Labor Market Politics and the Great War: The Department of Labor, the States, and the First U.S. Employment Service, 1907-1933

By William J. Breen | Go to book overview
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Essay on Sources

T he records of the first U.S. Employment Service were destroyed in a warehouse fire in Virginia in the early 1930s, prior to the establishment of the National Archives. Dixon Wecter, in When Johnny Comes Marching Home ( Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton, Mifflin, 1944), alleges that William Nuckles Doak, secretary of labor in the Hoover administration, was responsible for their deliberate destruction (p. 574). Whether the allegation is true or not, the destruction of the records no doubt accounts for the absence of serious historical work dealing with the first USES and, indeed, its virtual disappearance from historical memory. My own interest in the workings of the labor market during World War I was aroused when doing research for an earlier study on the work of the state councils of defense, some of which had active committees on labor that cooperated with the USES. Trying to find out something about the USES made me realize how little had been written about the labor mobilization in World War I and the central importance of the USES to that story.

The research for the study of the state councils of defense not only piqued my interest in the first USES but, by chance, also alerted me to the existence of a considerable quantity of forgotten USES records. As part of my research for the earlier project, I had worked with state council of defense records located in a number of state archives. Working in those state archives (often, I suspect, the first person to look at the World War I records since they were deposited) made me aware that a few of the states not only had excellent collections of state council of defense material but also housed the complete papers of the state branch of the USES. After an extensive

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