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Three Draft Registrations Required During World War 1

Members of a “Silk Stocking" Division of the Draft Army ( Local Board Division No. 129) Lined up in Front of Their Headquarters at the American Museum of Natural History, Before Their Departure for Yaphank.

Members of a “Silk Stocking" Division of the Draft Army ( Local Board Division No. 129) Lined up in Front of Their Headquarters at the American Museum of Natural History, Before Their Departure for Yaphank. New York Tribune, 7 October 1917. GGA Image ID # 18dbc4b7bd

Summary of the Draft Registrations for the Great War

During World War I, there were three registrations.

  1. On 5 June 1917, the first was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.
  2. On 5 June 1918, the second registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. On 24 August 1918, a supplemental registration was held for those becoming 21 years old after 5 June 1918. This was included in the second registration.
  3. The third registration was held on 12 September 1918, for men age 18 through 45.

Registration Chronology for World War 1, 1917-18

The main facts about the three registrations of World War I may be summarized most conveniently in the form of a chronology:

1917

  • April 23—Letter from Provost Marshal General to Governors of States, announcing plans made on the assumption that pending legislation would shortly go Into effect; explains registration procedure; quotes section 5 of bill under consideration: “The President Is hereby authorized to utilize the service of any or all departments and any or all officers or agents of the United States and of the several States, Territories, and the District of Columbia In the execution of this act, and all officers, . . ., are hereby required to perform such duties In the execution of this act as the President shall order and direct, and officers and agents of the several States shall hereby have full authority for all acts done by them In the execution of this act by the direction or request of the President.”
  • May 18—Public Law No. 12 approved : An act to authorize the President to Increase temporarily the Military Establishment of the United States.
  • May 18—Proclamation by the President setting June 5, 1917 as the First Registration Day in the continental United States for all “male persons between the ages of 21 and 30, both Inclusive.”
  • May 18—Registration Regulations prescribed by the President.
  • May 26—Presidential Proclamation warning of penalties for evasion of Registration ; quotes Section 5 of the Act of May 18,1917.
  • June 5—First Registration Day—men 21-30, continental United States; almost 10,000,000 registered ; registration 90 percent complete, returns In 48 hours.
  • June 27—Registration Proclamation for Puerto Rico; July 5 (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • June 30—Registration Proclamation for Alaska; July 2-September 2 (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • July 2—Registration Proclamation for Hawaii ; July 31 (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • July 2—Registration begins In Alaska (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • July 5—Registration Day for Puerto Rico (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • July 20—First National Lottery (numbers 1-10,500).
  • July 31—Registration Day for Hawaii (ages 21-30 inclusive).
  • September 2—End of Registration in Alaska (ages 21-30 inclusive).

1918

  • May 20—Public Resolution No. 30 approved: “Providing for the registration of all male persons . . . who have since June 5, 1917 attained the age of 21 years . . .”
  • May 20—Presidential Proclamation setting June 5, 1918, for registration of men In continental United States who had become 21 since First Registration Day, June 5, 1917.
  • June 5—Second Registration Day ; for men in continental United States who had become 21 since June 5, 1917.
  • June 11—Registration Proclamation for Puerto Rico, appointing July 5 for registration of men becoming 21 since July 5, 1917.
  • June 17—Registration Proclamation for Alaska, setting July 2-September 3 for registration of men becoming 21 since September 2,1917.
  • June 18—Registration Proclamation for Hawaii, setting July 31 for registration of men becoming 21 since July 31, 1917.
  • June 27—Second National Lottery (numbers 1-14200).
  • July 2—Beginning of registration In Alaska for men becoming 21 since September 2, 1917.
  • July 5—Registration Day for Puerto Rico for men becoming 21 since July 5, 1917.
  • July 9—Public Law No. 193 (Army Appropriation Act) approved. Chapter XII, Registration and Drafting of Aliens, authorizes the President to issue a proclamation for the registration of aliens; Section 4 amends the Act of May 18,1917, to provide for the military liability of certain aliens ages 21-30 inclusive.
  • July 31—Registration Day for Hawaii for men becoming 21 since July 31, 1917.
  • August 13—Presidential Proclamation setting August 24 for registration of men in continental United States who have become 21 since Second Registration Day, June 5, 1918.
  • August 24—Registration Day for men in continental United States who had become 21 since June 5, 1918.
  • August 31—Public I-aw No. 210 approved, amending Act of May 18, 1917 ; “That all male persons between the ages of 18 and 45, both inclusive, shall be subject to registration ”
  • August 31—Presidential Proclamation setting September 12 for registration of all men in continental United States, 18-45 incl., not previously registered.
  • September 12—Registration Day, continental United States, men 18-45, not previously registered.
  • September 18—Registration Proclamation for Alaska, setting October 15-December 16 for registration of all men 18-45 incl., not previously registered.
  • September 30—Third National Lottery (numbers 1-17,000).
  • October 7—Registration Proclamation for Hawaii, setting October 26 for registration of all men 18-45 incl., not previously registered.
  • October 10—Registration Proclamation for Puerto Rico, setting October 26 for registration of all men 18-45 Incl., not previously registered.
  • October 15—Beginning of registration in Alaska for men 18-45, not previously registered.
  • October 26—Registration Day in Hawaii and Puerto Rico for men 18-45, not previously registered.
  • November 11—The Armistice.

Lessons Learned from the Civil War

The great lesson learned from the Civil War that formed the basis of the success of the 1917 registration was placing the responsibility for registering on the individual himself rather than going to seek him out.

Perhaps no less important was the fact that the registration should not be conducted by military but by civilian authority. The three registrations conducted during the first World War, which followed these principles, were very successful.

Those in charge at Washington waited, as they admitted, with “groundless apprehension”—the result of the first registration placing the responsibility on the individual.

The response was so satisfactory that the Provost Marshal General enthusiastically said in his report that the first registration day, June 5, was destined to become one of the most significant days in American history.

This and similar registration days in 1917 and 1918 and the registration days in World War II have not become great days in history but days on which the American people in their stride, met a national responsibility without any great disturbances and without great emotion. It was in accordance with the national will, and it was the thing to be done. They did it.

The First Registration of 1917

The Provost Marshal in his report on the first draft had this to say about the first registration :

On the morning of June 5 a perfectly coordinated system which, by the patriotic and devoted cooperation of the officials and citizens of the several States, had been created almost in a fortnight, stood ready to the task.

On the evening of that day, practically the entire male population of the United States between the ages of 21 and 30 had presented themselves for enrollment for service, and within 48 hours the returns in the city of Washington were 90 percent complete.

A volume that would read as an epic of patriotic ingenuity and endeavor could be devoted to the story of the registration in many of the States. Seemingly insurmountable difficulties were overcome.

The men of the Nation made their first response to the call of the national need in a unison that removed all doubt of the solidarity and devotion of our people. The event proved the President's forecast of it. (Note 1)

Preparation for the First Registration, 1917

How was this done? While Congress was debating the Selective Service Act in April and May of 1917, vigorous preparations were made for the anticipated passage of the act which occurred on May 18.

On April 23, 1917, almost a month before the passage of the act, the Provost Marshal General sent letters to the Governors of the States outlining the plans and giving in detail instructions as to how the registration was to be conducted.

The basic idea was to follow the general organization and the administrative units of the election machinery. The Governors in the States, the County Clerks, or other designated persons in the county and in registration precincts were selected or appointed registrars. The ordinary place of registering was the ordinary place for voting. Thus the normal processes of Government were utilized for this extraordinary activity. The registration by precincts provided the means of registering for the great mass of persons.

Special provisions were made for the registration of particular groups:

  1. Persons at sea and abroad
  2. Persons In training camps, schools, colleges, and other similar institutions
  3. Persons in jails, reformatories, and penitentiaries
  4. The sick.

Provision was also made for special cases as follows:

  1. Registration of Indians
  2. All persons on military reserves, navy yards and arsenals and naval training stations
  3. On forest reserves
  4. Residents of national parks
  5. In outlying territories.

The system comprised some 4,000 registration boards with more than 12,000 members, employing a personnel of 125,000 registrars and assistants, The total number registered in continental United States at this first registration of 1917 was 9,586,508 men between the ages of 21 and 30, both inclusive.

Winning State Cooperation

One of the important problems facing those charged with the planning of the administration of the Selective Service Law in 1917 was the relationship of the States to the Federal Government.

For the Civil War draft, a vast Federal administrative machinery had been set up. It took at least 2 months to organize it and 4 months to effect the registration.

Those in charge in 1917 wanted the cooperation of the States and had in mind some of the difficulties, constitutional and statutory. Rather than seemingly to impose authoritatively the responsibilities on the States as agents of the Federal Government, they adopted the persuasive tack.

This was shown very clearly in the letter of April 23,1917, from the Provost Marshal General to the Governors of the States which recited the provision of the proposed law authorizing the President to use any or all Departments and any or all agents of the Federal Government—and of the State Governments—in the several States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, requiring them to perform such duties as are assigned in the execution of the act and endowing them with all authority to perform such acts upon the direction or request of the President.

The phrase “are hereby required to perform such duties in the execution of this act,” while clearly applying to Federal officials, must have caused some hesitation in those writing the law with reference to local and State officials.

The plan itself gave the whole matter the appearance of a local affair under the direction of the Governor, and the program was to be worked out by the Governor.

For example, the letter said there “shall not be laid down (by Federal officials) any inflexible rule governing the composition of these local boards and that matter shall be left to their own good judgment,” that is, the Governors’. Expedition is urged on the basis not only of the national interest but also to permit the young men “to compose their affairs and make their farewells.”

The center of the stage is still to be kept by the Governor, for the letter says, “The hope is entertained that the whole system may be ready to present the registration within 10 days (or at most 2 weeks) after enactment of the law, but evidence in this is reserved until advice has been received from the Governor.”

Thus was this major Federal job placed with simple directness in the custody of the States and particularly of the Governor. “The response of the Governors,” says the Provost Marshal General, “was without a single exception, nothing less than inspiring.”

Thus was the foundation laid for the great contribution of the administration of the Selective Service System of 1917, a supervised decentralization in which the major responsibilities of an operative were placed on State and local government and in the hands of civilians.

In “The Spirit of Selective Service,” General Crowder also discusses the problem under the chapter heading of “Universal Service in America.”

Note 1: Report of the provost marshal general on the first draft under the Selective Service Act, 1017, p. 11.

Excerpts from "Chapter III: The Registrations of 1917-18," in Registration and Selective Service, Special Monograph No. 4, Selective Service System, 1945, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 9-11

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