More than four thousand men and women from Cook County lost their lives in World War I. The Great War began in 1914 and pitted the Central Powers, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary, against the Allied Powers, led by Great Britain and France. The conflict claimed more than 17 million lives, left more than 20 million wounded, and shattered the illusions of an entire generation. The “war to end all wars” sowed the seeds for World War II and continues to influence our political landscape a century later.
The United States entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1917. Thousands of Cook County men served in all branches of the military, while many women volunteered as nurses with the army and the American Red Cross. Most served along the Western Front in France and Belgium, helping to end a bloody stalemate and achieve an Allied victory in 1918. Those who died were originally buried overseas, but many were later reinterred in Chicago-area cemeteries.
Between 1919 and 1921, Colonel E. E. Woods, then secretary of the membership committee of the Chicago Historical Society, compiled more than one thousand photographs and brief biographies of Cook County residents who died in the war. To do so, he placed advertisements in local newspapers asking readers to submit information about their loved ones. The portraits were originally exhibited in the main hall of the Museum’s former home at 632 North Dearborn Street. They were reinstalled at the Museum's current location and displayed from 1932 until 1963. By preserving the stories of everyday people, the collection provides a personal glimpse of the Great War and its painful legacy.
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