Do you know what your mother, aunts, grandmothers and great grandmothers and their children did to support the home front and soldiers far from home during the Great War and World War II?
11 November 2018 will mark the Centennial Anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War, the war to end all wars, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In the United States, that day has evolved into Veteran’s Day, honoring all those men (until very recently – and women) who served in the armed forces.
Of course, there were women who served in non-combat roles during both world wars, but the majority of women remained Stateside as their husbands, brothers and fathers were shipped out.
There were many, many opportunities for women and children to support “our boys,” from buying war bonds to growing Victory Gardens.
How do you go about looking for clues as to your family’s home front service?
First, begin by speaking to elders in your family to determine what they might already know. Check through family papers and photos for patriotic service.
I have no idea what my grandmothers or great- and 2X great grandmothers did to support efforts during World War I. I suspect that local schools and churches might have provided opportunities. However, during World War II, my grandmother Hazel Coleman Adams volunteered with the local Red Cross:
Hazel, back row, second from right
Aside from these three items, I have no other photos or documents indicating how my family contributed to America’s war efforts.
Where do I look now? Well, I need to begin close to home, searching for information on local towns.
A word of warning as you research – unless you are very lucky, you aren’t going to find your family’s activities by their names. It will be necessary to look for schools, organizations, women’s clubs, etc. to figure out what was happening in town. In other words, you’ll have to do a lot of digging to identify women’s and girls’ groups and then find information on their patriotic activities.
Second, check school yearbooks from 1941-1944. (It doesn’t appear that school activities during World War I reflected war time.) Here is a page from the Cissna Park Community High School in Illinois in 1944:
Third, contact the local library and historical society. Ask about items related to town activities supporting war efforts during the two world wars. Local libraries might have these documents in the vertical files.
It is very likely that items will not be in digital format and will require an on-site visit or hiring a researcher. However, state societies are more likely to have online collections. Don’t overlook them, as collections include town records, too.
Fourth, check county histories, along with town centennials and other anniversaries. Many county histories are digitized and in the public domain online. Granted, most were published before 1910, but it’s worth a look in case it was published more recently, or possibly updated. Town celebrations spawned many local histories, of which military support was often an important part.
Fifth, newspapers are the most likely source for stories about ladies’ and children’s organizations. Again, it is much more likely to find social column events in 1940s newspapers than in pre-1920 publications.
Sixth, patriotic membership organizations, such as Daughters of the American Revolution and Children of the American Revolution organized many committees and projects to support our military, children orphaned by the war, and others in need. DAR magazines have been digitized from 1890-2010 and are free online.
If a family member belonged to either of these groups, the magazine archive is a real treasure trove. Often, C.A.R. activities were published in the DAR Magazine because a DAR chapter was a sponsor.
Emily G. Shinn, a widowed head of household from Atlantic City, New Jersey, wrote this letter to DAR:
DAR Magazine, 1918
I was she was my ancestor – I’d have a wonderful description of how the family helped the war effort.
Seventh, Gold Star Mothers, founded to give comfort and support to women who had all lost loved ones in the war, is still a strong organization today. If one of your family members died in war service, you may have a female relative who joined the Gold Star Mothers.
Eighth, did your female ancestor join the work force to fill the gap left by men in service? The only time my mother-in-law worked outside the home was during World War II:
Ruby’s Earnings from the War Department
Ninth, contact the church where your family worshiped. Many have kept their own histories and, as they offer charity services, war donations were very common. They might even have photos taken during events and committee meetings.
Tenth, last but not least, has anyone in your family published a 20th century family history? If so, locate a copy and check it out. Many collateral members might have been interviewed and shared their memories, including what life was like at home during the wars.
Here are more links to patriotic activities at home, presenting a more general overview of domestic efforts to support our military and allies:
Wikipedia: American Women in World War I
U.S. History: America in the Second World War
Children & World War I: The American Home Front