World War I -- Life Histories/Section 018/Pierce Wetter

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Pierce Wetter[edit]


Pierce Wetter (unknown—1963) was the head of Baltimore's Industrial Workers of the World office.


Before the War[edit]

Sometime before the Great War, Wetter inherited a share of Sharon Plantation, Chatham County GA. His brother Telfair Wetter and at least three members of the extended family inherited as well. There is a great deal of correspondence surrounding the handling and eventual selling of the plantation. Wetter and his brother Telfair (d. 1939) lived and worked together in Baltimore, Maryland until 1918. The two were heavily involved in the Labor Movement that characterized the early 20th Century. Wetter managed the Baltimore branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) up until he was arrested in 1918.

During the Great War[edit]

Wetter was arrested as a conscientious objector in World War I, for refusing to serve in the armed forces. He was held prisoner for three years (1918-1921) in the United States Penitentiary of Leavenworth, Kansas.[1] During this time, Wetter wrote primarily to Telfair but occasionally received letters from the rest of the family. One of the first letters Wetter received after his arrest was from his younger sister, M.O. Roach. In this letter, she denounces him and claims that, if she were a man, she would be happy to enlist. This attitude reflects the general public’s view on conscientious objectors at the time. He sent this letter on to Telfair and the brothers—both angered by their sister’s statements—stopped writing to her. During Wetter’s imprisonment, Telfair took over management of the IWW office in Baltimore. In their correspondence, they discussed office management, the state of the labor movement and related topics. They frequently discuss abolition because the Labor Movement was largely inspired by the fight against slavery.

After the War[edit]

Wetter was released from prison in 1921. He died in 1963. There is little else known about his life after this point.[2]

Antiwar Dissent[edit]

The general American public of the early 20th Century “equated manliness with militarism and assumed a link between the two.”[3] This means that individuals who refused to serve were seen as weak and shameful. The idea of shame would’ve been furthered by recruitment propaganda which relied heavily on stereotypical male traits such as aggression. As a result, men were pressured into military service by the simple fact that the general public “defined the essence of male service to the nation as combat."[4]

Slavery Shapes the Labor Movement[edit]

The Labor Movement was founded on the idea of human rights. Activists were inspired by the fight against slavery, seeing it as the first step in the fight for human rights. They believed that “a life spent working should not be a life spent working under someone else’s will.”[5] For this reason, the Labor Movement seemed too outrageous to generate support from the general public. Activists were primarily radicals who were passionate about their obscure beliefs.

  1. [Identification of item], in the Wetter Family Papers #4678, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. [Identification of item], in the Wetter Family Papers #4678, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Bennett, Scott H., and Charles F. Howlett. Antiwar Dissent and Peace Activism in World War I America: A Documentary Reader. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  4. Grayzel, Susan. "Changing Lives Gender Expectations." The British Library. The British Library Board, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
  5. Gourevitch, Alexander. From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.