Raising Support for World War I

by Emily Weiss

Essential Question: How did popular publications encourage American support for the war effort?

Historical Context

When the Great War (as World War I was known at the time) began in Europe in 1914, few Americans believed that the United States should get involved. President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation of neutrality, urged Americans to remain “impartial in thought as well as action.” Public support for neutrality, however, was challenged by the German U-Boat attacks on American ships, including the May 1915 attack on the British passanger ship the Lusitania in which 128 Americans died. As the presidential election of 1916 approached, Wilson emphasized “preparedness” in speeches and parades designed to show that he and the nation were not timid, but ready for war, if necessary. At the same time, he campaigned and won the 1916 election under the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”

By the spring of 1917, the Allies were running low on money and supplies, and Allied troops had been decimated. In March, German U-boats sunk four American merchant ships. On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war and, a year and a half later, secured the Allied victory. Ten million soldiers (including 50,000 Americans) and nearly seven million civilians had lost their lives.

While World War I was not fought on U.S. soil, it had an enormous social and cultural impact on the nation. President Wilson made a concerted effort to maintain public support for his policies through propaganda as well as legal prosecution. Americans participated in countless parades and commemorative events to demonstrate, first, preparedness, then support for the war. In April 1917, soon after the American declaration of war, his administration formed the Committee on Public Information (CPI) and hired writers and speakers to promote the war effort throughout the country. People who opposed the war, such as reformer Jane Addams and Senator Robert La Follette, were subject to public ridicule. With the passage of the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918), critics of the war effort became subject to fines and jail sentences.

Today you will examine a series of documents to answer the essential question: How did popular publications encourage Americans to support the war effort?

To do today:
  1. Examine the documents, paying particular attention to the source notes and the context of each.
  2. Close read the documents to determine the purpose of the advertisement or piece of art. What is the author’s message? What strategies does the author use to communicate this message? What evidence do you have to prove that this was the author’s purpose?
  3. Choose two documents whose message and strategies you will compare in detail, and answer the essential question in a well developed paragraph response: “How did popular publications encourage Americans to support the war effort?”
  4. Use a word document to write your response. Use spelling/grammar check, proofread your work, be sure to USE EVIDENCE (symbols, quotes, specific details) to support your answer. Then, email your response to your teacher by the end of the period.

“Cream of Wheat. ‘Preparedness’”

From The Youth’s Companion, September 27, 1917.

Image of Cream of Wheat. ‘Preparedness’

During World War I, Cream of Wheat was one of many companies to embrace the rhetoric and imagery of the Wilson administration’s war effort in their advertisements.

Metadata Details
Item Type Magazine Article
Title Cream of Wheat. ‘Preparedness’
Publication Title The Youth’s Companion
Short Title Cream of Wheat, 1917
Publication Date September 27, 1917
Volume Vol. 91
Pages p. 540
Call Number oversize A 5 .997
Location General Collections 2nd floor

“Colgate’s Ribbon Dental Cream”

From The Youth’s Companion, October 10, 1918.

Image of Colgate’s Ribbon Dental Cream

This Colgate toothpaste ad ran on the cover of the popular magazine the Youth’s Companion in 1918.

Metadata Details
Item Type Magazine Article
Title Colgate’s Ribbon Dental Cream
Publication Title The Youth’s Companion
Short Title Colgate Dental Cream, 1918
Publication Date October 10, 1918
Volume Vol. 92
Pages p. 525
Call Number oversize A 5 .997
Location General Collections 2nd floor

All Together: “We’re Out to Beat the Hun”

E. Paul Hamilton and M. L. Lake. 1918.

Image of All Together: “We’re Out to Beat the Hun”

This 1918 song suggests the rise of anti-German sentiment in the United States as World War I progressed.

Image of All Together: “We’re Out to Beat the Hun”
Image of All Together: “We’re Out to Beat the Hun”
Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title All Together: “We’re Out to Beat the Hun”
Short Title All Together, 1918
Creator E. Paul Hamilton and M. L. Lake
Publication Date 1918
Number of Pages Cover and pp. 2–3
Call Number Driscoll Series 6: History and Politics, Box 163, Folder World War I A
Location Special Collections 4th floor

“Mamma’s Boy”

From Life, 1918.

Image of Mamma’s Boy

This Life magazine cartoon speaks to concerns about whether American men were prepared for the physical and mental demands of warfare.

Metadata Details
Item Type Magazine Article
Title Mamma’s Boy
Publication Title Life
Short Title Mamma’s Boy, 1918
Publication Date 1918
Volume Vol. 71
Pages p. 186
Call Number A 5 .51
Location General Collections 2nd floor