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
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.
Drawing upon information from their collections and additional historical research, the Berks History Center (BHC) will embark upon an educational campaign and community story-telling project to promote home gardening for food security in Berks County and beyond. The initiative focuses on the revitalization of historic victory gardens, providing both the historical context and practical information for home-scale food production.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will launch digitally on Monday, April 13th on the Berks History Center’s social media platforms and will feature home gardening techniques for both urban and suburban residents as well as the national and local history behind victory gardening. Homeowners and renters alike are encouraged to participate and share stories about their victory gardening efforts using the hashtag #BerksHistoryforVictory
Currently closed to the public as ordered by Governor Tom Wolf and the PA Department of Health, the BHC has continued its operations remotely, employing all staff for the duration of the shut-down. Although many day-to-day roles involve interacting with visitors, the BHC quickly re-strategized after closing in March and developed creative ways to continue serving their community in a time of need.
“Despite losses to a significant portion of our revenue stream, our team has been able to adapt quickly, developing creative solutions to allow the organization to retain staff and continue fulfilling our mission,” says Executive Director, Benjamin Neely.
In the first week of the shutdown, the BHC launched “Berks History at Home” an educational resource page on the BHC website. The page allows families to explore Berks County’s history digitally with entertaining videos, a wealth of stories and articles, and a variety of resources and learning activities for families including downloadable coloring pages, junior historian prompts and more. Additional content is being released on the Berks History Center’s social media channels.
Reading Times, April 22, 1918
Reading Times, April 22, 1918
As state-wide stay at home measures were implemented, the BHC looked to the history books and discovered that in times of crisis, the American people, and more specifically the people of Berks County, have always been ingenuitive, adaptive, and overwhelmingly generous.
“In the past, producing food at home was an act of national solidarity in times of crisis, collectively taking the strain off of the American food system during the great world wars. Today, with uncertainty in our future, we can look to the lessons of the past to get us through this difficult time,” says Associate Director, Alexis Campbell.
“Gardening can be daunting for some, but we hope to demonstrate that home food production is both possible and fun, not to mention therapeutic. Even if you only grow one potted plant, we hope that gardening at home will be a source of inspiration and comfort, connecting you to the past and uniting our community in troubled times.”
First promoted during WWI, Americans were encouraged to produce their own food by planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, churchyards, city parks, and playgrounds.
At that time, the City of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start victory 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 Stirling 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.
Victory Gardens were again promoted by the U.S. government during World War II complementing a country-wide Food Rationing Program in 1942. Victory gardens were widely promoted during 1943 through 1945. However, once the war ended, so did government promotions and America’s reliance on victory gardens.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign is primarily a digital learning experience, with historic images, stories and instructional videos released on social media. Two BHC staff will provide video-journals of their home gardening efforts. The BHC hopes to expand the program, by installing a small demonstration garden and living exhibit on the grounds of the BHC museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. However, plans to do so are tentative and dependent on the status of the state-wide stay at home order.
The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will complement a “Victory Container Garden” initiative led by District 1 Councilwoman, Lucine Sihelnik. By joining Sihelnik’s District 1 Victory Container Garden taskforce, the BHC will work to cultivate the community food system during the outbreak. Further collaborations are expected to grow, as the BHC and the task force encourage all citizens, community organizations, and businesses to get behind the revitalization of home food gardening.
“Victory Gardens are a positive way to feed our community, inspire stewardship, and are fruitful economically,” says Councilwoman Sihelnik.
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.
I have to admit, I never heard of Hilde Peplau until about ten years ago when I read about her in Irene Reed’s book, Berks County Women in History, Volume 2. Hildegard was one of the world’s leading nurses! Nursing is a profession I admire greatly because I know I could never do that job! I didn’t get squeamish when my kids got sick or needed stitches, but I just know I couldn’t do that job day after day! I guess that’s why they say, “Different strokes, for different folks!”
Hilde was born in Reading in 1909, the second daughter of Gustav and Ottylie Peplau. She had two sisters and three brothers. She was nine years old when she witnessed the flu pandemic of 1918. When she observed how this event impacted families, she decided to become a nurse.
In 1931 she graduated from Pottstown’s School of Nursing. She worked as a staff nurse in Pennsylvania and New York City and then became the school nurse at Bennington College in Vermont. While there, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology in 1943. Her lifelong work was focused on interpersonal theory for use in the nursing practice. During WWII she served in the Army nurse corps at the 312th Field Station Hospital in England. She worked side by side with many of the leaders in American and British psychiatry. After the war these leaders, mostly men, and Hilde, worked to restructure the mental health system in the US. After earning her Master’s Degree and Ph.D, she developed and taught the first classes for graduate psychiatric nursing students. She was a prolific writer and was well known for her programs, speeches and clinical training workshops.
Hilde advocated for nurses to treat psychiatric patients with therapeutic methods, not just custodial care which was how patients in mental hospitals were treated in that era. She conducted summer workshops during the 50s and 60s for nurses throughout the US. At these workshops, she taught interpersonal concepts as well as individual, family and group therapy. Her textbook from 1952 has been translated into nine languages. She tried to publish it in 1948, when it was finished, but publication was delayed four years, because it was thought to be too revolutionary for a nurse to publish a book without a doctor as co-author! When she passed away in 1999, she was known to many people as “The Nurse of the Century”. In 1997 she received the world of nursing’s most prestigious award, the Christiane Reimann Prize. This honor is only given once every four years for outstanding national and international contributions to nursing and health care. The American Academy of Nursing honored Hilde as a “Living Legend” in 1996 and in 1998 the American Nurses Association inducted her into the ANA Hall of Fame. Our Hildegard Peplau, from Reading, PA, is regarded as “the mother of psychiatric nursing”!
Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County.
Mystery Woman of the Week #4
I wrote the poem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which was later set to music, during the Civil War. President Lincoln is said to have wept upon hearing it sung. Who am I?
During WWII, The Reading Eagle published weekly newspapers and sent them to Berks Countians serving overseas. Did you know that another group of local residents created their own publication to send to Berks natives during the war? The Berks History Center is fortunate to have many of these monthly newsletters in our Research Library collection!
When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, a non-profit organization called the The United Service Organizations (U.S.O.) was founded at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. The organization’s purpose was to boost morale of troops fighting in World War II. Shortly after the war began, a group of citizens from Berks County decided to enclose a note to servicemen along with the stationary provided by the U.S.O. The group invited local servicemen to write to them in order to keep up with news from home.
The response was overwhelming, so D.R. Shenton and Claire Henry decided to start a newsletter that could be mass produced, instead of writing to each soldier individually. They called it “The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces.” Shenton acted as editor and Henry kept up with correspondence as secretary. Their first official newsletter went out on September 1, 1942. Each newsletter included news about local events, the merits of local soldiers (Lt. General Carl Spaatz’s name appeared often) and a special sports section.
Local organizations, like churches, clubs, and unions could sponsor copies of the newsletter to send out to their members. Henry wrote to a friend in England that the newsletters and other correspondence were constant work, however the men seemed to enjoy them and appreciate their work. Letters steadily came in from Berks County natives expressing their thanks—most of their correspondence also included change of address information so they would continue to receive the latest news. The Writers’ Service continued sending newsletters, at least until V-J Day in August 1945. There is no record of The Writers’ Service in any local publication, including the Reading Eagle or The Historical Review of Berks County.
Claire Henry, secretary of The Writers’ Service, was an antique collector and antiques dealer. She corresponded with friends in England, often about the latest piece they found in London, and if she wanted them to send it to her in Pennsylvania. One of her shipments in 1942, was sunk by enemy fire while sailing across the Atlantic. Claire noted how disappointed she was that good antiques ended up on the ocean floor. Henry lived in West Lawn, a suburb of Reading. Her sister, Margaret Henry Moeller, stayed with Henry while her husband, A.R. Moeller, served in the war. It is likely their mother and sister lived there as well. Henry died at the age of 101, in 1995. According to her obituary, she lived in Indiana for many years, where she ran a ceramics shop, before returning to Berks County.
D.R. Shenton went on to act as co-editor for The Historical Review for over ten years. He never wrote an article about his work on the newsletters. He died on May 9, 1962.
AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection, which contains these materials, is available to use for research at The Berks History Center Research Library.
Article Written & Researched by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik.
It is not uncommon to find letters written during wartime–either in archival collections or in personal collections kept within the family.
During World War II, you might have received or sent a letter in the “V-mail” (“Victory mail”) format. Letters were written on special paper and then microfilmed to reduce space. The microfilm rolls were shipped and reproduced at another location, and then delivered to the intended recipient.
Although traditional first class mail was preferred, over 1 billion pieces of V-mail were sent and received during WWII! We have a few pieces of V-mail in the Berks History Center’s Research Library. The letter pictured above was written to thank a local group for producing newsletters and sending them to Berks servicemen around the world.
(V-mail letter, Berks History Center Library, AC 80)
Researched & Written by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik
Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company traces its beginnings back to 1740 when William Bird built a forge, a saw mill and grist mill and founded the town of Birdsboro. His oldest son, Marcus, enlarged on his father’s work and constructed Hopewell Furnace. He was the largest producer of iron in America during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the forges have financial problems caused the Birds to sell their assets to Matthew Brooke changed the name to the Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company.
The forges were most successful under Brooke’s management in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War, the company produced munitions and armaments for the Union Army and began manufacturing parts for railroad cars and locomotives. This was the beginning of steel production for the family. The company continued its tradition of supplying the armed forces with providing the Navy with material for building a steel fleet during the late 19th century.
In 1906, the management decided to erect a large modern steel foundry with a potential capacity of approximately 3000 tons per month for making steel castings. In World War II, the government contracted with Birdsboro Steel and Foundry and Machine Company to produce tanks and artillery for the war effort. In 1944, a manufacturing subsidiary was established for weapons manufacturing known as Armorcast. By the end of the war, the company began to manufacture more industrial equipment, many used in the production of steel.
After 1947, the federal government and several businessmen tried to sell or use the space. Armorcast failed to win a government contract to continue production in 1975 and the plant closed in 1988 after a lengthy strike. The four smokestacks, collapsed in the planned implosion to make way for a new power-generating facility, were the last vestiges of a regional history of manufacturing started before the American Revolution.
“Manufacturing evolved from making cannon for Revolutionary War to making tanks for World War II,” said Sanders, 70, former Superintendent of Hopewell Furnace. “All that’s gone now.”
Today we remember the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even though Oahu is over 4,000 miles from Reading, the reporters at the Reading Eagle and Reading Times jumped into action when the news broke. By 5:30pmthat Sunday, the Eagle put out the first of two extra editions reporting on the attack. According to an article published on Monday, December 9th, the reporters had acted so fast they printed the first extra “even before the bombs stopped falling,” beating all the “out-of-town” papers in bringing Berks Countians the information they needed. Many local men were already serving in the Pacific in December 1941, and many parents would have wanted to stay updated on the day’s events.
(“The Reading Eagle,” Sunday, December 7, 1941, Special Extra Edition, from BHC’s Henry Janssen Library Microfilm Collection, reproduced with permission of the Reading Eagle Company)