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Archive for November, 2011

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Flour Sack Art

A flour sack from the collection of the Hoover Presidential Library

One of the themes throughout our “What’s Cooking Wednesday” posts has been war and food rationing. American citizens were asked to grow their own food, ration sugar, and eat less meat so that there would be more supplies for soldiers fighting overseas and for people with little food left in their war-torn country.

As a result, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library has one of the largest collections of flour sacks in the world.

But these are no ordinary flour sacks. These cotton bags have been stenciled, embroidered, painted, and remade. They were  turned into pillows, clothing, and accessories to be sold in England and the United States to raise funds for food relief and to help prisoners of war. They have been decorated with red, yellow, and black for Belgium as well as red, white, and blue for the United States. Lions, eagles, symbols of peace, and Belgian lace decorate the humble cotton from American mills.

Why did hungry Belgium citizens decorate empty flour sacks?

During World War I, Herbert Hoover was chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Through donated money and voluntary contributions of food, this commission fed over 11,000 Belgiums. Between 1914 and 1919, about 697,116,000 pounds of flour was shipped to Belgium.

A soldier buying a souvenir flour sack in a

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Little Women in the Civil War

The carded service record for Louisa May Alcott notes her service as a nurse at the U.S. Army hospital at the Union Hotel in Washington, D.C. Such cards abstract the information found on the original hospital records. Entry 535A, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 94.

About 20,000 women volunteered in military hospitals during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the majority of them left little or no written evidence of their sacrifice in the war.

Louisa May Alcott, renowned 19th-century author of Little Women, was one of them, and her service is documented in a Washington, D.C., hospital’s muster roll.

Alcott was an abolitionist from an early age and eager to give her share, however small, to the war effort. She began sewing Union uniforms and badges before serving as a nurse at the age of 30.

As her muster roll indicates, she was stationed at the “Union Hotel U.S.A. General Hospital,” a makeshift military hospital in “Georgetown, D.C.” She served under the superintendent of Union Army nurses, Dorothea Dix, as a “female nurse” for November and December 1862 and received ten dollars pay.

“My greatest pride is in the fact that I lived to know the brave men and women who did so much for the cause, and that I had a very small share in the war which put an end … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Truman and the no-turkey Thursday

President Truman receives a turkey from Sen. Olin Johnston of South Carolina in the Oval Office, 11/25/1946 (ARC 199535)

What do you if you love Thanksgiving but it falls on a day when you can’t eat turkey? In 1947, President Truman faced an awkward dilemma.

Truman took up the office of President during World War II, but even after the war ended, the plight of the Europeans was on his mind. Americans were still urged to conserve food so that more could be sent to the hungry and needy in a war-devastated Europe.

Part of this effort involved not eating poultry on Thursdays. Of course, this presented a problem for President Truman on the fourth Thursday of November in 1947.

Certainly, Truman could have tried a drastic move and declared Thanksgiving to be held that Friday instead. However, Thanksgiving had barely recovered from a firestorm of controversy that started in 1939.

Before that fateful Thursday in 1939, the American people had followed the 1863 proclamation of Abraham Lincoln and faithfully celebrated a day of Thanksgiving on the last week of November. But in 1939, President Roosevelt had attempted to move the date up by a week to the fourth Thursday. It was a disaster, with 32 states accepting the date change and 16 states refusing. For two years, there were two Thanksgivings on two different Thursdays.

Having the entire country disagree over … [ Read all ]

Hit the Road, Jack!

Today’s post is by Miriam Kleiman, public relations specialist at the National Archives.

Jack Kerouac (National Personnel Records Center)

Jack Kerouac—American counterculture hero, king of the Beats, and author of On the Road—was a Navy military recruit who failed boot camp.

Navy doctors found Kerouac delusional, grandiose, and promiscuous, and questioned his strange writing obsession.

I learned this in 2005, right before the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis announced the opening of more than 3,000 military personnel files—including those of some famous folks.

Working in public affairs at the National Archives is a challenge. We’re always trying to make what’s old seem new. Just yesterday someone asked, “What’s new at the National Archives?” I responded “Absolutely nothing, but I can tell you some neat new things about what’s old.”

The St. Louis records release gave us a chance to share some unknown gems about some very well-known people including Elvis, Clark Cable, and Jackie Robinson. Our colleagues in St. Louis sent us files to see what might interest the media, but most of the material didn’t qualify as newsworthy. It’s vision and dental records, physical exam notes, letters of recommendation, or names and addresses of next of kin.

Then, I found Jack Kerouac’s file. Thicker than the rest, it details his 10 days in basic training—and 67 under psychiatric evaluation. This, I thought, is NEWS! … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Rising above party politics

Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States (ARC 532289)

Today in 1886, former President Chester A. Arthur died from complications from Bright’s disease. He had not been relected for second term, and he had left office in 1884. He died in New York City, just 56 years old.

Although he sported the facial hair style of the time, Arthur was an unlikely President. He ascended to the office in September 1885 when President James Garfield died three months after being shot.

Arthur did have strong administrative experience with the Federal Government, having worked as quartermaster general in the New York Volunteers during the Civil War. He arranged provisions and housing for hundreds of thousands of soldiers, making a reputation for himself as an excellent administrator.

But Arthur was a crony of Roscoe Conkling, a New York Republican Party boss and U.S. Senator who was well known for using patronage and party connections to gain power. When Arthur was appointed Collector of the Port of New York by President Grant, he supported the political machine of “Boss Conkling” by collecting salary kickbacks. He also augmented his $12,000 yearly salary to $50,000 by sharing in fines that Customs collected on undervalued imports.

When President Rutherford B. Hayes came into office, he began to dismantle Boss Conkling’s empire, and Arthur lost his job. Because Hayes had declared he would be … [ Read all ]