Wahoo in World War I: The Photographs of Arthur L. Anderson

The year 2014 was the centenary of the beginning of World War I. Although the war began in Europe with a chain of events arising from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the rest of the world soon felt its effects. The United States entered the European war on April 6, 1917, sparking massive mobilization on the home front to provide armaments, manpower, and food to support the country’s war effort. Saunders County, Nebraska, like localities elsewhere, contributed its share to the cause.

By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the county had registered 4,500 men from a total population of approximately 20,000 and organized local chapters of the Red Cross, home guard, and a council of defense. Residents formed groups to make surgical dressings, and the county reached or exceeded its quotas in four Liberty Loan campaigns. Eighteen Saunders County men lost their lives in military service. This outpouring of patriotism was not unique. What was unusual was the fact that Wahoo photographer Arthur L. Anderson compiled a detailed visual record of the wartime activities of the residents of the Saunders County seat.


Children’s war garden. HN RG2963-20-5


Anderson was born on February 1, 1877, in Omaha. His father, Nels J. Anderson, moved the family to Wahoo in 1879, opening a photography studio. By 1900 Anderson, with son Arthur as his assistant, was considered to be the leading photographer in Wahoo. By 1915 Arthur had become his father’s partner, and it is likely that the son did the majority of the work. When his father died in 1922, Arthur Anderson continued to operate the studio until his own retirement about 1937. He died in Omaha in 1946. The Arthur L. Anderson collection at History Nebraska consists of over 250 photographs taken in Wahoo and Saunders County during World War I. Anderson’s work provides a broad visual record of home front activity in a small Nebraska community: draft registration, recruits leaving for service, liberty loan drives, and patriotic demonstrations.


Red Cross Day, July 4, 1918, in Wahoo. The decorated truck carries Red Cross women and a sign reading “The Greatest Mother in the World.” HN RG2963-11-22​


People at the Wahoo, NE depot sending World War I draftees off to Camp Funston. (RG2963.PH000015-0026) 


The flag-draped casket on a horse-drawn caisson at the Herbert Beaver burial. (RG2963.PH000019-000005)


A studio portrait of August Handley in his uniform. Handley was the only African-American soldier from Saunders County. (RG2963.PH000001-000017)

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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