Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—just in time for Thanksgiving—Gena searches old newspapers to learn about the Thanksgiving dinners our ancestors had during World War I.

For many Americans, the word Thanksgiving conjures up images of family, a bountiful feast, and spending the day eating. However, Americans weren’t always encouraged to eat everything and anything on Thanksgiving Day. During both World Wars, food was rationed and families on the home front were encouraged to make do with less. So what did that mean for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner?

photo of a poster for the U.S. home front during WWI urging households to conserve sugar

Poster: sugar conservation, from the U.S. Food Administration, 1917-1919. Credit: U.S. National Archives.

Food Rationing during Wartime

Food rationing is typically associated with World War II, when ration stamps were used—but World War I had its own version of rationing—and this was especially true at Thanksgiving time. In the First World War, families were encouraged to limit some foods so that the United States could feed its soldiers and allies. Overseas, our allies’ lands were devastated by the extensive fighting, and their ability to maintain crop production was limited.

Using propaganda posters, recipe booklets, and informational articles, American women were encouraged to alter the family’s diets by participating in such endeavors as “Meatless Monday,” growing a garden, and limiting the use of sugar. The government led the way in urging Americans to think about what they ate. Herbert Hoover and his U.S. Food Administration, established in August 1917, encouraged food conservation and helped to stabilize the price of wheat.

Newspapers provided families with recipe ideas to help them compile their holiday menus. Women turned to newspapers for recipes and ideas about the type of Thanksgiving they should serve, and newspapers helped women implement these new policies to conserve food.

No Oysters or Turkey for the Thanksgiving Dinner?

What do you typically serve for the Thanksgiving dinner? While portions of the Thanksgiving dinner menu have changed over time, some of the key dishes have always been served. In this 1917 California newspaper article, readers are cautioned that they should refrain from serving oysters on the half shell, Neufchatel cheese, and turkey for Thanksgiving.

Simple [Thanksgiving] Menu; Just as Much Enjoyment, San Jose Mercury News 28 November 1917

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 28 November 1917, page 9

Readers are told: “The family can substitute chicken, pale American cheese, and other becomingly simple dishes, and not only secure the same number of food calories as in the more expensive repast, but have just as much to eat and just as good a time eating it.” The author provides some alternative menus but first adds that “…the Thanksgiving dinner can materially aid the food supply by not turning the usual feast into a gastronomic contest.”

(Note: the term “Hooverize” in this article’s subtitle—a word your ancestor would have known all too well—referred to economizing food. Since Hoover was the head of the Food Administration, his name became synonymous with this effort.)

Cutting Back on Sugar

Sugar was one of the food items that Americans were encouraged to limit. Today, in a world where much of the food we eat is prepared or pre-packaged, we don’t realize how much sugar is in a Thanksgiving meal. Cranberry sauce, gelatin salads, desserts and even sugar for coffee and tea were foodstuffs that families had to reconsider during wartime. It’s no wonder that newspaper articles like this one discouraged that old standby, cranberry sauce. As pointed out in this old news article, cranberry sauce required large amounts of sugar that seemed, during this precarious time, to be wasteful.

Cranberries Unpopular on Thanksgiving Menu, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 10 November 1917

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 November 1917, page 1

Use It Up, Do Without

American citizens were encouraged to plant gardens to supply produce for their meals. For those unable to plant gardens, patronizing local merchants who produced and sold food was encouraged. This was a predecessor of today’s popular “Buy Local, Eat Local” trend.

The main theme of many of the newspaper articles promoting these ideas seems to be: a true American would gladly go without. Consider this 1918 newspaper article’s closing sentence: “Turkey may be lacking in some cases, and the four kinds of pie which once closed the feast may be the only tradition of the ante bellum days, but reminiscences of much to be thankful for will dominate the Thanksgiving day of every true American.”

Thanksgiving Dinner of Home Grown Food Advocated by Hoover, Wyoming State Tribune newspaper article 23 November 1918

Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne, Wyoming), 23 November 1918, page 2

What did Thanksgiving dinner look like for your family during World War I? Do you have any stories about your grandparents’ Thanksgiving menu? Please share them in the comments below.

Genealogy Challenge Pt. 1: Spot Spoonerisms & Other Name Mistakes

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how to spot spoonerisms (the accidental switching of sounds or letters in two words, often to humorous effect) and other name mistakes when searching for your ancestors in old newspapers.

Creativity is essential when searching for forebears in old newspapers—especially when misspellings come into play. Names can be abbreviated, truncated and spelled in a variety of fantastical ways—including one aberration you may not have considered: a spoonerism.

What Is a Spoonerism?

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say at a wedding, “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” or in church, “Let me sew you to your sheet.”

Their brain meant to say, “Is it customary to kiss the bride?” and “Let me show you to your seat,” but a disconnect or “fain brart” got in the way.

You could chalk the unique phraseology up to imbibing, but more likely the speakers were sober and unintentionally mimicking Rev. William Archibald “W. A.” Spooner (1844-1930). Known for his linguistic acrobatics, Spooner frequently misspoke—as when he gave a toast at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration.

“Three cheers for our queer old dean,” he said.

That might have been the end of his days as toastmaster except the hilarity of the moment kept Dr. Spooner in high demand. His name is now used to describe the humorous speech mistakes for which he was famous, in which sounds or letters are transposed.

I wonder if the king was even mildly amused when Spooner blurted, “Kinglemen, the Gent!” instead of, “Gentlemen, the King!”

More of Spooner’s spoonerisms can be found in this 1924 newspaper article.

Many 'Amusing Stories' Are Told of Doctor Spooner, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 20 November 1924

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 20 November 1924, page 3

How Spoonerisms Affect Genealogical Searching

The phenomenon of linguistic tongue twisting may be done on “porpoise,” but more likely it is done by accident. No matter the intent, spoonerisms occasionally appear in newspaper reporting—and the tangled results may limit your search results. If your initial results are few, try searching on a clever spoonerism of your ancestor’s name by employing wildcard characters (such as ? or *) to substitute for letters that may be accidentally transposed.

Names and words that are prone to being spoonerized are ones that:

  • have an equal amount of syllables
  • appear to rhyme (I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every time my name was jumbled up!)
  • have alliterations (given and surnames that begin with the same first letter), such as Herbert Hoover—who apparently was mistakenly referred to as Hoobert Heever, Heebert Huver or possibly Heever Herbert
Harry Von Zell's Spoonerism, Springfield Union newspaper article 30 October 1972

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 30 October 1972, page 17

Corrections in Names in Newspapers

Another type of genealogical search challenge occurs when a name is simply misreported or misspelled in the newspapers.

When in doubt, search a week or so after an event to see if there has been a correction made to your ancestor’s name—and if you find one, be sure to keep a record of both versions of the name for future searches.

(On a personal level, my son one time made a fabulous play at a baseball game. When the newspaper came out, it had published another player’s name under my son’s picture. Wonder if the other family kept a copy!)

In the following example, the name mistake is somewhat of a spoonerism (Bovee was used for Obee), and reminds us that once you spot a misspelling, keep it on your short list for further search possibilities.

notice about C. W. Obee, Daily Telegram newspaper article 14 December 1918

Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), 14 December 1918, page 2

In this example from a 1921 newspaper, the writer got the name completely wrong. O. A. Wymus, an Aberdeen optometrist, was reported as the speaker of an event, when a Mr. Weymouth should have been credited. Too bad the given names of the incorrect person were abbreviated as mere initials, and totally eliminated for the correct speaker—otherwise, we would have been able to see the full extent of this mistake and perhaps discover a spoonerism at work!

notice about Mr. Weymouth, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 28 April 1921

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 28 April 1921, page 8

Ancestor & Spouse Name Swaps

Another common name error found in newspapers derives from ancestor and spouse swapping. No, this isn’t a form of genealogical adultery, but instead a mistake that occurs when a family member’s memory is foggy, or when one person is more prominent than another, resulting in an incorrect name being given to the newspaper reporter.

I recently found an example of this kind of marital mistake while doing my own family history research. My great aunt’s obituary reported that she was married to my great grandfather instead of my great uncle. My great grandfather was perhaps the better known of the two brothers in their hometown and his name would therefore come more readily to people’s minds.

Now, there are legitimate instances in which a widow or widower marries one’s brother or sister-in-law, but in my family, it taint rue.

For those of you who are wondering why I haven’t shown this incorrect obituary, I elected not to because—as any geasoned senealogist knows—once a mistake is recorded, certain enthusiasts repeat the error over and over and over again, forever rouding the clesearch!

Genealogy Challenge

Here is your latest genealogy challenge, readers.

Post your best example of a genealogical spoonerism in the comments section of this blog. I can’t wait to read them—I always love a good laugh!