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  • Hanna Rashidi, Intern & Guest Blogger

A Taste of Providence: World War I & Self-Rationing

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

During WWI, May Lippitt Steedman, daughter of Henry and Mary Ann, worked with the Providence Red Cross heading the knitting and garment workshops, the motor corps, and canteen. These supply support activities were in response to pressures from the intensifying war in Europe. An area of particular stress in the American supply chain was food. The strain on food sources was not simply caused by feeding U.S. soldiers, but also because of American relief efforts to address widespread famine in Europe. A lot of the farmland of Europe had been turned into battle grounds and many farmworkers were serving in the military; the continent faced extreme shortages for millions of people. During the period between 1914 and 1923, the U.S. sent approximately $6 billion worth of food and other supplies to Europe. (source).

Cutting down on food consumption was emphasized as a way of assisting the war effort. Herbert Hoover, appointed by Woodrow Wilson as the head to the U.S. Food Administration, was quoted as saying "Food will win the war." (source).

Article on The Providence Housewives League, May 2nd, 1917, showing the making of War Gardens for food conservation. Providence Journal Historical Archives, 1829 - 1999.

Women were specifically addressed in propaganda material from the U.S. Food Administration. They were encouraged to be responsible and patriotic in the choices they made for their households. One popular suggestion was the creation of a “War Garden.” This was a way for households to maximize land usage and grow food with the garden space available to them, including backyards, public parks, and churchyards. (source).

Below are three examples of food rationing campaigns, including a flier produced by the Food Conservation Committee of the Providence Housewives League that suggests cutting meat, sugar and wheat consumption. WWI campaigns like these have been traced as the origins of today’s “meatless Monday”—although during WWI the U.S. Food Administration recommended that Americans participate in “meatless Tuesday '' and “wheatless Wednesday”. (source).

(click to expand images)

  • Image: Steele. Defeat the Kaiser and his U-boats : victory depends on which fails first, food or frightfulness : eat less wheat., poster, Date Unknown; ( accessed March 9, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library,; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department

  • Image: Save Wheat, Meats, Fats, Sugar (New York: United States Food Administration, 1917). Color lithograph

  • Image: Practical Patriotism for Women in Rhode Island, Poster from the Food Conservation Committee of the Providence Housewives League, May 1917. Providence Housewives League 1915-1919.

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View "The Art of Dining: A Taste of Providence" on our history page.

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