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As It Was: Idle Klamath Falls Men Face Jail and Fines During WWI

During World War I, men in Klamath Falls, Ore., had to do productive work or risk being arrested for idleness.

The City Council passed an Idlers’ Ordinance in July 1918, requiring all able males to find a job.  Labor shortages spurred the law, and even the independently wealthy weren’t exempt.  The law provided for substantial fines and imprisonment for violators.  Police took idle young men who wished to stay out of jail to a military recruitment office.

The only exceptions to the work rule were “bona fide” students, apprentices, or those defined as “temporarily unemployed by reason of difference with their employers.”  The town set up a system to make sure everyone complied by working at least 36 hours a week.  A police judge looked for the idle and to find employment for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t do it themselves.  The police judge also had the power to issue a certificate verifying that someone was unemployable. 

Klamath Falls modeled its ordinance on one passed a month earlier in Portland, where police raided card rooms and businesses they believed had more employees than necessary. 

Sources: "Idlers Here Are Ordered To Get Busy." The Evening Herald, 16 July 1918 [Klamath Falls],
p. 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers, https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063812/1918-07-16/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=01%2F01%2F1846&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2017&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=&index=5&words=Idler+ordinance&proxd. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.; "Stores Are Raided, Owners of Soft Drink Places Held as Idlers." The Sunday Oregonian, 7 July 1918 [Portland Oregon] , p. 17. Historic Oregon Newspapers, https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83045782/1918-07-07/ed-1/seq-17/#date1=01%2F01%2F1846&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2017&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=&index=0&words=idlers+Idlers+ordina. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.