World War I Propaganda

by Jenifer Smolnik
Ellington High School, Ellington


Historical Background

Like many wartime leaders, President Woodrow Wilson used propaganda to encourage nationalism and patriotism among Americans. The portrayal of America as the potential savior of the Allied powers in Europe influenced American attitudes about the sacrifices required to win the war. The American government delivered many of these messages through the effective use of mass media.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

What role does propaganda play in a time of war?


  • What type of messages are being portrayed in words and/or pictures?
  • How do you think each segment of the population (e.g. immigrants, German-American citizens, other foreign-born American citizens, labor leaders, pacifists, and Socialists) might have received and interpreted these advertisements and appeals?
  • What do all of these propaganda materials have in common?


Things you will need to teach this lesson:


Students will read and reflect on the propaganda materials and discuss the supporting questions in pairs or groups. Students will use a KWL chart or Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tool (download Teacher’s Guide) to organize their work. Groups will share their materials and findings with the rest of the class, discuss the supporting and compelling questions, and then develop additional questions of their own.


Writing from the point of view of one segment of the population in the United States at that time, students will compose a brief (two-paragraph) letter to President Woodrow Wilson expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about American entry into the war. Students may choose to write from the perspective of:

  • German-Americans (including Hutterites and Mennonites)
  • Other Foreign-Born American Citizens
  • Socialists
  • Pacifists
  • Labor Leaders
  • Women
  • Draft-Age American Citizens
  • Older American Citizens
  • Another group that they have identified (with approval)

This letter may express concern or support, based on the students’ interpretation of the propaganda images. Students may include evidence from readings and reference other sources they have investigated.

Students will then select a different group that might have had a different view on American entry into the war and write a second letter to President Woodrow Wilson from this perspective.

Working in pairs or groups, students will present their letters for discussion and reflection.


Place to GO

Connecticut State Library – Hartford, CT

World War I Memorials – Visit the Connecticut State Library’s Connecticut in World War I website for an interactive map to find a memorial near you

Things To DO

Contribute to the Connecticut State Library’s Connecticut in World War I project – Community page

Websites to VISIT

Library of Congress: World War I Poster Collection

Library of Congress: Guide to World War I Materials

International Encyclopedia of the First World War: Propaganda

Connecticut State Library: Connecticut in World War I

Library of Congress: Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers

Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project: Guides to Newspaper Content

Articles to READ

Wells, Robert A. “Propaganda at Home (USA).” International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, 2014.

How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe by George Creel.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920.

Over Here: The First World War and American Society by David M. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

America’s Great War: World War I and the American Experience by Robert H. Zieger . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.