The Dutchess County Home Defense Council
Within a month of America’s declaration of war on Germany the U.S. Council of National Defense began pressuring the states to form their own defense councils. Although it took until May 4, 1917 for the New York State Legislature to pass an act to organize the State Council of Defense, back home in Dutchess folks were actively engaged in organizing their own Home Defense Council. The April 15th edition of the Poughkeepsie Eagle News reported that the council would be headed by Charles A. Simmons of Poughkeepsie. Joining him as council members were John A. Hanna of Dover Plains, Joel E. Spingarn of Amenia, Jacob S. Strong of Rhinebeck, and John J. Mylod and George A. Coleman of Poughkeepsie. Their duties were broadly defined as: coordinating a census of and inventory of the military resources of the county; maintaining local order and security, stimulating recruitment; providing relief to the families of those in the military, and the coordination of charitable, patriotic and preparedness efforts. Eighteen separate committees, covering such areas as finance, health, emergency help and equipment and information and intelligence were formed to help expedite the work of the council. Priority was given to two committees: food production and conservation and census and inventory. As the county Defense Counsel was forming it was simultaneously rolling out to the local municipalities, many of whom formed their own Home Guard units.
While the membership of the county council often changed during the war, the leadership qualities of those appointed were undeniable. It was also advantageous to select council members who had broad local, state and national contacts. Some of the most notable are seen in the accompanying photograph of some of the members of the Defense Council. Archibald Rogers of Hyde Park led the council for much of the war. A resident of Hyde Park, he was a graduate of the Yale Scientific School and gained the rank of Col. by his appointment to the staff of Gov. Levi P. Morton. He was head of the 1st Provisional Regiment of the State during the war. His son-in-law, John Griswold Webb, began his life in Dutchess as the owner and general manager of “Webb Farms” in Clinton Corners. The experience he gained as a member of the council propelled him into a political career that saw him serve as a member of the NYS Assembly from 1919 -1922 and then in the NYS Senate from 1923 until his death in 1934. John. H. Hanna of Dover Plains, a transplant from New York City, quickly became one of the most influential men in Dover, if not in the county. A merchant, he served as a member of the county Board of Supervisors in the 1890s and later became a member of the NYS Assembly. He was appointed postmaster of Dover Plains by President Harrison and reappointed by Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. A Republican, he served as chair of the county Republican committee. John J. Mylod, considered the “wheel-horse” of Poughkeepsie’s Democratic party during the early years of the 20th century was a friend of Hanna. A lawyer, he was on the Military Committee of the Board of Supervisors that sponsored the erection of the Poughkeepsie Armory. Both of Mylod’s sons served during the war and he was active in sending packages to local men in the Army and the Navy. Appointed City Historian in 1918 he continued in that position until his death in 1936. Jacob H. Strong and Joel Spingarn were, among other things, newspaper owners and editors and could use the power of the press to promote the activities of the council. Spingarn would leave the council after receiving a commission as Major of the Infantry.
Two women are included in the photograph. Esther Jones, shown on the left, is likely the 1916 graduate of Vassar College who is acknowledged in the Vassar Quarterly as being critical to the operations of the Child Labor Committee of the counsel. More intriguing is the woman on the right identified as Dr. Grace N. Kimball. A native of Dover, New Hampshire, Kimball was sent to Armenia in 1882 by the American Board of Foreign Missions. She returned in 1888 to enter the Medical College of New York Infirmary. Upon the completion of her studies in 1892 she returned to Armenia and in 1895 – 1896 she was involved in organizing an effort to distribute food and clothing to the victims of the Hamidian massacres. In 1896 she came to Poughkeepsie to become the assistant physician at Vassar College. In 1917 Kimball was tapped to take on one of the high priority efforts of the Defense Council – the State Military Census of Dutchess County. As Director of Census and Enrollment Officer she led the effort to canvas every town and city and to compare projected possible military enlistees between the ages of 16 - 64 against actual demographics.
The work was completed by August 29th 1917, barely more than four months from the establishment of the council and Dutchess County was lauded as the first county in the state to present their returns. Council member John J. Mylod, ever the historian, alerted the council to the value of Dr. Kimball’s report and urged that a copy be sent to then three year old Dutchess County Historical Society where it remains among the organization’s archives.
While much attention is paid to the overwhelming effort of the federal government to mobilize its human, financial and industrial powers to sustain the overseas war, little credit is given to the locals who were entrusted with organizing every aspect of home front mobilization. The Dutchess County Home Defense Council led the way.
Col. Rogers was so grateful for the service of the members of the council that in February, 1919 he presented each member with gold pin that he had designed by Tiffany that read “Dutchess County, NY Defense Council” around the depiction of wheat sheaf and plow in the center.
Melodye Moore, Chair, Year of the Veteran
City & Town organizations
Home Defense Corps were operating at a local level in Dover Plains, Hyde Park, Millerton, Pine Plains, Pleasant Valley, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Stanfordville, and Wappingers Falls.