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Tuesday, February 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

100 years ago in Spokane: Interpreters needed as men line up for World War I draft

UPDATED: Mon., June 5, 2017, 7:24 a.m.

 (Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)
(Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)

It was a momentous day, as young men trooped into government offices by the thousands to register for the wartime draft.

However, the scene was surprisingly quiet in Spokane. A headline said, “Spokane Enrollment of Fighting Men as Unexciting as School Election.”

It resembled an election, in some ways, because the draft registration booths were in the precinct polling places. Young men were simply “dropping in from time to time to fill out their cards.”

The only “centers of bustle” were the downtown polling places, especially along Trent Avenue (today’s Spokane Falls Boulevard) where hundreds of men were signing up. Trent Avenue was the center of Spokane’s workingman’s boarding houses and hotels, and the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that “almost none” of the men there were claiming exemption from the draft.

The situation was different in many of the residential districts. The early registration numbers showed that out of 560 men, 181 had asked for a draft exemption, “giving in almost every case the possession of dependents.”

The draft revealed the multilingual nature of the region’s 1917 workforce.

“Interpreters familiar with a dozen languages are working overtime, and volunteers are explaining things for their countrymen,” the Chronicle said.

This was especially the case in the Burke precinct, which registered on Trent Avenue. About 200 men had registered in the Burke precinct by noon.

“Joe Plastino was registering and translating the Italians … while D. Mihaladorovich, police court interpreter, was taking care of all varieties of Slavs and Austrians.”

Others were interpreting for the Greeks and Japanese. The Chronicle reported that few of the foreigners were seeking exemptions.

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