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Books for Soldiers


The war caught America unprepared, not only by an inadequate military establishment, but in a source of revenue to fund it. It soon became apparent that to be a good, patriotic, American citizen, one had to be a “giving” citizen. Slackers were not only those who failed to serve, but were also those who failed to contribute monetarily to the many causes.

In April of 1917, Congress passed the Emergency Loan Act, creating the First Liberty Loan. It authorized the sale of almost two billion dollars in Liberty Bonds. Solid campaigning and patriotic speeches helped promote the bonds and the goal was reached by mid-summer. But as the military buildup began, it was clear that two billion dollars would not be enough, and in mid-September a call went out for a second Liberty Loan Drive. This had a goal of an additional three billion dollars, but this was only one of a number of causes for which Americans had to dip deep. There was also financial aid for war refugees and food drives. On the battlefield, there was the American Red Cross attending to the welfare of the soldiers. Using images of the wounded and the dying … the sons, husbands and sweethearts … the Red Cross struck an emotional chord with the American public.

Another among the causes was one adopted by the American Library Association. It envisioned suitable libraries for all military camps both at home and with the forces overseas. To meet that end, they began a national campaign to raise a million dollars with a slogan of, “A Million Dollars for a Million Books for a Million Soldiers.” Along with the money, they collected books and magazines of all kinds.

A young, Bavarian immigrant, a war refugee, was well aware of the power of books. The Rev. Francis Xaviar Hollnberger of Belfield was registered in Stark County as a former German officer in Kaiser Wilhelm’s army. But not only had he been a German officer, he was also a Catholic priest and the former librarian to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked the onset of the War. Anticipating the events that followed the assassination, he claimed a religious exemption from military service and immediately set sail for America. As a friend of Bishop Vincent Wehrle of the Bismarck Diocese, he was able to find a predominantly German parish in southwest North Dakota. For this former librarian, both books and the war held a special meaning.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Grand Forks Herald September 24, 1917

The Bismarck Tribune, September 18, 1917