April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
When the United States declared war on the German empire in April 1917, the public was asked to help contribute to the Nation’s production of food through the planting of “war gardens.” Many patriotic individuals and volunteer organizations immediately responded and began the work, but with little organization and much duplication of effort. Locally, Clifford Shinkle, president of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, saw that some coordination of these efforts was needed, and called a meeting of the heads of all of the organizations in the city doing war garden work. The meeting resulted in the formation of the Joint Committee for Food Conservation which served as a kind of clearing house for these local volunteer organizations.
Cover of Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1917, CMC Printed Works Collection.
One of the most active and best equipped organizations in the city was the Agricultural Division of the National League for Women’s Service. Mrs. L. D. Drewery, head of the N. L.W. S., was asked to take charge of the new Joint Committee for Food Conservation. She set up an office with the county agricultural agent in the Chamber of Commerce Building. Later, the joint committee was declared to be a sub-committee of the Mayor’s War Council and was renamed The War Gardens Committee. The CMC Printed Works Collection contains illustrated annual reports for the years 1917 and 1918 which document the work of the War Gardens Committee.
The new committee divided its membership into divisions with a Commandant at the head of each. The Commandants then directed the work of the women of their division, assigned duties, and organized their community gardeners into War Garden Clubs. The duties of the Commandants included “preparing all lands in her district for cultivation: to hire men to plow, harrow and disk the land, which was then sub-divided into lots 50’ x 100’, and turned over to applicants.” The applicants were obtained through notices in the local newspapers and through talks in the community by various committee members including four-minute presentations given at area theaters.
There were Commandants for Avondale, East Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Fernbank, Milford, Clifton, College Hill, Hyde Park, Camp Washington, and Pleasant Ridge. There were also Commandants representing the Cincinnati Garden Club and the African American women gardeners of the city. The Cincinnati Public Schools were involved through their Garden Department and The Indian Hill Women’s Land Army Unit participated, even loaning a truck for use by the committee.
Youth gardeners from College Hill. Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1917, CMC Printed Works Collection.
The committee had to devise ways of financing the war gardens. The land came from the Park Board which made land available to the committee and from the Real Estate Board that arranged for land to be turned over from a variety of sources. The cost of preparing the land was another matter. Some funds were raised from private donations and some came from the Mayor’s War Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Eventually a guarantee fund was created to help place the gardens on a self-sustaining basis. Each gardener was asked “to pro-rate the expense of plowing and fertilizing, thereby spending our [guarantee] fund in the fall and early spring, and getting it back in again when the gardeners pay up.” For gardeners who were unable to purchase plants and seeds, Mr. J. Charles McCullough, the J. Wilder Seed Company, and Congressman Nicholas Longworth donated supplies of assorted garden seeds and fertilizer to be distributed.
The War Gardens Committee also taught and promoted up-to-date methods of canning, distributed War Garden Manuals, taught courses in war-gardening, and participated in area exhibitions where they offered cash prizes and certificates of merit to exhibitors of canned vegetables. The committee partnered with the Public Schools to open three schools buildings for classes to teach women how to make meat substitutes, make different kinds of breads, and how to can and preserve.
CMC Printed Works Collection.
The War Gardens Committee participated in exhibitions at Carthage Fair and the Harvest Home Fair and in December 1918, sponsored an exhibit at the Allied (or Victory) War Exposition at Music Hall. One large hall was devoted to women’s organizations doing war work.
War Gardens exhibit at Music Hall. Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1918, CMC Printed Works Collection.
In 1917, the committee succeeded in having over 240 acres under cultivation, and in 1918, the committee reported that it had 265 acres under cultivation by some 2,000 gardeners. This effort yielded a profit of over $83,000 dollars for “fresh vegetables that never would have been grown but for war gardens.” The 1918 annual report pointed out that “Another value to be considered is the aid given to the conservation of wheat, meat, sugar, etc., by reason of the nutritious value of fresh vegetables.”
Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1917, CMC Printed Works Collection.
In a report to Mrs. Drewry, written less than two weeks after the signing of the armistice, R. B. Schlotman of the Blair Avenue Garden Club put the volunteer gardeners work into perspective when she wrote “At this time the world is deeply grateful for a righteous peace, and an established Democracy. Our own gallant troops and those of our allies have covered themselves with glory. This had been made possible by the support we at home have given through our unselfish co-operation in the various activities instituted by our government.” She also added “Now that victory is ours, we must not forget that it carries with it tremendous responsibilities.” The committee recognized that even though the war was over their work should continue to help feed “the new millions to be fed in Europe.” “The Hun is defeated but hunger still reigns in Europe. Let Victory Gardens defeat famine.”
Located in front of the Madisonville Branch Library, the community market sold surplus garden produce every Saturday. Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1918, CMC Printed Works Collection.
Cincinnati War Gardens Annual Report for 1917, CMC Printed Works Collection