Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Where does your loyalty lie?
Laura Forde
US History
Time Frame:
One class period
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Groups of students will take the place of Americans on the eve of the US entering WWI.  They will be given scenarios that describe the background of different groups of Americans.  Based on the information they are given, the students will choose to either support the war effort or oppose it.  After choosing either opposition or support, they will be given primary source document from an American that followed their choice which indicates why that individual felt the way that they did. They will also read the opposing view point to help better understand why going into WWI was not an obvious, easy choice for many Americans.  Then each group of students will share with the class the background of the people they learned about and why two people with similar background had different reasons for supporting the war.

  • This lesson will help students understand how Americans felt about WWI before we entered it and understand that it was not necessarily widely supported like WWII.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • NCSS Standard 2: Time, Continuity and Change
  • NCSS Standard 6: Power Authority and Governance
  • NCSS Standard 9: Global Connections
  • NCSS Standard 10: Civil Ideals and Practices

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Englund, Will. March 1917: on the Brink of War and Revolution. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.


African Americans:

  • Adam Clayton Powell: Englund, Will. March 1917: on the Brink of War and Revolution. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. Pg. 257



  • Daniel, Clifton Truman, and Bess Wallace Truman. Dear Harry, Love Bess: Bess Truman’s Unpublished Letters to Harry Truman, 1919-1943. Truman State University Press, 2011. Pg. 9.
  • Individuals writing La Follette: Englund, Will. March 1917: on the Brink of War and Revolution. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. Pg. 278



Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

African Americans







Other optional Sources:

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Students will have already learned about the Zimmerman Telegram and Unrestricted Submarine Warfare which push the US to the brink of war
  • Put students into groups and assign the different “roles” to each group
  • Suffragists
  • Midwesterner
  • Workers
  • Politicians
  • African American
  • Assign them the background information for their group
  • Students will discuss in their groups if they would support or oppose the war based on the background information
  • Depending on which one they choose, give them the primary or secondary source that matches their choice based on a real person or group from 1917. 
  • After they have chose the side and read about the individual or group, have them discuss following:
  • Students should record their thoughts in the form of notes.
  • Have the groups read the opposite side and discuss the same questions
  • Have each group share with the full class the two different perspectives from the groups they represented.
  • Lead a full class discussion about the difficulty of deciding to go to war and why people with similar perspectives/background could still come to different conclusions about the validity of the war
  • As a closing assignment, have the students write a paragraph based on the prompt:
  • You could do something like a flip chart with the information revealed below it and conduct the whole lesson as a carousel around the room having smaller groups, but each group reading about and discussing each background and source.
  • What the person believed and why. 
  • How persuasive the argument was?
  • Did they get it right?
  • Why were Americans divided about the entrance of the US into WWI?

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Class participation
  • Assessment of the written paragraph

As WWI began, most Americans believed that the US should not get involved in WWI, but as it progressed some people began to change their minds while others remained steadfast in opposition.  For this lesson, you will be assigned a hypothetical background based on real people during the time.  Based on that information, you will decide if you would support or oppose US involvement in WWI.  Based on your choice, you will learn about an American who held similar beliefs and why they held those beliefs


You are an American Suffragist who has spent tireless hours and years working to secure the right to vote for women.  By 1917, war is looming large on the horizon.  Women have been able to vote in 11 states at this point in history and even elected the first woman to Congress.  Would it benefit you and the cause to support or oppose the war?  If you support the war effort, you might be able to show that you served your country and should be given the right to vote as a result.  On the other hand, after the Civil War, women did help and support the war and black males were given the right to vote, but women were not.  If you hold out, you could show how much women contribute and demand the right to vote for your support of the war.  Will you support the war and hope the vote follows or oppose it to demand for the right now?

African Americans

You are a black American who has suffered from or witnessed widespread discrimination, Jim Crow, lynchings, and other more subtle inequality.  By 1917, war is looming large on the horizon.  Black people will be desperately needed in the war effort and the push for equality since the end of Reconstruction has been met with stiff resistance and there have been few gains since Reconstruction ended.  Now you have to decide if you should support America if it goes to war.  If you enlist, or support the war, you may be given equality and justice in exchange for your patriotic service to the country.  In the back of your mind, might be the Civil War and the rights that followed it after Emancipation and black soldiers serving in the war.  If blacks don’t serve, white society might label blacks as lazy and undeserving of rights.  If you choose to support the war, the US will be in great need of soldiers and workers.  You may be able to leverage that need in exchange for rights and equality at home. 


You are an immigrant factory worker from a major urban area.  You work long hours, for little pay, in less than desirable working conditions.  You do not have any benefits from your work, so if you are injured or killed your family receives nothing.  The factory owners are making large profits because of the war over in Europe, but this has not meant improved conditions or pay for you and your fellow workers. Immigrants are often stereotyped as disloyal to the US because they may still speak their native language, hold on the to their culture and have family in the “Old World.”  By 1917, war is looming large on the horizon.  Now you have to decide if you will support or oppose American involvement in the war.  If you do not support the war, you may be dubbed a traitor and disloyal to this country and face consequences such as arrest under a new law called the Sedition Acts.  If you support the war, you and your fellow workers may go fight in the war and prove your loyalty.  You may also benefit from improvements in factory conditions.  However, you may also die in a war you know little about as your bosses make money off the war effort.




You live in the Midwest.  The war in Europe has not had much of an impact on you.  The price of crops has increased, but you do not farm.  You have barely paid attention to what has been going on half a world away.  By 1917, war is looming large on the horizon.  Now you have to decide if you will support or oppose American involvement in the war.  If you do not support the war, you may be dubbed a traitor and disloyal to the country.  If you do support the war, you are likely to be drafted and serve in the war.  Are you willing to risk your life for a war you know little about or would you feel compelled to serve your country in a time of need?



You have spent your life serving the American people as a politician.  You have fought for progressive reforms that have led to increased equality, better working conditions, economic justice, reform in corrupt business and government practices, and given a larger voice to the American people.  You are considered a champion of the average American because you are thought to always fight for those how are under represented and have no voice in society.  By 1917, war is looming large on the horizon.  Now you have to decide if you will support or oppose American involvement in the war.  The average American is going to have to serve in the military in a war they have not had interest in or care much about.  Do you support the war and risk alienating your support base?  You could use your position to rally support for the cause and promote patriotism.  Or do you oppose it and be criticized for not supporting your country if they decide to go to war?  In this situation, you could fight for the “little guy” who would be sent off to war and prevent them from having to face that fate. 


Other groups you could find information on and use in the activity:

  • Industrialists
  • Pacifists