Public Safety Commission
Function: To ensure the protection of persons and property, the defense of the state and the nation, and the application of the state's resources to "successful prosecution" of the war (World War I).
The Minnesota Commission on Public Safety was established by the legislature in April of 1917 (Laws 1917 c261), shortly after the United States entered World War I. The seven-member commission (governor, secretary of state, and five persons appointed by the governor) was given broad powers to ensure the protection of persons and property, the defense of the state and the nation, and the application of the state's resources to "successful prosecution" of the war.
During its short life (most of its orders were rescinded in February, 1919) the commission was very active. Committees and subcommittees were formed to deal with food and fuel conservation and regulation, marketing of crops, labor relations and employment, and Americanization. The Commission ordered the establishment of the Home Guard of Minnesota, with its auxiliary; the Minnesota Motor Corps Division; and a corps of emergency local peace officers. Mechanism was provided for the establishment of county and local public safety commissions with directors and secretaries appointed by the state commission. Existing state agencies cooperated with the commission in many activities.
The commission maintained ties with the Council of National Defense, other states' defense councils, the War Industries Board, the War Trade Board, the Food and Fuel administrations, and other national or federal agencies. The commission issued 59 executive orders, which dealt with the regulation of liquor traffic, dance halls, and poolrooms; and provided for the registration of aliens and their property holdings, a farm crop and labor census, regulation of milk prices and the manufacture and distribution of bread, a statewide barberry eradication program, creation of municipal wood yards, and prohibitions against the employment of aliens as teachers and the use of foreign languages in schools.
The commission also formed an employment bureau, primarily concerned with providing farm labor, a speakers bureau, and a publicity bureau, which provided material to local newspapers, distributed pamphlets and leaflets in several languages, and published a weekly bulletin, Minnesota in the War. It also supported the "Liberty Chorus" and community sing movement. Following the devastating forest fires in northern Minnesota in 1918, the commission assisted in relief efforts.
A Woman's Committee (officially the Women's Division) existed more or less independently of the commission, although it received funding from it. It, too, had county and local affiliates.
The commission viewed the suppression of disloyalty and preservation of public order as one of its primary responsibilities, and it was the one that aroused the most public attention. According to its final report, the commission had received close to 700 complaints regarding disloyalty or sedition "cases," and many other complaints of violations of its various orders. The commission held several special hearings and conducted many more private investigations regarding the reports and complaints.
The commission's orders were rescinded in January and February, 1919, but the commission continued to meet until 1920 and did not formally tie up all its affairs until 1921, when its records were turned over to the War Records Commission.
Seven-member commission (governor, secretary of state, and five persons appointed by the governor).
The Legislative Library has a Bulletin of the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College on "The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety in World War I, 1917-1919". Please see call no. D570.8.C8 M65 1951
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