General Crowder is probably best known as the founder of the Selective Service System. The Draft Law was enacted by Congress on May 18, 1917, just after the United States entered World War I. It was intended to draft into military service all able-bodied young men not employed in an essential industry. “Every man, in the draft age at least, must work or fight,” he wrote. As Provost Marshall General of the US, he drafted the law and administered the registration and the drawing. “This is something that reaches into every home in the United States,” he said.
During the war, American College of Surgeons Founder Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS served on the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, President Wilson’s civilian advisory commission. Dr. Martin’s diary entry for September 12, 1917 reads:
Had a talk over the telephone with General Crowder, who very definitely announced that this was his busy day – the day on which thirteen million men between the ages of 18 and 46 were to be registered.
The draft provided three million young men to the United States military during World War I.
In his autobiography The Joy of Living Martin writes of Crowder as a man “whom we all learned to love and respect because of his impressive personality and his outstanding work in organizing our great army.”
Crowder was born in Edinburg, Missouri, in 1859. He graduated from West Point, the US Military Academy in New York, in 1881. He taught military science at the University of Missouri from 1885 to 1889, and took his law degree there. While teaching at the university, he started the first ROTC cadet band in the United States and established a Ladies Drill Company of nearly 100 women.
He commanded troops in the Geronimo and Sitting Bull campaigns in the Dakotas (1889-1891). Later, he served in the Philippines and in Cuba. From 1911 to 1923 he served as Judge Advocate General of the Army. He was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Cuba in 1923. In 1927, he returned to Chicago to practice law.
For more information about General Crowder’s relationship with Franklin Martin, see Martin’s autobiography “The Joy of Living” and the Franklin Martin Papers in the ACS Archives.