Plant a “Victory Garden”! Berks History for Victory Campaign Continues to Inspire

This week, we are proud to share an essay authored by Corrie Crupi-Zana, the Vice President of the BHC Board of Trustees. Following the introduction of our History for Victory! campaign earlier this year, Corrie felt inspired to research and write an article about victory gardening – we are so touched that this campaign continues to inspire our own, as well as others in our community!


During turbulent times of war, strife, disease, and the Great Depression, our government encouraged people to become empowered and be self-sustaining.  In an effort to help reduce the pressure on the already low food supply chain, Victory Gardens were promoted with the slogan “Digging for Victory”.  In school, children were asked to volunteer to become part of the Victory Garden army and be “Soldiers of the Soil”.

vg corrie
Minnesota Historical Society, Getty Images

In a 1919 pamphlet published by the National War Garden Commission, it pitched “War Gardens for Victory” stating that gardening was an American civic duty. During World War II, some 20 million victory gardens were planted in the United States. People started gardens in any space available such as on roof tops, fire escapes, windowsills, or backyards. Eleanor Roosevelt set an example by planting a garden on the front lawn of the White House. In 1943, it went as far as using Comic Books to depict cartoons of Superman, Batman and Robin working in their gardens.  

Around Berks County, half our work force entered for the military services. The burden of feeding millions of starving people fell on the United States government. Our local government urged people to jump on this bandwagon and express their patriotism by planting gardens. The citizens of Reading were inspired and needed another way to supplement their food ration stamp allowance.  The intent was that these victory gardens would help boost their outlooks and create a sense of security by being rewarded with a productive abundance of home-grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs.  Many of Berks County’s department store fronts exhibited displays featuring garden tools and fruits and vegetables in their large show windows.  

Gardens started to sprout up everywhere there was a small plot or vacant lot of land.  Reading had numerous gardens at many locations.  Permits were needed and issued from City Hall at 9th Washington Streets.  In the beginning, most of these gardens had a Safety Committee or a paid watchman.  The Reading Railroad allowed an empty lot to be tilled and farmed by their employees at the corner of 6th and Spring Streets. The Pottiger tract was at Church and Amity Streets and the Barbey’s allowed space at Third and Windsor Streets.  Other plots included were the nice garden areas formed around Hampden Boulevard at Marion streets and on Sternbergh land near the Sterling Mansion on Centre Avenue.  The East Reading side of town also had many patches.   Berks County Historian, George M. Meiser IX, recalls a large plot of six beautifully maintained gardens that spread from Baer Park on West Douglass Street all the way down to Clinton Street on the west side.  In Lower Alsace Township there was a large community allotment in a field at Cornell Street and one on Taft Avenue and one on Butter Lane in Exeter Township which are still tilled today.

Portrait

Some of the basic vegetables planted were tomatoes, carrots, beets, lettuce, peppers, radish, turnips, cabbage, cucumbers, spinach, onions, celery, and potatoes. Also popular were fruits such as strawberries, grapes, peaches, and apples. They grew lemon balm, mint, and lavender for tea.  A variety of herbs were easily grown including as rosemary, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme, and fennel.  Canning, jarring, freezing, drying, and pickling became quite the hobby and a tranquil challenge with tangible results.  Ideas from the old countries were used to stew down fruits and vegetables for sauces, jams, and marmalade. Cuttings from fresh herbs were put into an ice cube tray with water and frozen to later be able to pop some freshness into a stew or soup. 

A resurgence of the garden phenomenon or “back-to-the-land movement began again in the late 1960’s when the need to work mother earth trended.  Land on the Mt. Penn Mountain was the perfect place for people to start what then was called a Free Garden.  There was a nice sunny, but marshy plot on Hill Road which was then maintained by the City of Reading in a section of the Clinton F. Earl Land Trust Preserve where they encouraged residents to start to plant.  

These same ideals resonate today in 2020, as we are witness to a shutdown of the world making even stepping outside or a trip to the grocery store causes anxiety.  Many people are fraught with fear of exposure to the Corona Virus.  At this time in our history, we must adapt and remember the past generations and how they learned to cope and what they accomplished during the hard times. We also saw them rise above and unite establishing the perfect role model. Today people should again be prepared for a possible disruption in the food supply and demand. 

Luckily, for us in this generation, we have use of a Google search. We can watch do-it-yourself videos, digital online libraries of books, or You Tube for the experienced or unexperienced gardeners searching for the answers. I hope you are inspired to create your own “Corona Victory Garden”.  Please join the Berks History Center and its partners including: 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, the Reading Public Library, Muhlenberg Greene Architects and Reading Hospital in this county-wide victory gardening initiative to encourage all citizens to cultivate your own food system to secure your own future and stand with “History for Victory”.

Authored by Vice President of the BHC Board of Trustees, Corrie Crupi-Zana


War Gardens in Reading & Berks

uncle sam LOC
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.

WWI poster LOC
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.

1917 Food Garden Primer

Reading Times May 10, 1917
May 10, 1917 Reading Times

The main objective of the National Emergency Food Garden Commission was to supply thousands of newspapers with articles and hundreds of clubs with promotional materials to inspire the planting of food gardens, as well as daily practical advice on how to build gardens and cultivate vegetables. As a result of this effort, an average of ten million people were given access to daily instructions as to how to grow their own emergency food supply.

Through the commission, the 1917 “Food Garden Primer” was distributed widely around the country. The 8-page pamphlet provides practical information for beginning gardeners.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This pamphlet was originally printed by Mayor Mitchel’s Food Supply Committee of New York City. The Albany Branch of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party pasted their own label on this pamphlet instead of creating one of their own, as a public service toward the war effort.

Click here to read the pamphlet in its entirety.

Suffrage gardens were a popular technique to gather support for woman’s suffrage in 1917.

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

How Victory Gardens Were Born

Charles Lathrop Pack of Medical Board. President, National War Garden Commission. Photo taken in 1917 by Harris and Ewing.
Charles Lathrop Pack, of Medical Board. President, National War Garden Commission. Photo taken in 1917 by Harris and Ewing. 

The idea of the American “Victory Garden” was pioneered by forestry expert and third-generation businessman, Charles Lathrop Pack, a multi-millionaire and one of the five wealthiest men in America.

As the United States entered the first World War in 1917, Pack organized the US National War Garden Commission and launched the war garden campaign. His pamphlet, “Victory Gardens Feed the Hungry: The Needs of Peace Demand the Increased Production of Food in America’s Victory Gardens” is one of the leading monographs in the campaign for the Victory Garden program.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can view and read the entire document here.

In addition to advocating for US war gardens, Pack talks about the unfortunate conditions in some European countries due to the ongoing war and the need for Americans to come to their aid by providing seeds for food products and trees. After the war, he documented the victory garden movement in The War Garden Victorious.

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

Berks History Center to Open 100 Year Old Time Capsule on the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice

WWI_Nov10_WebBanner

The Berks History Center will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day on November 10, 2018 with World War I & Berks, a day of programs and events, including a time capsule opening at the Berks History Center, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

Please join us for a day of education and entertainment as we commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. The day will begin with two consecutive programs that explore the challenges and triumphs of the Great War through the eyes of a local WWI soldier with presentations by William Richardson as he reads and interprets his father’s WWI diaries. From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I will begin at 10:00AM and will be followed by Part II at 12:30PM.

313 officers 1918 (1)
Photo: William Emanuel Richardson, front row, far left, without a hat, with 313 Machine Gun Battalion, shipboard on the Mercury, on his way to France in 1918. The officer sitting next to him, Lt. Parsons was killed in the Meuse Argonne fighting. From William F. Richardson.

Presenter, William F. Richardson is the son of William Emanuel Richardson, who served in the Great War. Richardson will read and interpret his father’s journal entries in a dramatic presentation that demonstrates the realities of the WWI experience. Richardson is a Berks County native and now lives in Golden, CO. Richardson’s father, William Emanuel Richardson, was born in Berks County in 1886. William’s extensive diaries and writings during this period reveal a profound patriotism, a hopeful idealism, and a keen understanding of the context and background of events as they unfolded. They also reveal a young man’s search for both adventure, and romance.

Admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Parts I & II is $5.00 for members and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Both programs are included in the admission price.

IMG_0245.jpg
1918 Time Capsule that will be opened on November 10, 2018

At 6:00pm the Berks History Center will reveal the contents of a 1918 Time Capsule during an unveiling ceremony. The Time Capsule Opening Ceremony is free to the public.

The day will conclude with a special performance by the Reading Choral Society. The Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert begins at 7:30pm in the Berks History Center Connor Auditorium. The concert will pay homage to Reading’s Liberty Chorus, which was founded in 1918, and will feature music popular during the era of the Great War.

Tickets for Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert are $5.00 for member and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Tickets must be purchased in advance and do not include admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I & II. Call 610-375-4375 to purchase tickets.

RCS Concert WWI_WebBanner

Launched in November 2017, the World War I & Berks project, was a year-long commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of World War I that examined Berks County’s contributions to the Great War and the effects the war had on our local community. The World War I & Berks exhibit, located in the Berks History Center’s Palmer Gallery, tells how Reading and Berks County responded to the nation’s call to arms with a remarkable eagerness to serve and unwavering patriotic displays. Additional stories about World War I were shared throughout the year on the Berks History Center’s blog and social media. Program attendees are invited to tour the World War I & Berks exhibit along with all of the other galleries and exhibits in the museum.

The Phenomenon of the Liberty Chorus

- 14082 - Bandstand 97-39
Bandshell Pavillion in City Park, c. 1918, BHC Research Library Collection

The Great War was a constant exercise in patriotism for the citizens of Reading and Berks County. Citizens were asked to support the war effort through Liberty Loan drives, which were followed by Red Cross drives and ongoing petitions to purchase War Savings Stamps. Meanwhile, the YMCA and YWCA required more young men and women to do their part in the name of victory for the soldiers fighting overseas. Amidst all these demands for local citizens to fulfill their patriotic duties, leaders in Berks worked tirelessly to keep the spirit of patriotism alive in Berks County. And thus, the Liberty Chorus was born.

On July 17, 1918 a meeting was held in the Chamber of Commerce to organize committees and appoint lieutenants to arrange community sings throughout the summer. The meeting consisted of leading musical representatives from the Reading Rotary, the Penn Wheelmen, the Kiwanis Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and other musical organizations.  The lieutenant’s role was to recruit choir singers and musicians to create a community singing chorus to lead the community in popular war songs. They believed a singing community would never know the burdens of war.

Reading had a reputation for its excellent singers and strong church choirs. Reading also had a prize-winning choral society under the direction of Edward Berg. With this rich history in organized singing, the Liberty Chorus was formed on July 18, 1918 with a membership of 350 men who were ready to keep the fires of patriotism burning in Berks County. The men present at the meeting that night could not have envisioned just how popular the Liberty Chorus would become.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 18 Jul 1918, Thu

The Liberty Chorus was headed by “sing leader” George F Eisenbrown. Before the American entry in the Great War, Eisenbrown was busy developing Muhlenberg Park, Illustrious Potentate of the Rajah Temple, and was partnered with his brother Charles in the family business, Eisenbrown Granite Works (P.F. Eisenbrown & Sons).

What began as a summertime experiment became a local phenomenon. Within a few weeks of their first sing at the 7th and Laurel playground on July 23, 1918, the Liberty Chorus had stoked the fires of the Reading’s patriotic spirit, making them a popular attraction in the community. They performed before crowds of 15,000 on Sundays in City Park. This was significant at a time when 19 men could be arrested for violating the Blue Laws for playing baseball.

Whether it was a pre-planned community sing or an impromptu appearance to celebrate good news from the Western Front, the Liberty Chorus made themselves available whenever the need to promote patriotism arose.  One such instance was a Sunday night/Monday morning gathering in front of the Berkshire Hotel. Despite unfortunate timing and weather, the Liberty Chorus sang their hearts out and led a parade of 5,000 citizens in joyous celebration through the rain-soaked streets of Reading (more on this topic in a future article).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

After the war, their popularity didn’t diminish, but their role in the promotion of patriotism drew to a close. Their performances were less frequent but still popular among the community. The Liberty Chorus was scheduled to lead a Christmas Carol sing-a-long on Christmas Eve in Penn Square, only to have it cancelled due to rain. Later they performed to honor the late, former President, Theodore Roosevelt at the Rajah Temple and they set an attendance record at the Colonial Theatre. Their last performance was on June 3, 1919 at the Auditorium on South 5th St to welcome home Company A, a fitting farewell to Reading’s Patriotic Singers.

On November 10, 2018, the Reading Choral Society will be bringing the sound of the Liberty Chorus back to life when our 1918 time capsule will be opened at the Berks History Center. The Reading Choral Society will be performing popular songs sung by the Liberty Chorus during the Great War. Click here for more information on this historic event. (for more on the Liberty Chorus, see the Historical Review of Berks County, Winter 2017-2018).

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

Through a Soldier’s Eyes: The Realities of the Great War

IMG-3475The swell of patriotism in Reading and Berks County in 1917 made the war theatre attractive to many young, impressionable men, who were called by their country to fight for freedom. At the time, activities on the home front were entirely focused on bringing a swift and decisive victory in France for our soldiers in the trenches. Countless loan drives helped to pay for the war and the citizens of Reading and Berks County pitched in to support our troops overseas. Meanwhile, new recruits departed as heros from the Outer Station with community celebrations, parades and music.

Surrounded by a community spirit of patriotic duty, young men from Reading and Berks entered the army by volunteering or draft, eager to be a part of the action. The young men who became the American Expeditionary Forces couldn’t wait to make folks at home proud. Unfortunately, what they discovered in Europe were conditions that were unimaginable. They quickly exchanged the romanticism and excitement of the war for a life wrought with hunger, fear and uncertainty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The soldiers who left Reading on August 25, 1917 became a machine gun company for the First composite National Guard attached to Company I. The company, which was comprised of soldiers from 26 states, departed from Mineola, NY and eventually saw action in France. The following excerpt is from the diary of Samuel Cole of the 125 Infantry, written on the Champagne Front. Cole was a Michigan native, but his account of what life was like during battle is powerful and moving. Many of Cole’s diary entries were matter of fact, detailing when he wrote letters, played a ballgame (Company I vs headquarters), and bunk fatigue. Other entries were duty-driven, describing his service: “hiked to reserve positions – weather hot, worked on barbed wire, saw aero plane battle, piece of shrapnel comes close. Rifle range – Faber, Cavanaugh, Willis, McCarney and I have beer party under tree.”  Yet other entries spoke of hunger and survival, boiling potatoes the size of marbles with small red beets and scavenging for food for days.

When action occurred, such as the conflict at Ferme de Ferret, Cole’s diary entries were lengthy and detailed. Cole vividly recounted days of fighting and the horrors of his experience. He even pasted additional space in the diary to include all the details of the day. The following is a portion of the entry by Cole on the activities he experienced on July 29, 1918:

We go over the top at 2:30 pm, see men get up from hillside ahead and go uphill. We cheer them on. Machine gunners tell us they are Germans, and we are front line. We crossed wheat field from St. Martins Road under heavy barrage, jump across the Oureq River and are ordered up Hill 212. The boys complained about the heavy packs and we were all carrying them. Told them to take them off. We started up the hill in the open. Found Van Wert and some others wounded. Corp. Wojciechowski called to me “lets give them hell Cole”. I shouted back “I’m with you we will show them”. The next time I looked, when he threw up his hands and whirled around shot through the forehead. He was a good friend of mine and a fine chap. It made me so mad I could have taken on the whole German Army. It was a sight I have dreamed about many times since. By the time we reached the top, there was only Smally, Dombrowski and myself out of the eight that started. Dombrowski got a bullet through the groin and crawled back down. Smily had a 20 shot Schechout French automatic Rifle, no extra clips. He went back down to find a rifle, never saw him again. The tallest cover I could find were weeds 3” high, kept down flat. Corp. Bancroft, company runner, crawled up, inquired of Captain Crabb. Reversed my position, laid on my back. Told him on the left somewhere, while we were talking, a shell exploded up front and my left foot went numb. Told Bancroft I was hit, probably by dead shrapnel. He left to look for Crabb. I waited a while, and I decided as I was alone on the extreme right of our unit, I better go back and come up farther on the left where our boys were. Started back bullets flying overhead, got partway down hill and shell exploded to right. Another and another, each one coming closer, the last one dropped 100’ to my right.  Shells started falling to my left coming closer each time. The last one dropped about 50’ away. I could see the jagged fragments of the shell as it exploded, the butt end sailing over my head. Was I ever scared. Up to now I was mad, now I was mad and scared. I went on down the hill, always stopped, took off my shoe and poured the blood out.

The machine gun division mentioned in Cole’s diary entry most likely included the soldiers from Reading. From J. Bennett Nolan’s “The Reading Militia in the Great War” A Divisional Citation of Major-General Charles T. Menoher states:

“Fresh from the battlefront before Chalons, you were thrown against the picked troops of Germany. For eight consecutive days you attacked skillfully prepared positions. You captured great stores of arms and ammunitions. You forced the crossing of the Oureq. You took Hill 212, Sergy, Meurcy, Ferme and Serenges by assault. You drove the enemy, including an Imperial Guard Division, before you for a depth of fifteen kilometers. When your infantry was relieved it was in full pursuit of the retreating Germans and your artillery continued to progress and support another American division in the advance of the Vesle.”

IMG-3487

The price of victory was steep for the young men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces. The combination of shell explosions, gas and gun fire made the wide-eyed soldiers hardened by death of friends, wounds suffered in battle, hunger, and the basic will to survive.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

 

 

Pitching In & Going Without: Patriotism in Berks County during the Great War

By May of 1918, the citizens of Reading and Berks County were confronted with the realities of war on a daily basis. The war itself may have been fought on foreign soil, but its presence was felt intimately at home. Whether in the form of food rationing, loan drives, or new recruits leaving for camp in preparation for the battlefields of France, the never-ending sacrifices of war had a huge impact on the citizens of Berks County.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 01 May 1918, Wed Cole Watson.png
Reading Times  May 1, 1918, Cole Watson

The Third Liberty Loan Drive was nearing its completion when the last fight card of the season was scheduled by Cole Watson’s Athletic Club at The Auditorium on April 30th.  At the event, patrons were greeted by Sergeant Manning Grimes of Providence R.I., a wounded soldier who returned from France and made his pledge to the patrons that buying Liberty Bonds will help our boys beat the Kaiser. This was the first time boxing patrons were solicited to purchase Liberty Bonds, and the 1,000 patrons responded with bond purchases in the amount of $9,000.

In addition to raising funds, the people of Berks County were accustomed to going without in a time of war. Citizens were already rationing food on pork, meat and wheat-less days, and by the end of April 1918, the Food Administration introduced a 90-day pastry abstinence, which went into effect on May 1, 1918. The pastry abstinence was enacted to conserve flour shortly after Food Administrator Davies battled with Reading bakeries over the price of bread.  The city of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start war gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Sterling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 24 Apr 1918, Wed
Reading Times  · April 24, 1918

Local media encouraged citizens to do their part and get on board with the war effort. A story appeared in the Reading Times about a much-married slacker who was arrested in Reading and returned to York. Paul Sweitzer, alias George Krause, was arrested for failing to register with his draft board in York. City detectives ran down a series of clues on Sweitzer, who married 16-year-old Augusta Hunf of Reading four years prior. The two lived with Hunf’s parents until they ran away, dressing his bride as a man as they hopped freight trains toward Pittsburgh. They were attacked by tramps out west, where Sweitzer shot one of the tramps. Sweitzer spent 6 months in jail for the shooting, and police sent his wife back home. When Sweitzer returned, he took out an $1,000 insurance policy out on his wife. He then made a concoction for his wife, which made her deathly ill. Sweitzer then disappeared, as his wife was saved by means of a stomach pump from his deadly act. Two years later he published accounts of his fake death. Believing Sweitzer was dead, Hunf later married another man. Sweitzer then married again under the name of Krause. Reading police learned of Krause from his second wife, Mary Phillips. The two had lived in York and then Reading when police were on the lookout for a slacker named Sweitzer. Phillips became suspicious and reported her husband to the police, when they discovered his hidden identity.

On May 18, 1918, 2,000 women marched in the Red Cross March of Mercy, which kicked off the nation’s hundred million drive for the Red Cross, with Berks County’s quota at $150,000. Over 6,000 people marched in the parade, with Ernest J. Poole as chief marshal of the parade. The parade consisted of 5 divisions that formed in City Park and included Red Cross workers, students from the girl’s high school, fraternal organizations, loan workers, civic organizations and students from the boy’s high school. The parade began at the head of Penn Street, marched down to 4th Street and counter-marched to 10th Street before dispersing at Franklin Street. Miss Catherine Gilbert, who dressed as Miss Liberty for the Boy Scouts Liberty Loan parade in April, exchanged her Liberty costume for a Red Cross outfit for this parade.

Red Cross March of Mercy Parade Reading, PA watermark.jpg
Red Cross March of Mercy Parade Reading, PA from the Collection of Berks History Center

Gilbert had just finished up touring the county as Miss Liberty for the War Savings Stamps drive. She then began a week long 90-mile tour of Berks County for a series of open air meetings dressed as a Red Cross Nurse. The tour would leave Reading each evening at 5:30PM, making multiple stops along each route.  The drive had the presence of a British and French soldier, who had seen much service in Europe.  The soldiers attended meetings during the day in Reading and accompanied Miss Gilbert on the evening tours in the county. The evening tours ended with destinations in Boyertown, Hamburg, Birdsboro, Kutztown and Womelsdorf. In each instance, the tour was met with large gatherings, including parades through Hamburg and Boyertown, which were led by the local Boy Scout troops. The drive started on May 20, 1918. Typical of Berks County’s patriotic response for a drive of any type, the county doubled its quota, raising $300,000 for the Red Cross drive. The Wolfinger Knitting Mill went over the top by contributing 100 percent by May 18th, doubling their quota of $195 and thus receiving a 100 percent flag with a gold star.

Jere Edwards had just completed his Sunday lectures at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium on the war and the conditions our soldiers experienced at the front. The lectures were well attended. Edwards, the General Secretary of the Reading Y.M.C.A., left late in 1916 to work with the International YMCA in Cairo, Egypt and operate a service hut in France. He returned from Europe in November 1917.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 01 May 1918, Wed
Reading Times · May 01 ,1918

With all the happenings around Reading and Berks at this time, from food rationing and war gardens, loan drives, Red Cross parades and tours, war lectures at the Y.M.C.A., or slackers being picked up for failure to register to their draft boards, the citizens of Reading and Berks County never wavered in their commitment to their patriotic duty. At the time, reports were coming back of casualties to U.S. soldiers, who were fighting at the frontlines. Letters would appear in the Reading Times from a soldier “somewhere in France” telling of life in the trenches. The reality of the Great War left six Berks County soldiers in graves in France and one at the bottom of the Atlantic, all at the hands of the enemy. Others had died from disease. Memorial Day in 1918 had a very solemn meaning for the citizens of Berks.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

All In: Life in a Time of War

img-2877.jpgDuring his popular Sunday lectures on the war conditions in France, Jere Edwards, General Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. of Reading, gave a presentation on “Womanhood and the War – Her Bravery and Sacrifice” which presented women capable of more than just the delicate things in life, but qualified to take her place in any department of activity, even to the extent of engaging in a world war. This report in the Reading Times gave a vivid description of the role women played in Europe and how their involvement was both encouraged and required in the allied efforts abroad.

The nurses of the Red Cross were the first to answer the call, participating long before the United States became involved in the conflict. Initially, they contributed as part of a humanitarian effort, which placed their services wherever they were needed. Once the United States entered the war, the Red Cross immediately served the United States. Those who served in Europe experienced the dangers of the war and risked their lives providing medical care on the front lines. At home, a service flag was unfurled at the Reading Hospital Alumni Association for the women who were doing their part for the war effort overseas.

womenwanted Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 11 Dec 1917,

As young men answered the call to defend their country, women stepped in to fill a much-needed void of male laborers in the workplace. It was not uncommon during WWI to see women employed in the mill at Carpenter Steel, a plant that was vital to war production. The women of Berks also took classes for mechanical drawing at the Boys High School and filled positions that they would not usually be offered, such as clerical, sales and railroad work. The Pennsylvania Railroad published women-only advertisements to hire women for work around the stations and tracks.

As the war continued in Europe, the traditional roles played by the citizens of Reading and Berks County were challenged. While many women volunteered for the Red Cross or the Y.W.C.A., others stepped in and fill the void in the workplace. Money needed to be raised for the war effort as well, and an enthusiastic group led an aggressive campaign to raise funds. By March 1918, everybody had a hand in helping the United States beat the Kaiser: soldiers fought overseas while citizens supported them at home.

call to service Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 28 Mar 1918,

The local stories from Reading and Berks County are a never-ending parade of patriotism in the form of a willingness to serve, an abundance of unwavering patriotism and an endless stream of donations in the form of Liberty Loans, War Saving Stamps, and Red Cross Drives. Each one of these drives were carefully planned and executed with precision. The Third Liberty Loan Drive kicked off in March 1918 with the goal of earning $1,000,000 in local subscriptions. The drive began by training 35 Boy Scouts from the Y.M.C.A. in military drills. Robert L. Leslie of the League Island Navy Yard led the instruction every Thursday night in the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium. The drills served as motivation for the boys, who were responsible for carrying out The Liberty Loan Drive. The Scouts went door-to-door, soliciting funds for the loan drive. Locally, the Boy Scouts had a force of 1,200 scouts ready to take to the streets in the name of liberty.

The drive began on April 6, 1918 and was kicked off with a rally at the Rajah Theatre on March 28th. The theatre was packed to capacity with a lively crowd, eager to hear the speeches promoting the Liberty Loan Drive. Sergeant Lawton Dixon, a Canadian, told gripping stories about the battles of France, such as how he lost his leg and his brother while fighting on the battlefield. This wasn’t the only loan promotion going on that day in Reading. A group of women gathered at the Weiser and Douglass school building to listen to Food Administrator Davies talk about Thrift Stamps. The meeting highlighted the fact that liberty came at a price and everyone had to do her part to ensure that liberty was secure.

Ludwig Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 15 Mar 1918,

Just as the Liberty Loan Drive was gaining steam, Reading received devastating news about one of its soldiers. On March 14, 1918, the newspapers reported that Paul Ludwig from Company I, Rainbow Division had been killed in battle overseas. At the time, details about the locations of particular regiments were never revealed in the paper – until news reached home of a soldier’s death. Once the news about Ludwig had been published, every family who had a son in the Rainbow Division knew where their child was overseas. The following day, the news reported another loss: William F. Gehring of Company I, Rainbow Division. Ludwig died while fighting on the front lines. His death meant that every young man in who served with Ludwig faced the same dangers. For his sacrifice, Paul Ludwig was awarded the Croix de Guerre from France for his heroism in battle.

As the residents of Reading and Berks grappled with the loss of their own, they also prepared for something that they had never experienced. In an effort to conserve fuel that produced electric power, the United States followed in the footsteps of other countries by enacting Daylight Savings Time on March 19, 1918. The clocks were scheduled to move forward on March 31, 1918, just in time for Easter. The law proved to be so unpopular it was repealed in 1919. The second introduction of Daylight Savings Time, or War Time, was introduced by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942.

daylight savings Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · 22 Mar 1918,

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.