Issue 9 - Americans All!

The United States, an inherently diverse nation, faced a unique situation as it entered the Great War in 1917. Its citizens came from across the globe and many had emigrated from the very nations now considered American foes. World War I provided an opportunity for varied ethnicities and cultures in the U.S. to come together as one to fight in defense of their nation, recognizing their commonalities.

This is not to say efforts always went smoothly. Minority groups often faced discrimination. Questions of loyalty arose and many with German ancestry were challenged. Some African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos debated providing military service to a nation that often violated their rights. Many groups saw the seeds of future civil rights movements laid during the WWI-era.

The following resources provide information about many different American minority groups and the ways in which they affected, and were effected by, the Great War.

The contributions to the war effort from America's diverse communities go far beyond the small sample of resources we have shared below. 

You can visit our education resource archive at to see more content.

Know of more great resources? Is there an important story we have left out? Please let us know so that we can share it online with educators and students worldwide!
From the collection of the Library of Congress, This Victory Loan poster, painted in 1919 by Howard Chandler Christy, encouraged Americans from all walks of life to recognize the diverse groups that fought in the war.
The Deposition of Rafael Marchán

The Jones-Shafroth Act of March 1917 made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens (though those on the island could not vote in U.S. elections or pay federal taxes). In addition to serving in the military, Puerto Ricans were also sought to fill in labor shortages though these laborers were not always treated well. This 1918 legal testimony is  provided online by History Matters and brings to light some of the difficulties Puerto Ricans endured. Read at

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Primary Source Transcript

You can also learn more about the Puerto Ricans recruited and drafted into the war effort with this short web article from HISTORY®.

"Dear Haikell, We are fortunate to have brave men like you from our race fighting for the highest ideals of mankind. Really it is a pleasure to us to think that a part of our element is engaged in such a noble struggle, but nevertheless we keenly feel the sacrifices that we have to make at the front and at home. We assure you of our appreciation of your work asking the Almighty to crown your efforts and ours with success. In the future we hope and expect to cheer you up with more than letters." 

- George Rihbany on behalf of the Syrian American Club of Boston, writing to a Private Hikel J. Haikell. See the full letter in the collections of the Arab American National Museum.

Google Arts & Culture

In an era of federal segregation, the national call as "champions of the rights of mankind" rang hollow. Many African Americans saw the war as an opportunity to redefine their U.S. citizenship and improve social, political and economic conditions. Created by the National World War I Museum and Memorial in partnership with Google Cultural Institute, Make Way for Democracy! portrays the lives of African Americans during the war through a series of rare images, documents and objects. View the online exhibition

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Exhibition

New York Public Library, Africana Age Exhibition

Dr. Chad Williams of Brandeis University describes the African American experience during World War I in this essay, which is part of New York Public Library's Africana Age Exhibition. From those in the American Expeditionary Forces to those who labored for the war effort at home, the contribution by the African American community to the war effort was immense, both abroad and on the home front. Read at

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Essay

Go further in-depth with this short video from HISTORY® (Rated TV-PG) which briefly tells the story of the Harlem Hellfighters, an African American infantry unit in World War I that spent more time in combat than any other American unit in the war. Despite their courage, sacrifice and dedication to their country, they returned home to face racism and segregation from their fellow countrymen.

We're proud to announce our winners from this contest!

(Trip to Kansas City, including airfare,
hotel and admission to the National World War I
Museum and Memorial for two)

Bettina Pope, Wake Forest High School - North Carolina

($100 gift card)

John Taylor, Yucaipa High School - California

25 other teachers also won gift bags in the drawing.
A huge thank you to everyone who participated!
We received over 2,400 entries from all 50 states.

Pictured Below: Mono tribe members Nellie Pete and Jane Waley, local leaders of the American Red Cross near Fresno, California. These women and other Native Americans served in the Red Cross during the war, such as Eastern Cherokee nurse Lula Owl Gloyne. Read about her work at
Photograph from the collection of the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
BBC News Magazine

Though Native Americans were not considered U.S. citizens during WWI (that would not change until 1924), more than 10,000 still volunteered to fight in the war. Find out more about their contributions, especially the use of the Choctaw language as a communication code, in this online article from BBC News
Read at

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online article

Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I)

The Choctaw Code Talkers used their own language as basis for a military code that was never broken. This 1919 letter from the Commanding Officer of the 142nd Infantry to the Commanding General of the 36th Division details plans to use the code so that the enemy could not decipher messages. Read this letter in the collections of the National Archives. View at

Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Primary Source (Digitized letter and transcription)

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas with their Ford truck, "Auntie," circa 1918

As true with all Americans, LGBT individuals volunteered for, objected against and fought in World War I. With few exceptions, notably American expatriates Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, most Americans did not publicly "come out" during the era as it was considered illegal under varying interpretations of laws throughout the United States. The war left its own enduring legacy on LGBTQ history: sparking the modern gay rights movement. View at

Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Online image gallery and article

You can also learn more about Gertrude Stein in this encyclopedia entry in the Jewish Women's Archive.

Vande Mataram in the USA

From The United States World War One Centennial Commission, this website looks at the experience of Indian-Americans during the First World War by juxtaposing the German-Indian Conspiracy Trials that took place in 1917 with individual profiles of the contributions of Indian-Americans to the war effort. View "Indians Who Served" Online

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Articles

World War I Podcast: Season Five

Foreign-born soldiers were critical to U.S. participation in the Great War. The logistics of registration, training and post-war citizenship were quite complicated. From the MacArthur Memorial, this interview with Virginia National Guard Command Historian Al Barnes discusses the more than 800,000 foreign-born men who served in the U.S. Army during WWI. Listen to the mp3 or visit the podcast archive

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Audio

The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National World War I Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events, and consequences of the conflict and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Partners on this project include:

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library is a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission.