Life in the United States During World War I

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  • 0:02 American Propaganda in WWI
  • 1:32 Women in War
  • 2:46 Great Migration
  • 3:42 Anti-Immigration
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

While the exploits of the American Expeditionary Force under General Pershing may receive more attention, the real effects of World War I for the United States were felt much closer to home.

American Propaganda in World War I

The American government faced a difficult problem in the spring of 1917. No, not just the declaration of war with Germany in April, but how to convince the American people that war was necessary. For many Americans, there was a big difference between wanting the British and French to win and wanting to have American soldiers dying to defeat Germany. The American public knew about the horrors of trench warfare, complete with machine guns and poison gas, and had little desire to send their young men off to fight.

As a result, propaganda became a very important part of the war effort. All information pertaining to the war had to be cleared by the Committee on Public Information, which also worked to make sure that the American public never forgot the evils of their enemy. Posters that compared the Germans to Hunnic barbarians or subhuman monsters filled public spaces, as well as images reminding individuals of the cost in lives of unrestricted submarine warfare by the German U-boat crews. Combined with legislation that made speaking out against the government or the war effort illegal, namely the Sedition Act of 1918, the population was soon transformed to full war readiness.

Women in War

One segment of the population that was especially ready for the war was women. For decades, women had been confined to domestic lives because it was considered unbecoming for a lady to work outside the home. With thousands of working men joining the military, however, the need for women to fuel the manpower needs of the factories was very clear. Tens of thousands of women worked in factories, producing everything from rifles to tires. Thousands more worked in victory gardens, which were small plots of land meant to provide food for families so that more food could be sent overseas to the fighting men and to the allied states.

Other women found different ways to serve. While combat roles were closed to women for several more decades, women still found ways to serve overseas. The primary way that women were able to do this was through serving as nurses. Needless to say, there were many casualties to be tended to, and for many veterans of the conflict, the first sign of comfort was an American nurse's accent.

Great Migration

Women were not the only ones who found new roles as a result of World War I. Across the South, a mass exodus was occurring as African Americans abandoned sharecropping and moved north to work in the new factories. Known as the Great Migration, some Southern cities lost up to a quarter of their black population, while Northern cities, such as Detroit, Chicago and New York City, gained ambitious African-American workers who would later fuel a cultural renaissance after the war ended.

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