Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
World War I Unit

Introduction to the World War I Unit


Between 1914 and 1919 the world was engulfed in "The Great War" as the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria) fought the Allied Powers (primarily Russia, Great Britian, France, Italy, and later, the United States) over territory and national honor. Secret and entangling alliances had placed a stranglehold on the great countries of Europe by the early twentieth century resulting in war that involved the entire globe.


America, an ocean away from Europe, was in the midst of a great burst of creative energy which had produced exciting new inventions and quickening industrialization. The wave of immigration from Europe continued into the new century, creating social and economic tensions in American society which complicated this nation's responses to the war on the other side of the world. President Woodrow Wilson attempted to maintain a careful neutrality at the outset because many traditional Americans were confirmed isolationists while newer citizens often remained loyal and interested in the events wracking their original homelands. Neutrality was abandoned when America entered the war on the side of the Allies after the German actions against the United States incensed the press, and thus, the public. Congress declared war in April of 1917, supporting Wilson's pledge to help "make the world safe for democracy."


Alabama's well known and respected congressional leaders, Oscar W. Underwood, Henry D. Clayton, and Stanley H. Dent were considered President Wilson's allies since they had enthusiastically supported his domestic programs. However, the question of selective service and "the draft" versus the use of volunteers caused a division between the President and Senator Dent. Despite these differences, Alabama unequivocally joined in the national war effort. The state's young men entered service in the thousands, both as "draftees" and as federalized National Guard units. Victory Gardens were planted, Liberty Bonds were bought, and the Red Cross was enthusiastically supported, becoming important parts of the social life of those on the home front. While all races in Alabama were still divided in many areas and on many issues, Alabamians black and white were dedicated in their volunteer services for the war effort.



Lesson 1: The Power of the Press


Lesson 2: A Question of Honor: The Selective Service


Lesson 3: Black Alabamians in World War I


Lesson 4: The Home Front: Food Will Win the War


Lesson 5: Signing Up For Action and Supporting the Action



Learn about Alabama's World War I Gold Star Recipients.