Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia



How did canning food at home aid the war effort during WWII?

Lesson Images

Letter to Darden, canning, pg 1

Mrs. M. A. Thomas to Governor Colgate Whitehead Darden, 14 August 1942, Virginia, Governor (1942–1942): Darden, Executive Papers, 1942–1946, Accession 23566, Box 59, Record Group 3, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. (Transcription)

Letter to Darden, canning, pg 1

Mrs. M. A. Thomas to Governor Colgate Whitehead Darden, 14 August 1942, Virginia, Governor (1942–1942): Darden, Executive Papers, 1942–1946, Accession 23566, Box 59, Record Group 3, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. (Transcription)

Can All You Can. It's a Real War Job! Washington, D.C.: Office of War Information, 1943, Poster Collection, Special Collections, Poster WWII OWI .C362 E4-O, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards Of Learning

CE.1, CE.3, USII.1, USII.8, VS.1, VUS.1, VUS.12

Historical Information:

During World War II citizens were asked to can foods at home in order to help with the war effort. Use this government-issued poster and an August 1942 letter by Naomi Thomas to Virginia governor Colgate Darden to begin a discussion about life on the home front during WWII.

During World War II the American government asked civilians to participate in the war effort. A common way for the government to communicate with civilians was through posters hung in public places. Inspirational, informative, instructive, imploring—the posters were a major part of the war effort. Virginians would have seen many of the posters. In addition to activities like buying war bonds and collecting scrap metal, people were asked to conserve food and to plant "Victory Gardens" so they could grow enough to supplement their diets. In order to make the season's harvest last, people canned food at home to preserve fruits and vegetables for use throughout the year.

In August 1942, Naomi Lovelace Thomas wrote to Governor Colgate Darden to ask if her extra home-canned goods could be of use to the United States Army. Filed with her letter, in the Governor's Papers, is a copy of Darden's response that he would inquire whether the armed forces would accept privately canned foodstuffs. Although her letter is dated months before the purchase of canned goods would be rationed, Mrs. Thomas understood that the availability of nutritious food would be important to the war effort. The armed services did not benefit directly from Mrs. Thomas's garden, however, her hard work, like that of many other Americans, provided food locally, lessening the demand on commercial crops, and helping the military feed the soldiers. Working to make sure that everyday behaviors helped the troops was seen as a patriotic duty, and a way to fight the war on the home front.

Vocabulary Words:

• Ration—a fixed allowance of provisions or food, especially for soldiers or sailors or for civilians during a shortage.

• Conserve—to use or manage (natural resources) wisely; preserve; save.

• Preserve—to prepare food for storage and future use by salting, pickling, canning, or the like.

• War Bond—a certificate of debt issued by a government or corporation during time of war, guaranteeing payment of the original investment plus interest by a specified future date.

• Propaganda— information publicized by organizations or government to promote a policy, idea, or cause.

Lesson Activities

• Display the poster to students without revealing any information concerning it. Have them:

♦  Analyze the purpose or intent of its message.

♦  How is its purpose communicated?

♦  Evaluate what impact the poster might have had on a citizen.

♦  Consider the time period the poster was developed and used.

• Transcribe Mrs. Thomas's letter and answer key questions.

♦ To whom is the letter addressed?

♦ What is the purpose of the letter? Why might the person have felt it was “patriotic and right” to give away vegetables? What was happening in 1942?

♦ In the phrase “and I can a considerable lot," what does "can" mean? Why and how did people can?

♦ Who do you think might have written the letter? 

• Collect and analyze current advertisements. What products or messages are being communicated? How do these relate to current events? Compare the purpose of these messages to the purpose of the historic poster.

• Design a poster related to a current event. Explain the significance of your choice.

• Analyze the art form in the poster. Why was this medium chosen? How does the choice of color influence the message? What influence does object placement have?

• Is this poster considered art? Would the designation of the poster as art or not as art have changed over time? Compare the poster to popular culture art, for example: Andy Warhol's works. Do these relate? How?

• Find a recipe to can vegetables that might have been used by a person in the 1940s. Discuss it in conjunction with the poster and letter. What can you learn about life in the 1940s from reading the recipe?

• Search the Internet for an image of a person canning. What can you tell from the image?

• Draft a letter you think might have been written in response to Mrs. Thomas's letter.

Research and Discussion Questions:

• How are the poster and Mrs. Thomas's letter related?

• One aspect of being a good citizen is fulfilling responsibilities. What are those responsibilities? How do serving in the armed forces and canning goods relate to each other? Is one more important or significant? Why or why not?

• In what ways other than canning did people contribute to the war effort?

• How is self-reliance an important personal character trait for participation in civic life?

• Was Mrs. Thomas's letter written to a member of the legislative, executive, or judicial branch of the government? Why do you think this branch of government was involved? How does this letter reflect the responsibilities of this branch? How might this letter have influenced public policy? Do you feel this was an effective technique? Was this the author's intent?

• How do the poster and letter represent good citizenship? Search the newspaper for examples of citizenship and patriotism today.

• Discuss the contribution Mrs. Thomas was willing to make. Why might she have been so motivated?

• Mrs. Thomas's letter illustrates a basic economic principle. Which one and why? What are the implications of scarcity in the marketplace? How does this relate to supply and demand?

• Research women's involvement in World War II. Answer these questions: What were some of the jobs women did during World War II? How did these jobs differ from the ones women traditionally did? What was the effect of women's involvement in the war effort on American Society after the war ended?

Suggested Materials

Kimble, James J. Mobilizing the Home Front: War Bonds and Domestic Propaganda. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

Nagy, Alex. "World Wars at Home: U.S. Response to World War II Propaganda." Journalism Quarterly 67 no. 1 (Spring 1990): 207–213.

Bird, William L., Jr. and Harry R. Rubenstein. Design for Victory: World War II Posters on the American Home Front. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.

Colman, Penny. Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995.

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