Disabled Veterans in WWI

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Disabled Veterans in WWI

Though the United States entered World War I years after it had begun, and though American losses could not rival that of its European counterparts, the casualties incurred by the new military technology required new medical techniques and veteran aid services when the boys came home.

This lesson will explore the kinds of injuries American soldiers in World War I received and the treatment, care, and assistance they came home to as well as the national attitudes towards war injuries and disabled veterans as seen in wartime propaganda. This lesson relies heavily on visual sources such as photographs, posters, cards, and video, as well as some text. Students will use their prior knowledge, creativity, and primary and secondary source analysis to discuss and answer questions about WWI veterans.

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?
What does it mean to be a United States citizen, and what is your role in the history of the world?


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze images by using the visual-based primary sources to understand the lesson’s content.
  • Contextualize social change as it relates to technological advancements including in war and in medicine through document study.
  • Evaluate national attitudes and services provided, and how they might differ, by analyzing the primary and secondary sources.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

In order to prepare for this lesson, students should have a general understanding of World War I, including the events and geopolitics leading up to the start of the War, the United States’ eventual involvement in the War, the technological innovations used in warfare, the Spanish influenza, and the social change that came about alongside and after the end of the War.

  1. Introduce the topic by revisiting WWI history. This can be done by a short slideshow, film or film clip, war propaganda posters, or an oral presentation. Ask students to brainstorm what services and technologies they predict (or know) were available for WWI veterans. This introductory discussion should be creative brainstorming and piggybacking based on prior knowledge that transitions to examining and analyzing the primary sources in order to discover what actually happened and what was actually available following WWI.
  2. In order to learn about the services and treatments available to WWI, students will begin by examining the first two primary sources to look for attitudes and perceptions of soldiers’ injuries and disabilities. In small groups, the students will examine, analyze, and answer questions about the first two primary sources:  Liberty Loan Poster: "It's All Right if the folks at home are with me!" and Wounded World War I soldiers return home. Students may share their answers to foster a discussion that transitions to the next few sources.
  3. Students will then turn to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) source sheet. Have students read the source sheet and answer questions on the worksheet that compare and contrast the attitudes towards and perceptions of disability in the first two primary sources to the facts in the DAV source sheet.
  4. Transition now to discussing medical treatments and convalescence. Have students read and answer questions about the Prospectus of Second Course of the Philadelphia School of Occupational Therapy that compare and contrast it to the DAV source sheet. Bring the students together to share their answers to the worksheet questions and discuss their reactions to the sources.
  5. Next introduce Anna Coleman Ladd and her work with facial prosthesis and present to them the short YouTube video entitled Anna Coleman Ladd's Studio for Portrait Masks in Paris. Explain to students that facial reconstructive surgery was successfully performed following WWI, but the most available technology was facial prosthesis as shown in the video.
  6. Ask students to synthesize what they have learned from the different sources in order to evaluate the overall treatment of WWI veterans with disabilities. What services were and were not offered? What was the national attitude towards returning disabled veterans? Ask students to think about how veterans with disabilities are treated now, and how medical innovations and public services have advanced.


Disabled/Disability: A physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities.

Mutilés: Short for mutilé de (la) guerre—A war veteran who has suffered disabling injuries in service.

Convalescence: Gradual recovery of health and strength after illness.

Occupational Therapy: The use of activities or equipment involved in daily living, work, and recreation to assist recovery from illness, injury, or disability and to improve independence and quality of life.