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World War I


Picture of Tennessee in United States
Picture of Tennessee in United States

Several hundred thousand men and women from Tennessee were mustered into the military services for wars in the 20th century. The state produced its share of heroes, but none gained greater publicity than Alvin C. York, a farmer from the Cumberland Mountains, in World War I (1914-1918). Killing about 20 German soldiers and helping to capture 132 more in a single engagement, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. When he returned home to stay, grateful Tennesseans bought him a farm in his native Fentress County.

During the 1920s, Tennessee received unwanted publicity as a result of the Scopes trial. The state legislature had enacted a law in 1924 making it a crime to teach the theory of evolution in public schools because it contradicted the account of creation in the Bible. The following year, a high school biology teacher in Dayton, John Thomas Scopes, decided to test the law.

He explained the theory to his class and was arrested and prosecuted. The trial involved several distinguished lawyers, including as prosecutor three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and celebrated defense counsel Clarence Darrow. The trial became known as the Monkey Trial because a popular interpretation of the evolution theory was that it meant that humans were descended from monkeys. It attracted nationwide attention to the strength of religious fundamentalism in Tennessee. Scopes was convicted and fined $100, and Tennessee was stigmatized with the nickname “Monkey State.” On appeal, Scopes’s conviction was reversed on the ground that the fine was excessive. The statute remained on the books until 1967.

During World War I the nation’s increased needs stimulated a spurt of industrial growth in Tennessee. In addition, farm prices rose. After the war, prosperity became more elusive, and during the 1920s the state’s farmers and industrial workers faced continuing economic problems. Farm prices were low, and much Tennessee farmland had been exhausted by erosion and overproduction. Poorly organized industrial laborers received low wages and worked under bad conditions. Economic problems worsened during the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s. A bad situation was aggravated by ruinous droughts in the early years of the depression. The state’s recovery was greatly aided by the federal government’s creation in 1933 of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to administer a pioneer program in regional development.

The purpose of the TVA was to develop the Tennessee River and its tributaries in the interest of navigation, flood control, and the production and distribution of electricity. The TVA power system annually produces more than 125 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, almost 90 times as much electricity as was generated in the same region in 1933. Average annual home electricity use in the area has grown from 600 kilowatt-hours in 1933 to nearly 15,000 kilowatt-hours in 1995. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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