COUNCIL OF NATIONAL DEFENSE AND STATE DEFENSE COUNCILS:  United States. 1916-1918.  In 1916 Congress included language in the Army appropriations act establishing a Council of National Defense with the Secretaries of War, the Navy, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor as members, and with the Secretary of War serving as Chairman.  The Council was formally established on 29 August 1916.  Council responsibilities included coordinating transportation, industrial and farm production, financial support for the war, and public morale.  Starting in May 1917 individual states were asked by the Section on Cooperation between the States to create State Councils of Defense to assist in carrying out the work of the National Defense Council; representative state examples are cited in Table 1.  In 1918 supervision of nonmilitary defense activities conducted by civilians was delegated to a field division of the Council, chaired by the Secretary of the Interior.  Operations of the Council were suspended in 1921.

Table 93-1.  State Councils of Defense

State Date Formed Composition Citizen Involvement Duties
Illinois 2 May 1917 15 persons appointed by the Governor

county committees

neighborhood committees

cooperation with Council of National Defense and other State Councils, recommendation of legislation, carrying out plans agreed with the National Council, investigations
Nevada 1917 initially Gubernatorially  appointed Committee on Public Safety; finally the Governor, Secretary of State, State Controller, Attorney General, and 7 citizens

county and community councils

initially reporting un-American activities to the Governor; finally coordinating all war activities of the United States government and the Council of National Defense
Oklahoma 16 May 1917 extralegal 12 member council established by the Governor

community councils at the school district level

over 1,000,000 volunteers

promotion of loyalty and anti-dissenter activity, propaganda, war bond promotion
Texas 10 May 1917 38 members appointed by the Governor

240 county councils

15,000 community councils

make Texas's resources available to the nation, coordinate state war work, organize local councils, and sponsor independent state defense activities

A review of records surviving from the State Defense Councils suggests the breadth of the range of non-military defensive activities undertaken (although it is arguable whether all of these actions were essentially defensive in nature): 

In a number of states Women's Committees of National Defense were established as part of this effort.  And in July 1918 the Section on Cooperation between the States of the National Council urged Southern states to form separate Negro organizations so that the efforts of African-American citizens could be specifically recognized; only Oklahoma did not do so.

This was the first organized governmental civilian defense effort in United States history, but unlike contemporary European civil defense activity, its focus was not shaped by ongoing threat of air attack.  As a result, the American view of civil defense that emerged from the experience of the Council of National Defense was far broader in scope, setting the general stage for civil defense in the United States as a force for national mobilization and an enforcer of political reliability.

Sources: Illinois State Archives, "Record Group 517.000 - State Council of Defense (World War I)," location, accessed 16 August 2003.  Nevada, Department of Cultural Affairs, Nevada State Library and Archives, "Nevada State Council of Defense, World War I," location, 14 July 2003.  Wilson, Linda D., Oklahoma Historical Society, "Oklahoma Council of Defense," in the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, location, accessed 16 August 2003.  The Texas State Historical Association, "Texas State Council of Defense," in The Handbook of Texas Online, location, 4 December 2002.

Entry 0393 - posted 17 August 2003