The State Council of Defense was South Carolina’s major public relations and propaganda arm during World War I. Created in 1917 to replace the Civic Preparedness Commission, the council was the “citizens’ army” in South Carolina. Each county also had a county council of defense with a chairman and committee that oversaw activities on the local level. Governor Richard I. Manning named his energetic political ally David R. Coker as chairman of the State Council of Defense.
Among the council’s activities were promoting support for President Woodrow Wilson and the war in Europe, conscription, conservation of resources, and cooperation with other patriotic organizations, as well as alleviating the distress of families with members on active duty. The council also worked with federal authorities to suppress the antiwar press in South Carolina.
The State Council of Defense was so successful throughout 1917–for example, suppressing the dissident voice of the Charleston American–that Dr. James A. B. Scherer of the Council of National Defense commended South Carolina. No state in the South, he noted, gave “greater encouragement . . . in the management of the council of defense.”
In 1918 the council was reorganized and chapters were established in communities across the state. With reorganization, council efforts to curb criticism of the war achieved their zenith. For example, Ben L. Abney, Columbia counsel for the Southern Railway, lost his job due to accusations that he did not support the Red Cross. By the middle of 1918 Coker wrote that South Carolina “is probably as near 100% loyal as any in the Union.” The State Council of Defense ended its duties with the war’s end.
In February 1941 South Carolina again organized a State Council of Defense, which operated until the end of June 1945. Under the leadership of executive directors G. Heyward Mahon and John A. Brockman, the reconstituted council focused on press coverage of the war and disseminating information on civilian defense and disaster planning. The council also oversaw a network of child-care facilities in major cities and towns across the state.
Helsley, Terry Lynn. “‘Voices of Dissent’: The Antiwar Movement and the State Council of Defense in South Carolina, 1916–1918.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1974.
South Carolina. State Council of Defense. “Addenda to Historical Account of the Activities of the South Carolina State Council of Defense, July 1, 1944 through June 30, 1945.” Typescript. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
–––. State Council of Defense. Report of South Carolina State Council of Defense. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1918–1919.