Today’s post comes from former education intern Amanda Hatch. She added newly digitized primary sources, found during our 2015 Primarily Teaching institutes, to DocsTeach. Information and applications for our 2016 workshops are available now.
“In this winter of 1918 lies the period when there will be tested in this great free country of ours the question as to whether or not our people are capable of voluntary individual self-sacrifice to save the world,” wrote Herbert Hoover, then head administrator of the newly created U.S. Food Administration.
Because of decreased crop production in Europe and restricted shipping curtailed by German submarines, many of the Allied nations and troops during World War I desperately needed food.
Hoover set in motion a campaign of voluntary food conservation: “Food will win the war.” Posters and home cards encouraging Americans to conserve food became essential to the success of the campaign.
These posters and cards — some of which were digitized by teachers in our Primarily Teaching summer institute at the National Archives at Chicago — provide an engaging way to introduce students to World War I.
Although war, especially on foreign soil, can be a hard concept to fully visualize and comprehend, these documents help students understand how the war affected individuals and families just like themselves. By examining World War I through the sacrifices made on the homefront as illustrated by these documents, students can better grasp what it was like for Americans being asked to bear the cost of freedom, and the sacrifices made to preserve “this great free country of ours.”
Students can relate to children who had to sacrifice things like macaroni and cheese and sugary sweets in order to feed the starving soldiers and civilians fighting overseas. In a 1917 handout sent to American homes, Hoover outlined the necessity of having at least one wheatless and meatless meal a day. He instituted “Wheatless Wednesdays” and “Meatless Mondays” while encouraging Americans to cut out as much wheat, meat, and sugar from their diet as possible. For many, this meant incorporating a new style of cooking and foregoing favorite items like pasta, cereals, and pastries.
To help with this new diet, the Wisconsin Food Administration offered a list of “substitutions” in place of wheat. Students can have fun analyzing this document because it contains discouraged items they’ll recognize: Graham Crackers, Aunt Jemima pancakes, Triscuits, Vanilla Wafers, and Shredded Wheat. You can ask: What do you think of the substitutions for these items? Would you be willing to give them, or something similar, up for the war effort?
Pamphlets and home cards like those shown below also circulated among American families reminding them that such a sacrifice was done “in freedom’s name.” Though not everyone experienced the horrors of war and faced bullets like those in Europe, men, women, and children on the homefront played a crucial wartime role by conserving food. A 1918 pamphlet reminded people: “Now is the hour of our testing. Let us make it the hour of our victory—victory over the enemy of freedom.”
Such documents provide a great segue into a classroom discussion about sacrifice. You can ask: Though not asked to conserve food now, does the government ask you to do anything to protect and promote liberty in America? What is the cost of freedom today?
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