Saturday, March 04, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Victory Gardens

Sow The Seeds of Victory. National Archives via Flickr

Victory gardens were an important part of women's work on the home front during World War I. We often associate these gardens with World War II but they were essential to the war effort in  World War I. Your ancestor's victory garden may have even extended beyond the end of the war as we continued to feed our allies devastated by an home front war.

Your ancestor was told "Food Will Win The War!" It's important to remember that the war in Europe had been going on since 1914 and civilians were starving. Farmers were fighting in the trenches, which meant decreased food production as well as the destruction to fields, problems with transportation, etc. Americans were encouraged to save those meats and fats needed by the allied soldiers, women, and children in Europe. Your ancestors met this challenge by decreasing their own consumption, using meat substitutes (think organ meats, nuts, and legumes), and increasing food and vegetable use via their own victory gardens.

Although the United States didn't use ration coupons (that would be mandatory later during World War II) they did encourage volunteer food rationing with weekly promotions like Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays. The government's US Food Administration was there to help families with ideas and recipes for making their food stretch so others could eat.

This focus on food would extend past the war as the need for food commodities would continue in Europe. You can see an example of this in the seed catalog below  that thanks citizens for doing their part but reminds them that the need was still there even if the war was over.

  • Did your female ancestor garden?
  • Do you have photographs of her garden, canned produce, or even her shelling peas or some other food-like work?
  • Is there any information about gardening in her local newspapers?
  • Does anyone in your family remember stories of her garden or what she grew?
  • Do you have home sources that include booklets on gardening or canning/preserving produce?

Additional Resources:

History - Food Rationing in War Time America

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - Food conservation during WWI: "Food Will Win the War"

Hawai'i Digital Newspaper Project - Food Conservation during World War I in American Newspapers 

American Historical Association - Teaching World War One History through Food  (special note: I highly recommend this web page. There are videos where historians explain food from WWI and they show how to cook a menu from a WWI era cookbook).

Hayden-Smith, Rose. Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc., 2014.

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