Source Book for Social Psychology


821 Sociology; Social Psychology

229. Propaganda and a Student-Union Drive in a College1

The modern extension of the range of public interest and action has made for profound changes in the control of opinion. So long as a person’s scope of interests and activity does not stretch beyond the neighborhood or village, he can observe and make some judgments himself regarding matters of common concern. When, today, as a citizen of a federal government, or even as the citizen of a commonwealth, he is called upon to make political decisions which touch the world beyond his immediate visual and auditory sensibilities, that is, beyond the world of immediate perception, the whole question of facts and information, the bases upon which he must construct his opinions and form his judgments, becomes altered. The ordinary citizen of the United States can not have first-hand information on the situation in Central America, in China or in Europe. He has to depend on secondary and even tertiary sources for his knowledge. This leaves open great possibilities of misrepresentation, distortion and deliberate suppression of facts. It even permits the manufacture of events and situations for the avowed purpose of prejudicing the attitudes and judgment and hence the actions of the populace.

It was the World War which introduced us on a broad scale to the functions of propaganda. Each of the belligerent nations established bureaus for propagating their own particular points of view. Such books as Creel’s How We Advertised America and Brownrigg’s Indiscretions of a Naval Censor indicate something of the control of information during the war. Lasswell’s work Technique of Propaganda During the World War is a most valuable source of information, revealing, as it does, the scope and method of propaganda throughout the world during the years 1914–1918.

Propaganda in the sense of proselyting has been in vogue in the spread of religious dogmas for ages, especially in Christian countries. But modern means of controlling ideas and information has made possible its extension into political, economic, and social fields hitherto undreamed of. Sometimes this propaganda is disguised under the more polite title of "publicity." Yet it should not be imagined that the results of propaganda and publicity are necessarily nefarious. Health campaigns, many educational and other reform movements use methods essentially propagandist in nature. Our purpose in this chapter is not to discuss the ethical aspects of this type of thing but rather to reveal the social psychological mechanisms involved.

The first paper from Dunlap gives a short statement of the nature of propaganda. The paper by Dodge goes into the psychology of propaganda in considerable detail. He shows particularly the function of emotional appeals in the spread of propaganda. The logic of feeling is employed to change opinions and attitudes and thus bring about a change in behavior. The selection from Strong deals both with the psychological factors in propaganda and also with the appeal to the instinctive-emotional drives of individual behavior.

In the fourth paper Dunlap summarizes six rules to consider in the spread of propaganda, while in the paper following, Lipsky points out that all forms of propaganda are best put over by means of organizations. If the purpose of these is disguised, however, the effect is much greater.

In another selection from Strong the relation of propaganda to social control is revealed.

Kent’s paper shows how the newspaper’s political policies are controlled in the interests of special groups. And Bernays illustrates from the case of Lithuania what can be done to arouse and to influence public opinion on a situation through the clever use of publicity or propaganda. Ellwood’s paper shows how the churches may use publicity in the interests of their dogmas, while the paper by Larrabee indicates in detail the place which the motion picture may play in the spread of ideas and opinions.

The final paper from the writer’s own collection describes in detail the method by which a minority group of college students incited and put over a campaign for funds with which to construct a student union building. The attention to every item in social control which is revealed in his paper shows that college education often extends to fields not given a place in the formal curriculum.

Mention may be made in closing of the growing power of the radio as a factor in the spread of propaganda. We are not yet fully aware of the extent to which the radio is being employed by advertisers, special-interest groups and governmental agencies in their efforts to control public opinion. This is a powerful weapon the full measure of which we have not yet secured.

Fire starts slowly in green timber but when wood has been skillfully seasoned, a few sparks may rapidly become a conflagration. As fire may be an instrument of good as well as evil, so also may be the mind of the mob.

The student union idea on the ——— campus had its conception in the minds of a small group of men who were inspired by the popularity of the idea on other campuses. Realizing the necessity of thoroughly acquainting the students with the function of a student union and of making the need apparent, this group set about at the beginning of the year to lay plans which would bear fruit near the close of the school year in a great drive to raise the necessary money for the building fund.

Certain principles apply universally to campaigns for money. One of them, the first to be applied in the student union campaign is: Create a demand for and popularize the motive of the drive. This was done through the organ of the associated students, the Daily ——— (student paper). So called "news stories" were run in prominent "six heads." These stories made no mention of a proposed student union on this campus but told of the wonderful achievements of such a building on a certain other campus. Each week a story was run and each dealt with a different university. Of course to make the articles readable, each union was featured from a different angle—one for its cafeteria, one for its Co-op, another for its guest rooms, and so on. For several months these stories made no perceptible impression, but nature was taking its course. It is a long time after the seed is planted before new life is manifested 822 in a slender green shoot. People were getting the idea and later when they were solicited they recalled having read good things about the student union.

As people came to know more about the subject they discussed it around the fireplaces of dormitories, fraternities and sororities. Objections were raised, but that is a healthy symptom. It denotes interest and opens the way for another agency, namely, the good conversationalist who has been "spiked" and "planted" to talk student union. These agents were conscientious and thoroughly in favor of the idea. Their heart and soul was in their work and they won converts by their prestige and sincerity. These discussions had to be cooled off occasionally by tactfully withdrawing in order that the subject would not be forced to become an issue before the date set for the campaign.

People do not like to be influenced, as they say, against their will. The problem of a power behind the throne has always been a revolting one to the American mind. The power may be exercised for good, but its potency is frightening. If the students had been permitted to vote on the advisability of having a drive, (before they were educated to the plan) they would have put a quietus on it and dubbed it the brain-child of a few overly ambitious campus busy-bodies.

So we come to the beginning of the Spring term. An organization of four hundred committee workers was selected, highly organized and centralized under one general chairman. Each class was separately organized and headed by a class chairman. Class members usually work better together but the main reason for the division was to promote class competition. There is always a certain amount of latent rivalry between classes which if stirred up into active being, may be an instrument of production as it was in this case. The seniors were not going to sit idly by and permit the juniors to reach their quota first. So it was with all—striving to be first to go over the top.

In addition to the class organizations, there were two other committees, the special gifts committee, and the flying squadron. The former was composed of sons and daughters of wealthy people who could afford to give more than the minimum. By putting them on the "inside," they felt a certain responsibility that would not have occurred to them otherwise, therefore they gave generously themselves and then went out to interview other wealthy students and ask them to follow their example. They were in a favorable position to get what they asked for because they had "practiced what they preached," to use a homely expression.

The flying squadron was composed of very active students who were 823 exceptionally persuasive in their argument. It was their business to follow up on the conscientious objectors and try to sign them up by answering their arguments and explaining away all their objections.

As soon as these appointments were made a meeting of the four class chairmen was called. At this meeting everything was talked over and the complete history was revealed together with the proposed program for the drive. Enthusiastic talks were made by members of the executive committee until it was felt that the chairmen were sufficiently instilled with enthusiasm. The next day another meeting was held for all the team captains under the various class chairmen. Much the same program was carried out. The following day each class held separate meetings of class chairman, team captains and committee workers. The organization and all members of all class committees and of the two special committees were present. Thus the fire spread—starting in the small group and gradually working up through successive stages adding numbers each time. In this way there was no chance for the enthusiasm to fall flat. The executive committee was sure of its ground as it went. These "pep" meetings were made very interesting by short, happy, optimistic talks. Attendance was always practically one hundred per cent. even at the large meeting. The publicity men saw to that.

A few days before the drive started special feature editions of —— —— (the alumni magazine) were mailed to every student on the campus. This issue was done in a colored cover and contained beautiful pictures of the campus. In fact it was almost purely a pictorial issue. The captions were skillfully worded to make a strong sentimental appeal and aimed to awaken a love for the Alma Mater. No mention was made of a campaign, but it was propaganda of the finest sort.

Two days later another booklet was mailed out so as to arrive the day before the drive started. This one contained cuts of student union buildings of other campuses and spoke of the great part they played to further the happiness of the undergraduate days. On each page there appeared in bold type the phrase: "We also can have a Student Union."

The morning before the drive started, the —— (the college daily) was distributed on the campus instead of being delivered to the living groups. This was done to disturb the usual order of things and to awaken all to the realization that something was going to happen. This issue of the —— was devoted exclusively to student union. On the front page was a cut of the proposed building. Along with it went a story to the effect that the board of regents would provide the site if the students would provide the building. There was a story about J—— 824 M—— and W—— T——, (the popular coach and the trainer) and that they had each signed a pledge for five hundred dollars. There was also a fac-simile of the pledge note correctly filled out. All the advertisements bore reference to the student union. Letters were published which had been received from prominent people wishing success in the campaign. Student Union glared at the reader from every line. There was nothing else to read about.

The evening before the drive officially started, the stunts committee arranged a great banquet which was attended by all the four hundred on the committee. There were four long tables, one for each class committee, and the teams were all kept separate and preserved their identity even at table. The executive committee, stunts committee, flying squadron, and special gifts committee sat at a special speakers’ table at the head of the others. An orchestra provided music; and led the diners in the college song before they were seated. Everything was very impressive. There is nothing like dining at common board to bring people around to a common point of view. A good meal stimulates the heart to magnanimity and will often convert the most bigoted misanthrope to philanthropy. Aside from the valuable information which was imparted to those assembled, the banquet had another important influence. It served to prove to all conclusively that here was a movement that had backing and carried prestige. It was no longer a plan on paper but the eve of a great event was at hand. They heard the college songs by the glee club, they heard the college talked of and praised by faculty, alumni, and undergraduates, they heard of the future of the institution and what she was building for. During one of the talks, a man jumped up and challenged the speaker. A debate ensued wherein all the possible objections to student union were advanced and successfully answered. It ended by the signing of a pledge by the objector. It was only a stunt but it gave heart and courage to those who sat and listened. Here was a prominent man signing on the dotted line although he had at first strenuously objected. It could be done!

It was an inspired four hundred who left the banquet hall. They were determined to go out and get the money.

The next morning the whole committee assembled out of the way of the campus and formed a parade headed by the band. This group was to act as a nucleus for the great rally parade to follow and to impress people with the ultimate success of the parade in turning out the whole campus. The senior "cops" led and went through buildings notifying people that the classes were dismissed. Here again the student 825 was impressed with the force behind the movement. The marchers gathered all and proceeded to assembly. Here the campus as a whole was acquainted more fully with the drive and its purpose. President ——, although he was very ill, got up out of bed to speak. He had to remain seated while he talked and looked a very inspiring figure. He told of the important connection of the student drive with the alumni campaign and stated that it was his great wish that the students might have the opportunity to start the big campaign and after they had successfully gone over, the alumni must feel a greater responsibility. What did the students see and hear? They saw an old man broken in health as a result of his strong fight for a greater university. They heard their president pleading for their support to a cause which found a responsive chord in their hearts. He spoke of Alma Mater. She was calling through him.

Other men spoke. Their talks were appealing. The alumni president charged all with the duty of carrying the ball to the first goal. An announcement was made that if the drive went over, a certain woman would donate money to furnish a room in the building. A business man of the town spoke of the probability of having an auditorium very soon. The ball was rolling. We were actually making history at the university. The new birthday had arrived. Our school was striding onward. We must sacrifice for Alma Mater. These were the thoughts of those who left the assembly.

Then the actual solicitation began. People swarmed the campaign office to sign a pledge not wanting to wait for their solicitor. Red became the predominating color, on the campus. Some were ambitious to be among the first to wear a red ribbon, given those who had pledged.

The solicitors worked by two’s and interviewed just one at a time. Each pair had a list of ten people whom they were to see. They had previously learned all arguments for the union and had learned to refute those against, which information was contained in mimeographed instructions handed out at the first banquet. Two people can talk twice as loud and twice as long as one. Very little opposition was met. If a man conscientiously objected and at first refused to sign, his name was turned to headquarters and two members of the flying squadron went after him. He was appealed to from various angles until the angle was found which produced the desired reaction, then this line was developed until the prospect was convinced and put on the ribbon. If he persistently refused, he was left alone until the last day when red was the prevailing color and then two different people interviewed him. He usually fell in line.


At campaign headquarters there was always "something doing." A large score board was erected which bore the names of all team captains as well as the class teams as a whole. Results of amounts raised were chalked up daily at a ceremony which followed the daily banquets at noon. In this way, committee workers could constantly visualize the amount they had raised and its relation to their quota. Each team captain was thus spurred on to greater effort not only to see his class go over first but to see his team go over first in the class.

A feature stunt which created much interest in the class competition was a miniature race track with grandstand and all. On the turf were four horses, one for each class. The mile posts took the form of markers for the percentage of the quota raised. These horses were moved as returns came in. It was a game for all to play at. A freshman would not stand by idly without a red ribbon if his horse was running last.

A barometer to mark the total amounts raised was erected on top of campaign headquarters and at the daily ceremony the band played the Alma Mater as the red slowly crept up to the mark attained. An attempt was made to get everyone out for the ceremony in the hope that an objector might be present and feel some slight gnawing at his conscience which would be sufficient to cause him to change his mind.

At the daily banquets, each team was seated together and turned in their reports to their captains. The latter were called upon to rise and report briefly just what success they had attained in the last twenty-four hours. Each captain was ambitious and proud. He wanted to make a good report. He kept all this in mind while he was in the field.


A. Questions and Exercises

1. What are the emotional appeals used in war propaganda? In religious propaganda? In political propaganda?

2. What place has the cartoon in propaganda? Illustrate from current cartoons.

3. What place have stereotypes in propaganda?

4. Should effective propaganda be labeled such? If not, why not?

5. In publicity and advertising is argument the most effective method of putting ideas across? Discuss.

6. What conditions of our living make propaganda so much more easy than in earlier times?

7. What are the limitations on education in training people to resist propaganda?


8. In what fields of social life is propaganda most likely to develop in the near future? Why?

9. Cite an instance with which you are familiar of propaganda through the motion picture medium.

10. Cite an instance with which you are familiar of propaganda through the medium of the radio.

B. Topics for Class Report

1. Review Lasswell’s study of propaganda during the World War. Why was the British propaganda in the United States so much more successful than the German? (Cf. bibliography.)

2. Report on Sir Gilbert Parker’s account of the British Propaganda in the United States. (Cf. bibliography.)

3. Review Creel’s account of his war propaganda. (Cf. bibliography.)

4. Report Taft’s paper on history textbooks and international differences. (Cf. bibliography.)

5. Review Scott’s book cited in bibliography on the menace of nationalist propaganda in modern education.

C. Suggestions for Longer Written Papers

1. The Growth of Propaganda in Social Control.

2. Propaganda in History.

3. Propaganda and In-Group Attitudes.

4. The Relationship between Propaganda and Censorship during War.

5. The German Propaganda in the United States during the World War.

6. The British Propaganda in the United States during the World War.

7. Current Propaganda in Reference to Mexico and Central America.

8. Current Propaganda in Reference to China.

9. The Relation of Propaganda to Myth- and Legend-Making.


Angell, N. (Ralph Lane) Patriotism Under Three Flags. London, 1903. (Historical material.)

Bernays, E. L. Crystallizing Public Opinion. New York, 1923.

Blankenhorn, H. Adventures in Propaganda. Boston, 1919.

Brownrigg, Rear-Admiral Sir D. Indiscretions of a Naval Censor. London, 1920.

Creel, G. How We Advertised America. New York, 1920.

Dodge, R. "Psychology of Propaganda" Relig. Educ. 1920: XV: 241–52.

Dunlap, K. Social Psychology. Baltimore, 1925.

Ellwood, C. A. "The Formation of Public Opinion" Relig. Educ. 1920: XV: 73–80.

Guérard, A. H. Reflections on the Napoleonic Legend. New York, 1924.

Hodder, A. V. "Propaganda as a Source of American History" Mississippi Valley Historical Review 1922: IX: 3–18.


Kent, F. R. The Great Game of Politics. Garden City, N. Y., 1923.

Larrabee, H. A. "The Formation of Public Opinion Through Motion Pictures" Relig. Educ. 1920: XV: 144–54.

Lasswell, H. D. "The Status of Research on International Propaganda and Opinion." Pub. Am. Sociol. Society, 1926: XX, in Am. J. Soc. 1927: XXXII: Pt. II: 198–209.

Lasswell, H. D. Propaganda Technique in the World War. New York, 1927. (Good bibliography.)

Lipsky, A. Man the Puppet. New York, 1925.

Lumley, F. E. Means of Social Control. New York, 1925. (Ch. VIII.)

Martin, B. K. The Triumph of Lord Palmerston. London, 1924. (Valuable historical material.)

Parker, Sir G. "The United States and the War" Harper’s 1918: CXXXVI: 521–31 (On British propaganda in the United States.)

Pierce, B. L. Public Opinion and the Teaching of History. New York, 1926.

Raymond, D. N. "Contemporary British Opinion during the Franco-Prussian War" Columbia University Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law. 1921: C: No. 227. (Historical material.)

Salmon, L. M. The Newspaper and Authority. New York, 1923. (Invaluable source material.)

Salmon, L. M. The Newspaper and the Historian. New York, 1923. (Invaluable source material.)

Schönemann, F. Die Kunst der Massenbceinflussung in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika. Stuttgart, 1924. (A very incisive study of British propaganda in the United States from 1914–1918.)

Scott, J. F. The Menace of Nationalism in Education. London, 1926. (A discussion of super-patriotic history in schools.)

Strong, E. K. "The Control of Propaganda as a Psychological Problem" Scien. Mon. 1922: XIV: 234–52.

Ctuart, C. The Secrets of Crewe House. London, 1920. (Invaluable source on British propaganda.)

Taft, D. R. "History Textbooks and International Difference" Pub. Am. Sociol. Society 1925: XIX: 180–83.

Wreford, R. J. R. G. "Propaganda: Evil and Good" Nineteenth Century 1923: XCIII: 514–24.

1 From a document in the writer’s collection. Used by permission.


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