Photographic book

United States in 1917


Eugene V. Debs
Eugene V. Debs

World War I wrought significant changes on the American home front. First, the war created labor shortages. Thousands of African Americans left the South for jobs in Northern steel mills, munitions plants, and stockyards. The great migration of the World War I era established large black communities in Northern cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The influx, however, provoked racial tensions and race riots in some cities, including East Saint Louis, Illinois, in July 1917 and Chicago in July 1919.

Labor shortages provided a variety of jobs for women, who became streetcar conductors, railroad workers, and shipbuilders. Women also volunteered for the war effort and sold war bonds. Women mustered support for woman suffrage, a cause that finally achieved its long-sought goal. The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, triumphed in Congress in 1919 and was ratified by the states in 1920. The war greatly increased the responsibilities of the federal government.

New government agencies relied mainly on persuasion and voluntary compliance. The War Industries Board urged manufacturers to use mass production techniques and increase efficiency. The Railroad Administration regulated rail traffic; the Fuel Administration monitored coal supplies and regulated gasoline. The National War Labor Board sought to resolve thousands of disputes between management and labor that resulted from stagnant wages coupled with inflation. The Food Administration urged families to observe “meatless Mondays,” “wheatless Wednesdays,” and other measures to help the war effort. The Committee on Public Information organized thousands of public speakers (“four-minute men”) to deliver patriotic addresses; the organization also produced 75 million pamphlets promoting the war effort. Finally, to finance the war, the United States developed new ways to generate revenue.

The federal government increased income and excise taxes, instituted a war-profit tax, and sold war bonds.

War pressures evoked hostility and suspicion in the United States. Antagonism toward immigrants, especially those of German descent, grew. Schools stopped teaching German. Hamburgers and sauerkraut became “Salisbury steak” and “liberty cabbage.” Fear of sabotage spurred Congress to pass the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The laws imposed fines, jail sentences, or both for interfering with the draft, obstructing the sale of war bonds, or saying anything disloyal, profane, or abusive about the government or the war effort. These repressive laws, upheld by the Supreme Court, resulted in 6,000 arrests and 1,500 convictions for antiwar activities. The laws targeted people on the left, such as Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, who was imprisoned, and Emma Goldman, who was jailed and deported. The arrests of 1917 reflected wartime concerns about dissent as well as hostility toward the Russian Revolution of 1917. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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