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Emma Lake Loyalty Investigation, World War I, 1918

Emma Lake Loyalty Investigation

New York State Archives, NYSA_A4234_B2_F4_EmmaLake
Document Description
A June 21, 1918 telegram from Columbia University asking authorities to expedite Emma Lake's loyalty investigation. 
When was this telegram sent?
Who sent this telegram? Who received the telegram?
Why was this telegram sent?
Why do you think a loyalty investigation was conducted on Emma Lake?
Historical Challenges
How did the government decide which people to place under loyalty investigation? Was enrollment in college determined by the results of the loyalty investigation?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write an article for a newspaper about Emma Lake’s loyalty investigation. Be sure to include information about why people are investigated and a fictional outcome for this case.
Justice Learning. First Amendment: Freedom of Speech and Association. Retrieved from:
Stone, Geoffrey R. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. Norton: New York, 2004.


About this Activity


Lesson Topic:

Historical Context
In 1917, the United States government passed the Espionage Act to prosecute those who tried to evade the draft. In 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act, know as the Sedition Act, outlawed making false statements that conflicted with the war effort; using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” regarding the United States government, Constitution, flag, or military; discourage the production of war-related materials; or the support, teaching or defense of any of the above-mentioned acts. Anyone who violated the law would face a fine, jail time, or a combination of both these punishments. Civil libertarians objected to these laws because they felt that the freedom of speech was being violated. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the laws. 

Under this law, 900 individuals were convicted and another 249 immigrants were deported without a trial. The law was designed to suppress the ideas of anarchists, socialists, pacifists, and others who disagreed with the U.S. on governmental and foreign policy issues. The Sedition Act was also used to restrict the printing of certain articles and magazines during World War I. If government officials determined that the ideology of a particular publication was disloyal or held the potential to be disloyal, every attempt was made to keep those publications out of the hands of everyday American citizens. Needless to say, many Americans believed their First Amendment rights were being violated by this law. 
Essential Question
How do national defense issue impact individual citizens?
Check for Understanding
How was Emma Lake's life impacted by national defense issues during World War I?