What were wheatless Wednesdays during World War I?

A99_81_19T_Web versionThis poster is typical of food conservation posters produced during World War I, many of which especially emphasized saving wheat and meat. Herbert Hoover (1876-1964) Administrator of the U.S. Food Administration (USFA), promoted wheatless days and meatless days for the American people. 

In April of 1917, the USFA began taking measures conceived to conserve food for the war effort. In particular, Americans were asked to "eat less wheat, meat, sugar, and fats" as shown in this World War I poster in the Museum's collection. These foods were to be saved for the United States Army and its allies. While there was no food rationing in the United States, as there was in Great Britain, Americans were still asked to change their food-buying and eating habits.

Americans were encouraged to eat more corn, oats, rye and fish. The USFA set up a nation-wide system that reached each state and county chairman to manage compliance at the local level. The system relied on the patriotic goodwill of the American people, but the USFA also set up some strict guidelines.

For example, restrictions on the use of wheat in baking were imposed by the government, which set the size of loaves of bread made by bakeries. And only bread baked with substitute ingredients as required by law could be called "victory bread."  As a result, corn, barley, rice, oat, rye, potato and other flours were widely used for making bread. Recipes for bread and other baked goods recommended no more than 50% white wheat flour. Most families observed what were called "Wheatless Wednesdays." In most states and counties, "Hoover cards and  pamphlets" were supplied to housewives for use in the kitchen. New menus were sent out that were geared toward using less wheat.

According to the USFA's Charles R. Van Hise, in his 1918 book,  Conservation and Regulation in the United States During the World War, wheat was very important to conserve.  In 1918, wheat was in short supply in Europe and Great Britain. Van Hise advocated voluntary conservation of wheat by American citizens. In his book, he also outlines procedures for price fixing of wheat crops in the United States to ensure that farmers were motivated to grow wheat. In 1918, a bushel of wheat was sold for a fixed price of $2.20 in Chicago. 

Other restrictions included the conservation of meat. During the war, most Americans ate more fish and poultry rather than meat - meaning beef and pork. "Meatless Mondays" were a routine for most families. They also used vegetable oils instead of lard.

In the Museum's exhibition "Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up!  World War I Posters" there are many posters with this same theme of food conservation.  This poster and others on view offer a window into life during World War I.



L. N Britton.  Eat More Corn, Oats and Rye, 1917, printed by Heywood, Strasser & Voight Litho Co., New York, Gift of Diana Korzenik and Andrew S. Dibner, A99/81/19, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

The Christy Girl in World War I Posters

A96_089_08T1JOHoward Chandler Christy (1873-1952) was a well-known American illustrator, famous for his popular depictions of idealized, beautiful women.  During World War I, these so-called "Christy Girls" appeared on various World War I posters.  The poster seen here entitled, "Fight or Buy Bonds," is currently on view in "Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up!:  World War I Posters" at the National Heritage Museum.

How did this image of the "Christy Girl" evolve?

According to one historian, the first image of a "Christy Girl" appeared in an 1895 issue of The Century magazine.  It was probably while Chirsty was a student at the National Academy of Design in New York that he got the commission. By then he had attended the Art Student League and studied under William Merritt Chase(1849-1916).  Another early image of a "Christy Girl" was published in Scribner's magazine in 1898, entitled, "The Soldier's Dream," and portrayed a beautiful girl.  Some critics claim that this was the first known "Christy Girl" image.

Like the "Gibson Girl," the image of the "Christy Girl" was an idealized vision of American femininity in the 1890s.  This ideal was comprised of high breeding aristocracy, and daintiness.  In addition to magazine illustrations, Christy also illustrated books.  In 1906, both The Christy Girl and The American Girl were published.  These two popular books helped solidify Christy's reputation and spread his idealized image of an American woman. 

By 1915, Christy was in New York working on magazine commissions.  When World War I began, he rallied his talents around the war effort painting posters for government war bonds, the Red Cross, Navy, marines, and civilian volunteer groups.  Among his most popular posters were the "Spirit of America" and "Gee! I Wish I Were a Man I'd Join the Navy."   These two posters feature images of the "Christy Girl" in very different garb.  The Red Cross nurse is - like the woman in the "Fight or Buy Bonds" poster at the top of this post - depicted as a sort of allegorical figure of America robed in Neo-Classical dress.  In contrast, the young woman in the Navy poster is shown wearing a Navy uniform. 


Fight or Buy Bonds, 1917, Howard Chandler Christy, Printed by the Forbes Company, Boston, National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, Gift of H. Brian Holland, A96/089/06.


Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up! Selections from the National Heritage Museum’s Poster Collection

A2000_37_05_DS1 Sow the Seeds of Victory!Starting November 5, 2011, we will be featuring a new exhibition of selections from the collection in our corridor space, “Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up! World War I Posters."  Big, bold and intriguing, our World War I posters have long been favorites of mine.

Throughout America’s participation in World War I—from April 1917 through November 1918—these colorful and compelling posters exhorted Americans to fight, conserve food and buy bonds.  At the beginning of the war, volunteer artists formed the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information.  Some of the better-known participants whose posters are featured in this exhibition are: James Montgomery Flagg (see a recent post on one of his works in the exhibition), Howard Chandler Christy, Henry Raleigh and Fred Goss Cooper (see one of his posters in the exhibition illustrating this post and another in this historic photo from Connecticut).  Experienced, professional illustrators who drew pictures for books, magazines and advertisers, these artists and others turned their noted talents to selling the government’s message during the war. The Division created a host of advertisements, including 700 poster designs. Millions of their posters hung in public spaces and workplaces—citizens could not escape their pressing and persuasive messages.

Posters helped recruit soldiers.  They also drummed up dollars.  To help finance the war, the U. S. Treasury sold savings bonds, called Liberty Loans. An army of volunteers promoted these bonds door-to-door and at rallies.  Posters and other advertising for the bonds emphasized the importance of civilian participation in the fundraising effort.  Four Liberty Loans and one Victory Loan, organized after the fighting concluded, helped the government raise billions of needed dollars. Save a Loaf a Week

Along with money, Americans conserved and produced food to support the war.  According to Herbert Hoover, then head of the United States Food Administration, food was “second only to military action,” in winning the war.  Hoover crafted policies and organized the logistics that allowed America to feed citizens, soldiers and the Allies by controlling the supply, distribution and conservation of food.  To help achieve these aims, food agencies enlisted eye-catching posters urging Americans to conserve, preserve (see one Flagg's posters encouraging canning in action), and produce.

The twenty posters gathered in this exhibition offer a glimpse of a time when American citizens and artists, facing uncertain outcomes, responded to their government’s urgent requests to fight, save, buy and wake up!  I hope you will have a chance to visit the museum and see if these posters might attract your attention. 

Photo credits:

Sow the Seeds of Victory!, 1918.  James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1860), United States.  National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, gift of Andrew S. Dibner, 2000/37/05.

Save a Loaf a Week, 1917-1919.  Fred Goss Cooper (1883-1962). Printed by W. F. Powers Co., New York, New York.  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Walton H. Rawls, Wake up, America! : World War I and the American Poster, New York : Abbeville Press, Inc., 1988. 

YMCA Women in France during World War I


All of us are familiar with the YMCA and the YWCA today. Many of us belong to the local YMCA for recreational opportunities. However, the YMCA had a long tradition of service during wartime.  Did you know that the YMCA sponsored women to work in "canteens" in France during World War I?

This was both a bold step for the YMCA and a bold step for women during 1917-1918.  In July 1917 the United States branch of the YMCA opened its service to females for the first time.  Some Americans thought that women would not hold up to the physical and mental strain of war work, but many women stepped up to the challenge, going to France.  The woman in the poster above represents one of those women.

The designated role of the YMCA during WWI, as ordered by General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), was to provide amusement and moral welfare to the soldiers.  YMCA service took place in "huts" or "canteens" on or near the war front. These "canteens" took the form of a tent, hole in the ground, or a small building.  These buildings were turned into clubs, theaters, gyms, post office, or perahps a general store for the soldiers.  The women often served coffee, doughnuts, and gave out books to the soldiers to read similar to the woman portrayed in the poster.  John R. Mott (1865-1955), as general secretary of the National War Work Council, led the YMCA movement in running the military canteens in the United States and in France.  The Ys hired 25,926 Y workers -- 5,145 of them women -- to run the canteens.

This poster not only tells the story of the YMCA women during WWl, but also advertises the United War Work Campaign which took place during November of 1918.  In this campaign, or fund drive, the American people were asked to contribute over $170 million for the war effort. This was an unprecedented amount of money to try to raise!

There were seven organizations included in the campaign to serve soldiers and sailors in and near war camps--the Young Men's Christian Association, the Young Women's Christian Association, the National Catholic War Council, the Jewish Welfare Board, the War Camp Community Service, the American Library Association, and the Salvation Army. Women across the United States formed "telephone brigades" to inform people about this fund drive and its importance to winning the war.

For further reading:

Gavin, Lettie. American Women in World War I:  They Also Served.  Niwot, Colo.:  University of Colorado Press, 1997.  D639. W7 G38 1997


Caption for image:

One of the Thousand YMCA Girls in France, 1918. Poster illustrated by Neysa Moran Mcmein. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Gift of the Galford Family, A2003/030/4. Photograph by David Bohl.




Wake Up America Day

Wake Up America Day cropped In 2000, the Museum purchased a World War I-era poster with the slogan “Wake Up America Day” on it. Drawn by artist James Montgomery Flagg, known for his famous illustration of Uncle Sam (see our earlier post on this image), and featuring a stylized Minuteman, this poster was a perfect addition to the Museum’s collection. Its April 19 date—the anniversary of the battle of Lexington—linked the poster more closely with the Museum’s mission. But what was Wake Up America Day? Research using online databases of historical newspapers provided some answers.

Despite the war raging in Europe since August 1914, the United States had managed to remain neutral in the conflict. As German submarines sank increasing numbers of American cargo and passenger ships, it became clear to President Woodrow Wilson that war was unavoidable. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany at Wilson’s prompting. In his April 2 address to Congress, Wilson called for at least 500,000 America men to join the fight.

Recruitment events began immediately. Within days, New York’s Mayor’s Committee on National Defense had begun planning a national recruiting event, called “Wake Up America Day,” to be held less than two weeks later, on Thursday, April 19, the anniversary of the battle at Lexington and Concord. By April 10, six governors and 80 mayors in 36 states had signed on. Cities across the country planned parades, meetings and demonstrations, along with midnight church bells and horseback-riding messengers dressed as Paul Revere trotting through the streets. In Manhattan, Miss Jean Earl Moehle played the part of the well-known patriot.

Uncle Sam from LOC New York illustrator James Montgomery Flagg joined the many fellow volunteer artists who made up the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information. Created soon after America's declaration of war, this organization sought to encourage Americans’ support for the war effort through modern advertising. Posters played an important role. Flagg must have designed this poster quite quickly for it to be printed and distributed in time to advertise the April 19 event. Flagg not only designed this poster, he also oversaw the construction of “ten huge floats mounted on automobile trucks” for New York’s Wake Up America Day parade.

Sixty thousand people attended New York City’s parade, and many thousand more participating across the country. Despite its national scale, Wake Up America Day failed to stimulate armed forces recruitment immediately. April 21’s New York Times commented that “whether through coincidence or not, enlistments in all branches of the service took a pronounced drop” on Friday, April 20. Although enlistments did increase the following week, volunteers did not fill the need. By May 18, 1917, the United States government instituted a draft, which remained in effect for the rest of the war.

Wake Up America Day, April 19, 1917. James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/022/1. Photo by David Bohl.

I Want You for U.S. Army, ca. 1917. James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“Country Joins in ‘Wake Up, America!’” New York Times, April 10, 1917

“ ‘Wake Up America! A Day of Parades,” New York Times, April 16, 1917

“Bells at Midnight to Rouse Patriots,” New York Times, April 18, 1917

“Girl in Garb of Paul Revere Rides Down Fifth Avenue at Midnight to ‘Wake Up America’ on Lexington Day,” The Bellingham [Washington] Herald, April 19, 1917

“60,000 Paraders Stir Zeal of City for Call to War,” New York Times, April 20, 1917

“Recruiting Slumps After Wake-Up Day,” New York Times, April 21, 1917

“Recruiting Finally Takes a Big Spurt,” New York Times, April 24, 1917