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Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

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Never before had the United States mobilized for war on such a scale. Government agencies sought to shape public opinion; private industry geared up war production; home front volunteerism surged to unprecedented heights; bond drives raised funds to finance the war; and labor unions and workers organized to increase national output. For the first time in its history, the nation's military would be derived largely from conscripts rather than volunteers. General John J. Pershing crafted the largest army in U.S. history from a force that in 1915 was a fraction of the size of the armies contesting in Europe.

Newly inducted soldiers found themselves training for war in military camps throughout the United States. Women dedicated themselves to the war effort by laboring in war industries, organizing food conservation, and growing crops. Civil liberties contracted as the Espionage and Sedition Acts limited free speech and made dissent a risky proposition. German Americans found their loyalties questioned and were subject to occasional violence.

U.S. mobilization revealed contradictions within the American democratic experiment. Conscription heightened questions regarding the rights and obligations of citizenship. For women, immigrants, and African Americans the war simultaneously provided an opportunity to demand expanded rights previously denied and demonstrated the limits of such efforts. Women's contributions to the war effort bolstered their long-standing claims for equal voting rights. Immigrants and African Americans hoped that military service would lead to greater inclusion into civic life in the United States. African Americans endured a rigidly segregated military, and experienced discrimination and racial violence as many moved into northern cities to take advantage of wartime employment opportunities.


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