On the afternoon of May 27, 1917, Topeka socialists convened a meeting at the Unitarian Church on Kansas Avenue. Handbills advertising the meeting boldly announced its purpose – to protest militarism, conscription and “any Despotic Act imposed upon us by National Legislation.” The meeting was largely an ad hoc affair with the location and roster of speakers finalized only several days before. Three of the four speakers – Raymond Moore, his wife Lenora Warneson and Earl Browder were members of the Federation for Democratic Control (FDC) an anti-war organization working out of Kansas City, Missouri and already under the watchful eye of the government.
Between seventy-five and ninety people attended, the majority being women causing one reporter in the room to quip the only males of draft age in attendance appeared to be the meeting organizers, newspapermen and speakers. Raymond Moore spoke first. He urged Kansans to organize and file a lawsuit as the FDC was preparing attacking conscription as violating the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution’s prohibition of involuntary servitude arguing that if a sufficient number of draft aged men refused to register, the government would recognize the futility of the law and abandon it. He lashed out at the clergy for turning the churches of “the greatest peacemaker in the world” into recruiting offices. Moore announced his intention of writing the mayor of Kansas City of his intention to refuse to register for the draft after which he could “arrest me or do as he pleases.”
Browder followed Moore. He predicted the war would bring long simmering grievances of the working class to the surface and spur a revolution as it had in Russia. Claiming his soul would be contaminated if he did not stand by his convictions against war and the draft; Browder too announced his intention to refuse to register expressing the hope that others would follow his example. Prior to stepping down, Browder told the crowd that before leaving home, he had advised his wife to hunt down a job as he fully anticipated being arrested.
The most anticipated speaker of the day was Leonora Warneson. A public school teacher, Warneson had garnered notoriety when she was forced to resign for writing an anti-war sentiment on a blackboard ending with the pledge, “I refuse to kill my brother and hide my face in the folds of any flag.” She centered her talk on her experiences testifying the previous April before a congressional committee considering the bill that would become the Espionage Act, declaring there was not a single member of Congress who could give a valid reason for the war.
The last speaker was University of Kansas Professor George Kleihege. A former candidate for Governor on the Socialist ticket, Kleihege talked of the unfair distribution of wealth in the nation and of the tragedy of sending young men to fight in a rich man’s war. He ended with the plea that the government should never consider taking up arms until they submitted the question to a nation-wide referendum.