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The American Home Front During WWI

The American Home Front During WWI
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  • 0:01 What Was The Great War?
  • 0:52 Gathering Support for the War
  • 2:12 Women in the War
  • 3:04 Large-scale Social Change
  • 4:24 Threats to Civil Liberties
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson takes a look at what life was like and how society changed in America during the First World War while our soldiers were overseas in Europe. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

What Was The Great War?

We're all probably familiar in some sense with the concept of war. However, only one war in recent American and European history has been named The Great War. It was considered at the time to be 'The war to end all wars;' many called it a threat to civilization itself. We refer to this war as World War I (WWI) today because of a subsequent war that would ignite about two decades later.

We think of them now as separate wars, but for many people back then World War II was merely a continuation of what World War I set in motion. World War I took a toll on those who actively fought in it, but it also had a profound effect on the home front here in the United States. The immediate day-to-day changes that took place in the United States because of World War I had far-reaching and profound effects on social and civil liberties issues.

Gathering Support for the War

Winning the war was not a job for American soldiers alone. Because World War I was such an immense conflict, the entire economy had to be refocused on the war effort. The shift from producing consumer goods to producing war supplies was too complicated and important a job for private industry to handle on its own, so business and government collaborated in the effort. In the process, the power of government was greatly expanded. Congress gave President Wilson direct control over much of the economy, including the power to fix prices and to regulate - even to nationalize - certain war-related industries. Average citizens also played their part by agreeing to a meatless day of the week and by planting 'victory gardens' in their yards. These efforts, along with others, helped send the Allied forces overseas a large amount of food and supplies.

To encourage citizens to support the war, the government was extremely adept at producing propaganda that would persuade people to help out with the war effort at home. The government managed this by getting the nation's artists and advertising agencies to create thousands of paintings, posters, cartoons, and sculptures promoting the war. The government also recruited people called Four-Minute Men who read short, pro-war speeches provided by the government during the four-minute break between reel changes at movie theaters.

Women in the War

Because men needed to head to war to fight as soldiers, women moved into jobs that had been held exclusively by men. Women became dockworkers, bricklayers, railroad workers, and even mined coal and took part in shipbuilding. Women also contributed in great numbers to traditional positions such as nurses, teachers, and volunteers for organizations like the Red Cross. The work women did during WWI was extensive and varied, and it would not go unnoticed by President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson publicly acknowledged the hard work and service that women provided for the war effort. While this public acknowledgment didn't include any laws that helped equalize pay for equal work, it did help bolster public support for women's suffrage. This, in part, led Congress to pass the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote.

Large-Scale Social Change

The battle against a foreign threat, namely the Germans, created a strong anti-immigrant sentiment at home in the U.S. The main targets of this anti-immigrant attitude focused on Americans who had emigrated from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Many Americans with German-sounding names lost their jobs, and some even faced the threat of physical violence by others. Orchestras stopped playing German and Austrian composers, librarians banned German authors from their bookshelves, and Americans actually changed some vocabulary in an attempt to eradicate German influence. For example, German measles were now called liberty measles, and sauerkraut was renamed liberty cabbage.

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