Bountiful Victory Gardens during WWII

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Office of War Information poster, 1941. U.S. National Archives

Victory gardens were widely promoted during 1943 through 1945, during which time victory gardens gave rise to around 40% of all produce consumed nationwide. This large percentage of crops resulted from an estimated 20 million victory gardens cultivated across the American nation in 1944 –a staggering number when compared with the 5 million gardens cared for in 1918 during the First World War

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These photos from the Library of Congress depict variety of Victory Gardeners around the country, including Vice President, Henry A. Wallace in his Victory Garden!

Join the movement. Plant your own #BerksVictoryGarden and share your stories with other local gardeners the Berks Victory Gardeners facebook group. 

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information. 

Share Your Story: Berks County & COVID-19

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These are extraordinary times and your history is worth saving! We are now witnessing a unique historical moment as our community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Berks History Center wants to preserve your story.

While we can’t preserve everything, we are interested in collecting personal accounts, observations, images, sound and/or video files throughout this challenging time. Once we are able to open our doors, we hope to collect objects, diaries, documentaries, and more relating to our community’s unique experiences during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Please take a moment to share your stories with us. A selection of material submitted may be shared through the BHC media accounts and submitted stories will be preserved in the BHC collections for future generations.

Click here to share your story.

Maximizing Food Production in Wartime

Victory Garden Layout
Ohio History Connection Collection

Victory Gardens were designed to maximize food production and meet the dietary needs of small families in wartime. During WWII, amateur gardeners were provided instruction pamphlets issued by the US Department of Agriculture on how, when and where to sow, and were offered suggestions as to the best crops to plant, along with tips on preventing disease and insect infestations. These comprehensive manuals were effective guidelines and resulted in an estimated 20 million victory gardens cultivated across the nation in 1944. From 1942 to 1945, war gardening gave rise to around 40% of all produce consumed nationwide.

Due to the wet conditions today, the BHC staff will be getting their hands dirty tomorrow (May 2, 2020), installing our very first Victory Garden on the lawn of the BHC museum. The BHC demonstration garden will be designed to emulate the layout of these historic victory gardens, planting as efficiently as we can in the small sun exposed spaces we have available.

Discover more about the layout of victory gardens and what to plant in this “ABC of Victory Gardens Pamphlet” from the Ohio History Connection‘s digital collection.

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information. 

We Are Growing with Help from Our Friends

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The Berks History Center is pleased to announce that its “Berks History for Victory” project has grown thanks to $1330 in support from The Friends of Reading Hospital. Launched on April 13, 2020, Berks History Center’s “Berks History for Victory” campaign aims to promote community food security through the revitalization of historic victory gardening in Berks County.

First initiated as an educational campaign and digital storytelling project on the Berks History Center’s website and social media platforms, “Berks History for Victory” will take root in the City of Reading with the installation of a demonstration victory garden at the Berks  History Center. In addition to building a “living exhibit” on the grounds of the BHC museum, funds from The Friends of Reading Hospital will also supply city residents with Victory Garden “Kick-Start Kits,” which include vegetable starts and bilingual educational pamphlets that share the history behind victory gardening as well as practical information for starting a vegetable garden at home.

Weather permitting, the BHC staff will break ground on Friday, May 1, 2020, installing the new demonstration victory garden on the lawn of the BHC museum. In the case of rain, the garden will be installed the following week. Updates and the installation process will be documented and shared on social media. The BHC invites the community to follow along @berkshistory on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

City residents interested in kick-starting their own victory garden at home can pre-register online for a “Berks History for Victory Kick-Start Kit.” Supplies are limited and kits will be reserved on a first come, first served basis. The kits include vegetable starts as well as bilingual educational pamphlets. Soil for container gardens will be available on site but are not included in the kit. The BHC encourages registrants to bring their own containers, anything from coffee cans and 5 gallon buckets to traditional gardening pots to fill (self-serve) for their home container gardens at the time of the pick-up.

Online registration opens on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 and reserved kick-start kits will be available for pick-up at the Berks History Center on Monday, May 11, 2020. Two pick-up methods will be available to ensure safe social distancing: Walk-up registrations will be distributed at the BHC museum at the corner of Spring and 2nd Streets, and a drive-through pick-ups will be available the same day in the BHC parking lot, located at 160 Spring Street.

For more information and to register visit berkshistory.org/berks-history-for-victory/

The “Berks History for Victory” initiative has grown in collaboration with Reading’s Victory Garden Task Force and a growing number of community partnerships. The task force’s “Cultivating Community” victory garden project, led by Councilwoman, Lucine Sihelnik, will distribute complete container gardens to District 1 on Monday, May 11, 2020, the same day as the “Berks History for Victory” kick-start kit giveaway.

The Berks History Center has also partnered with the Reading Public Library to increase accessibility to information about home food production and the history of victory gardening in America. Through its Overdrive platform, the Reading Public Library has compiled a unique selection of digital books that can be accessed online by digital library card holders: https://bit.ly/BH4VGardenBooks To request a digital library card visit https://bit.ly/GetCardedToday

Muhlenberg Greene Architects, Ltd. (MGA) have also joined the movement to promote historic victory gardening for food security in Berks County. On their 100th Anniversary this year, MGA’s experienced architects will be putting together a set of plans for raised garden bed planters, which they will distribute to the public along with a series of “throwback” social media posts, sharing historic garden designs from some of the community’s most popular built residences built by MGA.

Other partnerships in the county-wide victory gardening initiative include: the City of Reading, DS Smith, Reading’s Environmental Advisory Council, Berks Nature, the Berks Conservation District, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Berks County Master Gardeners.

Home gardeners and institutions alike are welcome to join the movement by sharing resources and stories on the Berks Victory Gardeners Facebook page and follow along on Instagram @BerksVictoryGardens Further collaborations are expected to grow, as the Berks Victory Gardeners invite all citizens, community organizations, and businesses to get behind the revitalization of historic home food gardening.

First promoted during WWI and again during WWII, Americans were encouraged to support the war effort and produce their own food by planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, churchyards, city parks, and playgrounds. Today, the BHC is seeking to revitalize this historic practice in order to build community and increase food security in Berks County.

The BHC invites families in Reading and Berks County to join them in their campaign to promote food security during the COVID-19 pandemic by learning about the history of victory gardens and growing their own gardens at home, wherever possible.

Dr. Clara Shetter Keiser – Medicine During Turbulent Times

The story of Dr. Clara Shetter Keiser, a Berks County woman who practiced medicine during turbulent times in our history, as told by her great-granddaughter, Catherine Shearer, BHC Trustee

“Viola and Walter Shearer were my grandparents and I was recently “reunited” with an artifact found in the attic of the Vinemont house they lived in.

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As pictured above, The Physician’s Perfect Call List and Record, belonged to my great-grandmother, Dr. Clara Shetter Keiser. Starting in January 1919 and ending in 1928, the book intermittently shows the names of patients, amount/debit, and record of narcotics dispensed.

When she started her recordings in the Call List and Record, we were already well into the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-1920) and she lived for another 11 years.  I can only wonder what advice she would be offering to us now!”

Dr. Clara Shetter Keiser (1863-1931), a native of Lebanon County, was “one of the best known medical practitioners of her sex in this section”, as stated in her obituary in the Reading Eagle dated October 6, 1931. “For years she was recognized for her far-reaching activities in the promotion of health and other activities of civic value to the community. Few women, living in this locality, have been as devoted to so many interests outside of those surrounding their own livelihood, and of vital interest to the community, as Dr. Keiser.”

It was also mentioned in the obituary she was one of the first advocates of women’s suffrage in this area.

Clara Shetter graduated in 1882 from the Women’s Medical College, Philadelphia, and served on their staff until moving to Reading in 1886, where she opened an office at Sixth and Washington Streets.  In 1889 she married Dr. James W. Keiser (1860-1904), a well-known local physician, and the son of Hannah Shearer and David Keiser, a Reading carpet merchant and real estate developer.

After her husband’s death in 1904, she continued her career as a practicing physician to support and educate her four children. The three Keiser sons were noted in swimming circles, including the Pennsylvanian Swimming Hall-of-Fame, and the local YMCA, served in the military, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.  Her daughter, Viola Keiser, a 1908 honors graduate of Kutztown Normal School, married Walter J. Shearer, of Vinemont, Pennsylvania.

War Gardens in Reading & Berks

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Image: WWI War Garden Poster, Library of Congress Collection https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00653180/

In Berks County, the Chamber of Commerce enforced the proposals of the National War Garden Commission during WWI. Community members could set up appointments with Mrs. C. G. Yoder to learn the basics of the gardening trade. She was available to teach the community techniques on planting, fertilizing, and what crops would grow best in their personal gardens.

The City of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start war gardens. Open city blocks, public parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Stirling and Spring and Weiser Streets.

This April 22, 1918 article from the Reading Times tells citizens where space was available for Victory Gardening. Where will you be victory gardening this year? Whether its a small plot of land or a few containers, you can do your part to promote food security in Berks County. 

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information. 

 

Be a Soldier of the Soil! Plant a Victory Garden

March 11, 1918 Reading Times
Reading Times, March 11, 1918

In a “Letter from Uncle Sam,” this March 11, 1918 announcement in the Reading Times explains how Victory Gardens help to conserve both food and transportation. The ad encourages citizens to “plant the little that he has” as a patriotic service.

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WWI Victory Garden Poster, Library of Congress

In addition to newspapers, posters were an effective means of communication during WWI, informing and encouraging the public to participate in the war effort. The virtues of victory gardens, also referred to as “food gardens for defense” are extolled on this WWI poster from the Library of Congress collection.

Will you be “a soldier of the soil” this year? The benefits of victory gardening are still as relevant today as they were during the Great War. Join our movement of Berks Victory Gardeners by planting a victory garden and helping to improve food security in Berks County! 

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information.