Volunteerism Theme for World War I Museum Exhibition and Curriculum Inspires Students and Others to Continue This Important Legacy

The Volunteers: Americans Join WWI, 1914–1919

Although not well known, the powerful story of American volunteers in World War I is an inspiring tale of service to those in need. Before the United States entered the devastating “European War,” tens of thousands men and women volunteered to provide aid, food and comfort to soldiers and civilians on and off the battlefields. Others took up arms and fought with the French and British military.

Like the ambulance drivers of the American Field Service, these volunteers and the organizations they served helped pioneer international humanitarian aid as we know it today. To celebrate their service and encourage young people to continue this amazing volunteer tradition, AFS Intercultural Programs developed a groundbreaking project: The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919.

This project includes a museum exhibition produced by the National World War I Museum and Memorial (Kansas, USA) in partnership with AFS Intercultural Programs, and a secondary school curriculum.

The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919 Exhibition

Recruitment poster for the AFS Réserve Mallet

The Volunteers special panel exhibition opened at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in April 2016 and runs through 2 October 2016 before the exhibition then travels to other institutions. It presents individual descriptions, documents, and photographs from collections primarily held at the National World War I Museum and Memorial and the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, detailing the ways in which Americans aided war efforts through humanitarian and military relief. The contributions of these men and women to war-torn countries was pivotal in the early stages of war.

The exhibition is located in Memory Hall at the Museum. For more information on bringing The Volunteers to your organization, please contact Museum Registrar Stacie Petersen.

The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919 Curriculum

A distinguished Curriculum Development Committee of historians, educators, and archivists chaired by Nicole Milano, Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor of AFS Intercultural Programs, was essential in creating the curriculum. The lesson plans were developed by AFS Intercultural Programs in partnership with the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, USA and Primary Source, a non-profit resource center in the US dedicated to advancing global education. We are honored to have received endorsement for the project from the United States World War I Centennial Commission. This unique and relevant curriculum was launched at the Flanders House in New York City on March 2, 2016.

“There is an extraordinary story embedded in World War I that risks being completely lost on generations, if it weren’t for efforts like this.” — Margaret Hoover, Author and Great-Granddaughter of Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States (1929–33)

The Volunteers Curriculum for secondary school educators takes a unique approach to volunteerism, intercultural competence and global citizenship education. By honoring the past and speaking to the future, the curriculum will help students across the globe learn more about the volunteer efforts of young people during World War I, and inspire them to become active global citizens today in local, regional, and international service.

Ambulance drivers at the headquarters in Paris. Spring 1917. Photograph by O. King

Six topic areas and 22 lesson plans of The Volunteers Curriculum will help students and others interested in volunteerism discuss and debate thought-provoking questions such as:

  • What motivates people to engage in volunteer service?
  • What are the characteristics of a humanitarian organization?
  • How did women’s volunteer service in World War I connect to women’s campaigns for political equality?
  • How were humanitarian relief efforts organized and sustained during World War I?
  • What role have young people played in world affairs through their volunteerism, historically and today?

This free resource is aligned with U.S. Common Core and UNESCO Global Learning standards for secondary school classrooms worldwide. By exploring the different meanings of volunteerism 100 years ago and today, and prompting global citizens to engage in discussions and take action, this Curriculum is a valuable tool in peace education today. To find out more about this innovative curriculum and how you can use it in your school or organization, go to thevolunteers.afs.org.

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