Using Primary Sources to Explore Civic Virtue During Times of Crisis

This post is by Jen Reidel, the 2019-2020 Library of Congress Civics Teacher in Residence.

During periods of crisis, Americans have often been called to practice civic virtue, placing the common good above individual need. Children historically have actively supported national objectives during wartime in age appropriate ways, including buying and selling war savings stamps, collecting raw materials, and maintaining victory gardens.


Follow the Pied Piper. Join the United States School Garden Army. Maginel Wright Barney, 1919


New York, New York. Children’s school victory gardens on First Avenue between Thirty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Streets. Edward Meyer, 1944

Primary sources from World War I and World War II demonstrate how children and young adults engaged in supporting those war efforts and may inspire contemporary youth to build upon the efforts of their youthful predecessors. Show students the Boys and Girls you can Help Uncle Sam war stamp savings poster and prompt them to identify what they observe. Then encourage them to evaluate the poster for its purposes, images, and audience. Direct students to compare the poster with the 1918 advertisement To the Fathers and Mothers of NY School Children. Encourage them to think about what information the ad offers about specific ways children could aid the war effort during World War I.

Besides financial contributions, children also did their part during the wartime crises by collecting raw materials for national use and helping grow vegetables for home and local consumption. Show  students Follow the Pied Piper Join the United States Garden School Army, Children’s School Victory Garden, and School children collecting scrap metal for the war. Guide their conversation or written analysis of the images with questions and prompts from Teacher’s Guides and Student Analysis Tool. The conversation might focus on why students think the government encouraged schools to plant gardens and collect materials and how those efforts may have helped the nation.

After students have had the chance to view and evaluate all of the primary source items, ask them to discuss how children in history helped the nation during crisis. Extend the conversation by asking how children and young adults in current times are helping, or could help, within their communities and the nation at large.

One Comment

  1. Linda Mitchell
    May 13, 2020 at 8:08 am

    Really nice post that I can use. Thanks so much!

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