position. The huge edition necessitated going to press fully six weeks in advance of publication, and the preparation of material fully four weeks previous to that. He could not, therefore, get much closer than ten weeks to the date when his readers received the magazine. And he knew that events, in war time, had a way of moving rapidly.Late in January he went to Washington, consulted those authorities who could indicate possibilities to him better than any one else, and found, as he had suspected, that the entry of the United States into the war was a practical certainty; it was only a question of time.Bok went South for a month’s holiday to get ready for the fray, and in the saddle and on the golf links he formulated a policy. The newspapers and weeklies would send innumerable correspondents to the front, and obviously, with the necessity for going to press so far in advance, The Journal could not compete with them. They would depict every activity in the field. There was but one logical thing for him to do: ignore the “front” entirely, refuse all the offers of correspondents, men and women, who wanted to go with the armies for his magazine, and cover fully and practically the results of the war as they would affect the women left behind. He went carefully over the ground to see what these would be, along what particular lines women’s activities would be most likely to go, and then went home and back to Washington.It was now March. He conferred with the President, had his fears confirmed, and offered all the resources of his magazine to the government. His diagnosis of the situation was verified in every detail by the authorities whom he consulted. The Ladies’ Home Journal could best serve by keeping up the morale at home and by helping to meet the problems that would confront the women; as the President said: “Give help in the second line of defense.”A year before, Bok had opened a separate editorial office in Washington and had secured Dudley Harmon, the Washington correspondent for The New York Sun, as his editor-in-charge. The purpose was to bring the women of the country into a clearer understanding of their government and a closer relation with it. This work had been so successful as to necessitate a force of four offices and twenty stenographers. Bok now placed this Washington office on a war-basis, bringing it into close relation with every department of the government that would be connected with the war activities. By this means, he had an editor and an organized force on the spot, devoting full time to the preparation of war material, with Mr. Harmon in daily conference with the department chiefs to secure the newest developments.Bok learned that the country’s first act would be to recruit for the navy, so as to get this branch of the service into a state of preparedness. He therefore secured Franklin D. Roosevelt, assistant secretary of the navy, to write an article explaining to mothers why they should let their boys volunteer for the Navy and what it would mean to them.He made arrangements at the American Red Cross Headquarters for an official department to begin at once in the magazine, telling women the first steps that would be taken by the Red Cross and how they could help. He secured former President William Howard Taft, as chairman of the Central Committee of the Red Cross, for the editor of this department.He cabled to Viscount Northcliffe and Ian Hay for articles showing what the English women had done at the outbreak of the war, the mistakes they had made, what errors the American women should avoid, the right lines along which English women had worked and how their American sisters could adapt these methods to transatlantic conditions.And so it happened that when the first war issue of The Journal appeared on April 20th, only three weeks after the President’s declaration, it was the only monthly that recognized the existence of war, and its pages had already begun to indicate practical lines along which women could help.The President planned to bring the Y. M. C. A. into the service by making it a war-work body, and Bok immediately made arrangements for a page to appear each month under the editorship of John R. Mott, general secretary of the International Y. M. C. A. Committee.The editor had been told that the question of food would come to be of paramount importance; he knew that Herbert Hoover had been asked to return to America as soon as he could close his work abroad, and he cabled over to his English representative to arrange that the proposed Food Administrator should know, at first hand, of the magazine and its possibilities for the furtherance of the proposed Food Administration work.The Food Administration was no sooner organized than Bok made arrangements for an authoritative department to be conducted in his magazine, reflecting the plans and desires of the Food Administration, and Herbert Hoover’s first public declaration as food administrator to the women of America was published in The Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok now placed all the resources of his four-color press-work at Mr. Hoover’s disposal; and the Food Administration’s domestic experts, in conjunction with the full culinary staff of the magazine, prepared the new war dishes and presented them appetizingly in full colors under the personal endorsement of Mr. Hoover and the Food Administration. From six to sixteen articles per month were now coming from Mr. Hoover’s department alone.The Department of Agriculture was laid under contribution by the magazine for the best ideas for the raising of food from the soil in the creation of war-gardens.Doctor Anna Howard Shaw had been appointed chairman of the National Committee of the Women’s Council of National Defence, and Bok arranged at once with her that she should edit a department page in his magazine, setting forth the plans of the committee and how the women of America could co-operate therewith.The magazine had thus practically become the semiofficial mouthpiece of all the various government war bureaus and war-work bodies. James A. Flaherty, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, explained the proposed work of that body; Commander Evangeline Booth presented the plans of the Salvation Army, and Mrs. Robert E. Speer, president of the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association, reflected the activities of her organization; while the President’s daughter, Miss Margaret Wilson, discussed her work for the opening of all schoolhouses as community war-centres.The magazine reflected in full-color pictures the life and activities of the boys in the American camps, and William C. Gorgas, surgeon-general of the United States, was the spokesman in the magazine for the health of the boys.Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo interpreted the first Liberty Loan “drive” to the women; the President of the United States, in a special message to women, wrote in behalf of the subsequent Loan; Bernard Baruch, as chairman of the War Industries Board, made clear the need for war-time thrift; the recalled ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard, told of the ingenious plans resorted to by German women which American women could profitably copy; and Elizabeth, Queen of the Belgians, explained the plight of the babies and children of Belgium, and made a plea to the women of the magazine to help. So straight to the point did the Queen write, and so well did she present her case that within six months there had been sent to her, through The Ladies’ Home Journal, two hundred and forty-eight thousand cans of condensed milk, seventy-two thousand cans of pork and beans, five thousand cans of infants’ prepared food, eighty thousand cans of beef soup, and nearly four thousand bushels of wheat, purchased with the money donated by the magazine readers.On the coming of the coal question, the magazine immediately reflected the findings and recommendations of the Fuel Administration, and Doctor H. A. Garfield, as fuel administrator, placed the material of his Bureau at the disposal of the magazine’s Washington editor.The Committee on Public Information now sought the magazine for the issuance of a series of official announcements explanatory of matters to women.When the “meatless” and the “wheatless” days were inaugurated, the women of America found that the magazine had anticipated their coming; and the issue appearing on the first of these days, as publicly announced by the Food Administration, presented pages of substitutes in full colors.Of course, miscellaneous articles on the war there were, without number. Before the war was ended, the magazine did send a representative to the front in Catherine Van Dyke, who did most effective work for the magazine in articles of a general nature. The full-page battle pictures, painted from data furnished by those who took actual part, were universally commended and exhausted even the largest editions that could be printed. A source of continual astonishment was the number of copies of the magazine found among the boys in France; it became the third in the official War Department list of the most desired American periodicals, evidently representing a tie between the boys and their home folks. But all these “war” features, while appreciated and desirable, were, after all, but a side-issue to the more practical economic work of the magazine. It was in this service that the magazine excelled, it was for this reason that the women at home so eagerly bought it, and that it was impossible to supply each month the editions called for by the extraordinary demand.Considering the difficulties to be surmounted, due to the advance preparation of material, and considering that, at the best, most of its advance information, even by the highest authorities, could only be in the nature of surmise, the comprehensive manner in which The Ladies’ Home Journal covered every activity of women during the Great War, will always remain one of the magazine’s most noteworthy achievements. This can be said without reserve here, since the credit is due to no single person; it was the combined, careful work of its entire staff, weighing every step before it was taken, looking as clearly into the future as circumstances made possible, and always seeking the most authoritative sources of information.Bok merely directed. Each month, before his magazine went to press, he sought counsel and vision from at least one of three of the highest sources; and upon this guidance, as authoritative as anything could be in times of war when no human vision can actually foretell what the next day will bring forth, he acted. The result, as one now looks back upon it, was truly amazing; an uncanny timeliness would often color material on publication day. Of course, much of this was due to the close government co-operation, so generously and painstakingly given.With the establishment of the various war boards in Washington, Bok received overtures to associate himself exclusively with them and move to the capital. He sought the best advice and with his own instincts pointing in the same way, he decided that he could give his fullest service by retaining his editorial position and adding to that such activities as his leisure allowed. He undertook several private commissions for the United States Government, and then he was elected vice-president of the Philadelphia Belgian Relief Commission.With the Belgian consul-general for the United States, Mr. Paul Hagemans, as the president of the Commission, and guided by his intimate knowledge of the Belgian people, Bok selected a committee of the ablest buyers and merchants in the special lines of foods which he would have to handle. The Commission raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, with which it purchased foods and chartered ships. The quantities of food ran into prodigious figures; Bok felt that he was feeding the world; and yet when the holds of the ships began to take in the thousands of crates of canned goods, the bags of peas and beans, and the endless tins of condensed milk, it was amazing how the piled-up boxes melted from the piers and the ship-holds yawned for more. Flour was sent in seemingly endless hundreds of barrels.Each line of goods was bought by a specialist on the Committee at the lowest quantity prices; and the result was that the succession of ships leaving the port of Philadelphia was a credit to the generosity of the people of the city and the commonwealth. The Commission delegated one of its members to go to Belgium and personally see that the food actually reached the needy Belgian people.In September, 1917, word was received from John R. Mott that Bok had been appointed State chairman for the Y. M. C. A. War Work Council for Pennsylvania; that a country-wide campaign for twenty-five million dollars would be launched six weeks hence, and that Pennsylvania’s quota was three millions of dollars. He was to set up an organization throughout the State, conduct the drive from Philadelphia, speak at various centres in Pennsylvania, and secure the allocated quota. Bok knew little or nothing about the work of the Y. M. C. A.; he accordingly went to New York headquarters and familiarized himself with the work being done and proposed; and then began to set up his State machinery. The drive came off as scheduled, Pennsylvania doubled its quota, subscribing six instead of three millions of dollars, and of this was collected five million eight hundred and twenty-nine thousand dollars—almost one hundred per cent.Bok, who was now put on the National War Work Council of the Y. M. C. A. at New York, was asked to take part in the creation of the machinery necessary for the gigantic piece of work that the organization had been called upon by the President of the United States to do. It was a herculean task; practically impossible with any large degree of efficiency in view of the almost insurmountable obstacles to be contended with. But step by step the imperfect machinery was set up, and it began to function in the home camps. Then the overseas work was introduced by the first troops going to France, and the difficulties increased a hundredfold.But Bok’s knowledge of the workings of the government departments at Washington, the war boards, and the other war-work organizations soon convinced him that the Y. M. C. A. was not the only body, asked to set up an organization almost overnight, that was staggering under its load and falling down as often as it was functioning.The need for Y. M. C. A. secretaries overseas and in the camps soon became acute, and Bok was appointed chairman of the Philadelphia Recruiting Committee. As in the case of his Belgian relief work, he at once surrounded himself with an able committee: this time composed of business and professional men trained in a knowledge of human nature in the large, and of wide acquaintance in the city. Simultaneously, Bok secured the release of one of the ablest men in the Y. M. C. A. service in New York, Edward S. Wilkinson, who became the permanent secretary of the Philadelphia Committee. Bok organized a separate committee composed of automobile manufacturers to recruit for chauffeurs and mechanicians; another separate committee recruited for physical directors, and later a third committee recruited for women.The work was difficult because the field of selection was limited. No men between the military ages could be recruited; the War Boards at Washington had drawn heavily upon the best men of the city; the slightest physical defect barred out a man, on account of the exposure and strain of the Y. M. C. A. work; the residue was not large.It was scarcely to be wondered at that so many incompetent secretaries had been passed and sent over to France. How could it have been otherwise with the restricted selection? But the Philadelphia Committee was determined, nevertheless, that its men should be of the best, and it decided that to get a hundred men of unquestioned ability would be to do a greater job than to send over two hundred men of indifferent quality. The Committee felt that enough good men were still in Philadelphia and the vicinity, if they could be pried loose from their business and home anchorages, and that it was rather a question of incessant work than an impossible task.Bok took large advertising spaces in the Philadelphia newspapers, asking for men of exceptional character to go to France in the service of the Y. M. C. A.; and members of the Committee spoke before the different commercial bodies at their noon luncheons. The applicants now began to come, and the Committee began its discriminating selection. Each applicant was carefully questioned by the secretary before he appeared before the Committee, which held sittings twice a week. Hence of over twenty-five hundred applicants, only three hundred appeared before the Committee, of whom two hundred and fifty-eight were passed and sent overseas.The Committee’s work was exceptionally successful; it soon proved of so excellent a quality as to elicit a cabled request from Paris headquarters to send more men of the Philadelphia type. The secret of this lay in the sterling personnel of the Committee itself, and its interpretation of the standards required; and so well did it work that when Bok left for the front to be absent from Philadelphia for ten weeks, his Committee, with Thomas W. Hulme, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, acting as Chairman, did some of its best work.The after-results, according to the report of the New York headquarters, showed that no Y. M. C. A. recruiting committee had equalled the work of the Philadelphia committee in that its men, in point of service, had proved one hundred per cent secretaries. With two exceptions, the entire two hundred and fifty-eight men passed, brought back one hundred per cent records, some of them having been placed in the most important posts abroad and having given the most difficult service. The work of the other Philadelphia committees, particularly that of the Women’s Committee, was equally good.To do away with the multiplicity of “drives,” rapidly becoming a drain upon the efforts of the men engaged in them, a War Chest Committee was now formed in Philadelphia and vicinity to collect money for all the war-work agencies. Bok was made a member of the Executive Committee, and chairman of the Publicity Committee. In May, 1918, a campaign for twenty millions of dollars was started; the amount was subscribed, and although much of it had to be collected after the armistice, since the subscriptions were in twelve monthly payments, a total of fifteen and a half million dollars was paid in and turned over to the different agencies.Bok, who had been appointed one of the Boy Scout commissioners in his home district of Merion, saw the possibilities of the Boy Scouts in the Liberty Loan and other campaigns. Working in co-operation with the other commissioners, and the scoutmaster of the Merion Troop, Bok supported the boys in their work in each campaign as it came along. Although there were in the troop only nine boys, in ages ranging from twelve to fourteen years—Bok’s younger son was one of them—so effectively did these youngsters work under the inspiration of the scoutmaster, Thomas Dun Belfield, that they soon attracted general attention and acquired distinction as one of the most efficient troops in the vicinity of Philadelphia. They won nearly all the prizes offered in their vicinity, and elicited the special approval of the Secretary of the Treasury.Although only “gleaners” in most of the campaigns—that is, working only in the last three days after the regular committees had scoured the neighborhood—these Merion Boy Scouts sold over one million four hundred thousand dollars in Liberty Bonds, and raised enough money in the Y. M. C. A. campaign to erect one of the largest huts in France for the army boys, and a Y. M. C. A. gymnasium at the League Island Navy Yard accommodating two thousand sailor-boys.In the summer of 1918, the eight leading war-work agencies, excepting the Red Cross, were merged, for the purpose of one drive for funds, into the United War Work Campaign, and Bok was made chairman for Pennsylvania. In November a country-wide campaign was launched, the quota for Pennsylvania being twenty millions of dollars—the largest amount ever asked of the commonwealth. Bok organized a committee of the representative men of Pennsylvania, and proceeded to set up the machinery to secure the huge sum. He had no sooner done this, however, than he had to sail for France, returning only a month before the beginning of the campaign.But the efficient committee had done its work; upon his return Bok found the organization complete. On the first day of the campaign, the false rumor that an armistice had been signed made the raising of the large amount seem almost hopeless; furthermore, owing to the influenza raging throughout the commonwealth, no public meetings had been permitted or held. Still, despite all these obstacles, not only was the twenty millions subscribed but oversubscribed to the extent of nearly a million dollars; and in face of the fact that every penny of this large total had to be collected after the signing of the armistice, twenty millions of dollars was paid in and turned over to the war agencies.It is indeed a question whether any single war act on the part of the people of Pennsylvania redounds so highly to their credit as this marvellous evidence of patriotic generosity. It was one form of patriotism to subscribe so huge a sum while the war was on and the guns were firing; it was quite another and a higher patriotism to subscribe and pay such a sum after the war was over!Bok’s position as State chairman of the United War Work Campaign made it necessary for him to follow authoritatively and closely the work of each of the eight different organizations represented in the fund. Because he felt he had to know what the Knights of Columbus, the Salvation Army, the Y. W. C. A., and the others were doing with the money he had been instrumental in collecting, and for which he felt, as chairman, responsible to the people of Pennsylvania, he learned to know their work just as thoroughly as he knew what the Y. M. C. A. was doing.He had now seen and come into personal knowledge of the work of the Y. M. C. A. from his Philadelphia point of vantage, with his official connection with it at New York headquarters; he had seen the work as it was done in the London and Paris headquarters; and he had seen the actual work in the American camps, the English rest-camps, back of the French lines, in the trenches, and as near the firing-line as he had been permitted to go.He had, in short, seen the Y. M. C. A. function from every angle, but he had also seen the work of the other organizations in England and France, back of the lines and in the trenches. He found them all faulty—necessarily so. Each had endeavored to create an organization within an incredibly short space of time and in the face of adverse circumstances. Bok saw at once that the charge that the Y. M. C. A. was “falling down” in its work was as false as that the Salvation Army was doing “a marvellous work” and that the K. of C. was “efficient where others were incompetent,” and that the Y. W. C. A. was “nowhere to be seen.”The Salvation Army was unquestionably doing an excellent piece of work within a most limited area; it could not be on a wider scale, when one considered the limited personnel it had at its command. The work of the K. of C. was not a particle more or less efficient than the work of the other organizations. What it did, it strove to do well, but so did the others. The Y. W. C. A. made little claim about its work in France, since the United States Government would not, until nearly at the close of the war, allow women to be sent over in the uniforms of any of the war-work organizations. But no one can gainsay for a single moment the efficient service rendered by the Y. W. C. A. in its hostess-house work in the American camps; that work alone would have entitled it to the support of the American people. That of the Y. M. C. A. was on so large a scale that naturally its inefficiency was often in proportion to its magnitude.Bok was in France when the storm of criticism against the Y. M. C. A. broke out, and, as State chairman for Pennsylvania, it was his duty to meet the outcry when it came over to the United States. That the work of the Y. M. C. A. was faulty no one can deny. Bok saw the “holes” long before they were called to the attention of the public, but he also saw the almost impossible task, in face of prevailing difficulties, of caulking them up. No one who was not in France can form any conception of the practically insurmountable obstacles against which all the war-work organizations worked; and the larger the work the greater were the obstacles, naturally. That the Y. M. C. A. and the other similar agencies made mistakes is not the wonder so much as that they did not make more. The real marvel is that they did so much efficient work. For after we get a little farther away from the details and see the work of these agencies in its broader aspects, when we forget the lapses—which, after all, though irritating and regrettable, were not major—the record as a whole will stand as a most signal piece of volunteer service.What was actually accomplished was nothing short of marvellous; and it is this fact that must be borne in mind; not the omissions, but the commissions. And when the American public gets that point of view—as it will, and, for that matter, is already beginning to do—the work of the American Y. M. C. A. will no longer suffer for its omissions, but will amaze and gladden by its accomplishments. As an American officer of high rank said to Bok at Chaumont headquarters: “The mind cannot take in what the war would have been without the ‘Y.’” And that, in time, will be the universal American opinion, extended, in proportion to their work, to all the war-work agencies and the men and women who endured, suffered, and were killed in their service.