Mobilizing Diversity During World War I

This is a guest post by Vincent Acuña, an intern with the education team at the Library of Congress as part of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Internship Program.

You Can Help - American Red Cross. W.T. Benda, 1918

You Can Help – American Red Cross. W.T. Benda, 1918

When the United States entered World War I, it was also grappling with issues related to suffrage, immigration, and social inequality. The country needed the work of the entire populace to fuel its efforts in the Great War, and the nation’s leadership tried to rally all people of the country around the war, urging all to unite against a common enemy. Students can examine primary sources from the Library of Congress to better understand how minority groups were recruited to help support the war effort.

Many of the issues taking shape at home shared a common theme of social equality, and messages intended to rally behind the war effort reflect the conflicts between the values of the time and the changes necessary to achieve equality.

  • During the 1910s, many women organized to secure the right to vote and to work in careers that were often reserved for men. However, many materials intended to recruit women for war service, such as the poster ”You Can Help” from the American Red Cross, portray women in traditional roles.
  • African Americans enlisted in the military in record numbers. The sheet music “When the Good Lord Makes a Record of a Hero’s Deed, He Draws No Color Line” expresses the idea that there are no color barriers on the front lines. In reality, African American troops were largely relegated to segregated units and were often used as support troops for menial work.
  • Others, like German-Americans and Irish-Americans, faced an ultimatum to join the Allied side. A call to “Drop the Hyphen” shows the pressure for a singular “American” citizen to show allegiance.
"Drop the Hyphen." Cayton's Weekly, September 14, 1918.

“Drop the Hyphen.” Cayton’s Weekly, September 14, 1918.

Teachers can also show the different approaches the U.S. took to sidetrack domestic matters to aid their role in the Allied victory.

Students might:

What do your students think about the strategies used to unify the nation behind a common cause, and how do they analyze the way these documents represent a diverse society?

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