U.S. Enters World War I

On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. Fighting since the summer of 1914, Britain, France, and Russia welcomed news that American troops and supplies would be directed toward the Allied war effort. Under the command of Major General John J. Pershing, over two million U.S. troops served in France during the war.

Company “I”, 102 Inf., 2b Div., A.E.F. El Juan Studio: Juan Casablanca, photographer, c1919. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

For three years, President Woodrow Wilson strove to maintain American neutrality. Anti-war sentiment ran across the political spectrum. Middle-class reformers such as Jane Addams as well as radicals such as Emma Goldman opposed U.S. involvement in the war.

I’m hitting the trail to Normandy so kiss me goodbye. Chas. A. Snyder & Oscar Doctor, words & music; New York: Snyder Music Pub. Co., 1917. World War I Sheet Music. Music Division

Although he later supported the war effort, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, resigned over the Administration’s failure to remain neutral. However, a series of incidents, including the loss of 128 American lives when German submarines sank the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, changed public opinion. On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, warning that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

The war mobilization effort placed tremendous demands on both American military and civilian populations. In a wartime speech, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, noted that the U.S. work force was fully committed to victory:

The World War in which we are engaged in is on such a tremendous scale that we must readjust practically the whole nation’s social and economic structure from a peace to a war basis. It devolves upon liberty-loving citizens, and particularly the workers of this country, to see to it that the spirit and the methods of democracy are maintained within our own country while we are engaged in a war to establish them in international relations…

The workers have a part in this war equal with the soldiers and sailors on the ships and in the trenches…They are demonstrating their appreciation and loyalty by war work, by loaning their savings, and by the supreme sacrifice. Labor will do its part in every demand the war makes. Our republic, the freedom of the world, progress, and civilization hang in the balance. We dare not fail. We will win.

Labor’s Service to Freedom. Samuel Gompers, recorded Jan. 16, 1918; New York: Nation’s Forum, 1918. American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I. Motion Picture, Broadcasting, & Recorded Sound Division

American participation in World War I permanently transformed the nation. In order to meet increased demands for goods, the federal government expanded dramatically, taking an unprecedented role in guiding the economy.

Active supporters of the war to preserve democracy, women made a step towards political equality when the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchised them shortly after the war. Meanwhile, military service and wartime jobs beckoned African Americans northward. In what is known as the Great Migration, thousands of African Americans left the South and its systems of oppression to face new challenges in Northern cities.

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker; Y.W.C.A.: Back Our Second Line of Defence. Ernest Hamlin Baker, artist; N.Y.: The United States Printing & Lith. Co., 1918. Posters: World War I Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

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