As we look back to the events of the Great War and the people who lived through it, what serves as a tether between that century was the significance of Christmas to Americans living at home and abroad. For a majority of families, this Christmas would mark the first time since the Civil War where one or several members of their family were far from home serving in a wartime capacity. Not just the men – husbands, sons, nephews, or uncles, but women as well – sisters, aunts, nieces, and sometimes mothers serving as nurses, clerks, yeomen, relief workers, telephone operators, chauffeurs, and messengers.
With volunteers and service personnel away from home, relatives were encouraged by local businesses to send care packages stuffed with the latest and greatest must-have items for the front lines. Care packages proved to be a great theme for boosting morale at home and in Europe. Clothing, boots, watches, jewelry, chewing gum, toiletry items, and cake were popular choices. Stationary, fountain pens, compasses and the occasional pocket diary were also handy.
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch of 1917, most of the “Be Santa Claus to a Solider” ads for the season included a truly prodigious amount of tobacco ads:
Although the United States did not enforce a food rationing system within its boarders in World War I, it relied heavily on propaganda campaigns to persuade the public to limit and conserve food for the troops fighting abroad.
“Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were just two of the slogans adopted cut food consumption at home. In the spirit of these conservation efforts, companies sometimes elected to host recipe contests to promote food saving measures of the Great War homefront.
December 23, 1917 was a great day for Miss Gertrude Hayes, of Columbia, Missouri. Her inventive Bean Loaf recipe was the winner of the C.B. Miller Shoe Store War Time Recipe Contest. Her recipe, comprised of cooked beans, tomatoes, cheese, butter, flour, onion, and seasoning, is a tasting sounding substitute for a “Meatless Monday” dinner table. The Miller quote at the bottom of the award announcement states “To Conserve is Stylish. To Save Is to Live.” A very haute couture slogan which befits Miller’s shoe store of the time. Gertrude’s prize for the winning submission: a new pair of shoes of her choice. An excellent prize to be sure!
Given how rationing was a voluntary affair, the meatless and wheatless dinner tables for most families was probably suspended on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1917. The traditional combination of what we identify as Christmas dinner was still getting top billing in cookbooks and in restaurants. For the folks committed to the cause of conserving food, Marshall Fields released Forty-Four Ways to Win The War, a cookbook designed to exalt in voluntary rationing by providing straightforward instructions for main dishes, side dishes, breads, and desserts. The book is available for free on Internet Archive, a great place to search for new and unique stuff from the past.
Aside from the recipes, I really love the little informational sidebars, slogans, and tips included in the book. This is really a little gem you’ll want to browse through and read.
I hope you all are looking forward to more World War I centennial commiserations in the new year. If you haven’t checked out our webinar series on Tracing Your WWI Military Ancestors yet, all the handouts and videos are free thanks to the WWI and America grant. Add this series to your list of Genealogical New Years Resolutions!