19.2 The Home Front
When the United States entered World War I, its army was only a fraction of the size of European armies. To build the army, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized a draft of young men for military service in Europe.
While the Selective Service Commission raised an army, the War Industries Board (WIB), headed by Bernard Baruch, regulated all industries engaged in the war effort. The WIB also urged Americans to conserve food as a patriotic gesture. As head of the Food Administration, future U.S President Herbert Hoover set high prices for food to encourage farmers to increase production.
In 1917, many Americans questioned U.S. involvement in the war. The Committee on Public Information (CPI) worked to convince the American public that the war effort was a just cause. George Creel, the director of the CPI, combined education and a widespread advertising campaign to “sell America”.
Still, not all Americans favored America’s entry into the war. German Americans and Irish Americans tended to oppose the Allies. Opposition also came from conscientious objectors, people whose moral or religious beliefs forbid them to fight in wars.
During the war, the U.S. government restricted individual rights. In June 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act, which banned subversive newspapers, magazines, or printed materials. Congress further limited freedom of speech with the Sedition Act. In Schenck v. United States (1919), the Supreme Court ruled that there are times when the First Amendment protections on speech do not apply.
The war also brought substantial social changes. It created jobs for women while men were serving in the military and ushered in the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Meanwhile, a great movement of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North was taking place. The Great Migration saw more than 1.2 million African Americans move to the North to escape racism and find better jobs. Many Mexicans also sought to improve their lives. Some crossed the border into the United States, where they looked for jobs. World War I had opened up new opportunities for women, African Americans, and Mexican Americans.
What was the purpose of the Committee on Public Information (CPI)?
What did the War Industries Board do?
Why did conscientious objectors oppose the war?
How did the government limit rights during the war?
Why did many African Americans move to the North during the Great Migration?
Summarize how the American government mobilized the public to support the war effort.