Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 5, 2017

100 Years Ago: 5 June 1917—U.S. Draft Registration Day

The Selective Service Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on 19 May 1917, required all male U.S. citizens and resident aliens from age 21 to 30 to register for the draft. On the day of registration (5 June 1917) 9,660,000 young men presented themselves at local Selective Service Boards, where they were asked to give their name, address, age, distinguishing physical features, and reason, if any, for claiming exemption. Three additional registrations took place, on 5 June,  24 August, and 12 September of 1918.

New York City, 5 June 1917

By war's end  24,000,000 men had registered for the draft, (about 23 percent of the population in 1918). After the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the activities of the Selective Service System were rapidly curtailed. On 31 March 1919, all local, district, and medical advisory boards were closed, and on 21 May 1919, the last state headquarters closed operations.


  1. The negative was reversed, unless the American flag was hung improperly. I am surprised to see the men wearing a suit and tie. It's hard to believe my two lower middle-class great uncles wore a suit and tie to register.

  2. The negative is not reversed. Look at the higher resolution version at The buttons on the men's vests are on the correct side. The Flag Code wasn't created until after the war. Even if it was, this looks like a hastily made decoration, the flag is simply draped over a line.

    This is Bain negative so this is probably in the New York City area. I'm guessing photos from poorer or more rural areas would show more men in less formal dress. There's another Bain negative in the sequence that shows men lined up to register at You'll notice one is in an apron.

  3. Men of that era were expected to be solome thoughtful and sober. And wore their best - or sunday best suits often when doing official things. This was a tremendous thing in these mens lives. It bonded the men in many towns together as a group that would all go off to war together. A generation at arms.

  4. Thanks Jonathan and Michael! Good comments. I checked the Omaha World-Herald for 5 June, 6 June, 7 June, and Sunday, 10 June, but the paper didn't publish any photos of a line of registrants. The World-Herald did report an anti-conscriptionist was chased by a mob in downtown Omaha.