Kansans of the Great War Era
This page is dedicated to the sons and daughters of Kansas who lived during the First World War. It includes soldiers, aviators, medal of honor winners, nurses, journalists, politicians, and more — heroes from both the battlefield and the homefront.
Born March 26, 1876, Ada. Died January 10, 1948.
The early 1910s and ‘20s were a troubled time within America. Faced with threats from abroad, and having just finished a war, many Americans were fearful of the socialist movements that were sweeping the nation. Into this time of chaos stepped Kate Richards O’ Hare, a socialist speaker not afraid to express her opinions on the state of the nation. O’Hare was imprisoned for her efforts, starting her on a new path that would bring about great reforms to the American penal system.
Stephen Kramer was born on February 27, 1894, near Stranger Creek about 3 miles east of Tonganoxie, KS. He was born into a family of tenant farmers, an occupation that Stephen continued throughout his life.
Stephen was 23-years-old when he enlisted in the army in May of 1917 as one of Harry Truman’s Buglers. Stephen’s artillery unit saw considerable action in the war. He served in Battery D of the 129th field artillery unit of the 60th Brigade of the 35th Division, and saw action September 25, 1918 in the Meuse Argonne. On October 10, 1918 he was in the battle of Verdun.
George Alexander Sweatt is best remembered as one of the ballplayers from the glory days of baseball’s Negro Leagues, one of the many who was likely good enough to play in the major leagues but never got the chance due to their race. Sweatt would play in the first four Negro Leagues World Series, playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1924 and 1925, and the Chicago American Giants in 1926 and 1927.
Long before 1917, Ike Gilberg had earned a reputation as the “leader of Topeka radicalism.”
Born in 1873 in Bialystok, Russia, a major Jewish textile manufacturing center, Gilberg boarded a Red Star liner in 1889 bound for New York City. For whatever reason, Gilberg seemed intent on obfuscating the reason he fled his homeland giving at least three different accounts of what he described as “my feeble attempts to bring on the revolution.” Traveling first to Missouri, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1896, Gilberg arrived in Topeka by 1907, opening a tailor shop in the basement of the Copeland Hotel.
For the sports fans out there, we probably don’t have to tell you that James Naismith was the inventor of basketball. We certainly don’t have to mention it at Lawrence or the University of Kansas, where the beloved professor held forth and yet, with a touch of irony, is the only basketball coach in KU’s history to have a losing record (55-60). We could say much about him, but this is one of those people where enough has already been written. Here it is more important to say what he did in World War I.
Beginning in the early 1880s, Dr. Eva Harding and a small group of women applied their sense of duty to society and in the name of social justice transformed local women’s clubs from their earlier devotion to charity and religion to focus on economic and political equality and social reform. Born in Ohio in 1857, Harding’s family claimed the distinction of being the only in America to boast all three female siblings becoming physicians. In 1882, Harding joined the medical practice of one of her sisters in Atchison, Kansas. Ten years later, she established herself in Topeka, centering her practice on women and children.
Melville Gray Montgomery was born in Cowley County on August 6, 1890. He became a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and in turn served as a chaplain during his short service in the army during the Great War.
In his early life he had been an orphan, losing both parents by the age of two. He and his siblings went to live with an aunt and uncle in Arkansas City. This was no barrier to him; he had an active life in school, being on the track team and showed promising oratorical skills. The latter carried over to his days at Park College in Parkville, Missouri. This also created an ironic moment; he took part in an oratorical contest at Winfield in 1913, and the Kansan Montgomery represented the state of Missouri.
Born in 1860 at Salem, Ohio, Sarah Mitchell Guernsey moved with her parents to Kansas in the 1860s, her father serving as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. She would marry George Thatcher Guernsey, a prominent banker in Independence, Kansas.
Among her many activities Mrs. Guernsey was active in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). She would serve as State Regent for Kansas before being elected as the 9th President General of the Society, the first elected from west of the Mississippi River. She served a three-year term from 1917 to 1920.