WWI: An Awful Cataclysm
Posted On: 07/12/2017 - 3:14pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
Though we know today that world events can happen quickly and wars progress in unexpected ways, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it has always been so. No one really knows what will happen or who will win a war before it comes to pass. Sometimes you can catch a hint of which way the wind is blowing but other times you are blind-sided.
Here (see below for full letter) we have a letter from William Howard Taft to his friend, Katherine Roelker Wulsin written on July 13, 1914. Taft had lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and had returned to teaching at Yale University. He writes to Katherine about news of friends and family and their plans for the summer. In this first letter he wishes for her to enjoy her summer in Europe, quite a sad sentiment in hindsight. Though there were political rumors and rumblings, few expected war to break out less than two weeks after Taft wrote this letter, or for it to continue on for years.
In the second letter Taft thanks her for the Christmas gift of two books but then acknowledges that all of her thoughts must be preoccupied with what was going on all around her. He notes his hope that her son Fritz was still able to travel the world in the midst of this “awful cataclysm.”
Taft wrote many letters to Katherine during the war since so many of their loved ones were deeply affected by it, including Taft’s son Charles who served in the American Expeditionary Forces. In these letters he is candid about his fears for everyone’s safety and the future of Europe. He is also quite frank about his view of Wilson’s handling or mishandling of the situation.
Taft’s friend Katherine Roelker Wulsin (1860-1948) was the widow of Lucien Wulsin (1845-1912) who had been the president of the D. H. Baldwin Company in Cincinnati. At the start of WWI she had lived in France for some time. Though she had the misfortune of being in France at the onset of the war we are lucky to have the many letters she received from family and friends at that time describing their experiences in France and England.