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?

One Comment

  1. Ugonna Okonkwo
    May 1, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    It broke my heart when I read that African Americans were “relegated to segregated units and were often used as support troops for menial work” despite their willingness to serve (or be accepted into the American society as free people, for those that want to argue freedom from slavery as reason they looked to the military…)! It made me reflect on my own self — how my Commanding Officer in the U.S. Air Force racially profiled me. He acknowledged I was able to do the work I was trained to do in tech. school, but then he removed me from it and turned me into a farmer for a good three months. My AFSC became uprooting weeds and shrubs and janitorial duties, as well — all for an allegation of sexual harassment which he accused me of but wouldn’t investigate or found me guilty, despite my plea to investigate it, so I be free from torture. Why can’t America see beyond our differences? This whole problem is the fault of God! He made us different and now we continue fighting and killing one another!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.