Popular Posts


Monday, June 4, 2018

Good Dog, Bad Dog

OUR DOG HENRY. This 8-year old standard poodle is better than medicine at keeping his staff (the author and spouse Carolyn) healthy and busy with walks, play and trips in and out of the back door.  He is one of a long line of dogs we have owned and is generally a good dog. 
Journal Opinion May 30, 2018
This Currier & Ives print features a Newfoundland dog having rescued a child. This breed of dogs possesses a natural instinct to rescue individuals from drowning. There are numerous 19th century stories of these dogs participating in water rescues.  

For centuries dogs have either scavenged for their food or accepted leftover from the family meal.  Around 1860, English businessman James Spratt introduced the first commercially-prepared dog food to the British market. It became available in America in the 1890s.

DOGS OF WAR.  Since colonial times, dogs have worked with American soldiers.  They have been guards, messengers, scouts and companions. It is estimated that scout dogs saved 10,000 American lives during the Vietnam War.  Pictured are several of those canines accompanying American soldiers in that war. 
"Osmo’s a year and a half old chocolate lab. And I have not been his biggest fan.  He’s been so naughty, but I’ve realizing now that he belongs with us. So what if he’s eaten $600 worth of shoes.”

Jennifer Martin Benware, Bradford, VT, 2018 

On May 16, this newspaper published the 2018 Pet Parade  The photo feature highlighted dogs as well as other pets. This column describes the roles dogs played in our history. Sources include A Dog’s History of America by Mark Derr, Pets in America by Katherine Grier, newspaper archives and stories sent to me by local residents.

While searching my collection of local histories, I found almost nothing on local dogs. They were so taken for granted the authors did not find them noteworthy. Even earlier local newspaper stories were likely to be about dogs from afar.  

Canines were humans’ first domesticated animal and their roles in human culture were well established by the time they accompanied their masters to this hemisphere over 30,000 years ago. For Native Americans, they were guards, hunters, beasts of burden, companions, and, in some cases, worshiped or eaten. 

Dogs also accompanied European settlers to the New World. In early New England, colonists used dogs to guard homes, manage livestock, kill wolves and vermin, power machinery, pull carts and pursue enemies. Species included mastiffs, spaniels and greyhounds.

Although unmentioned in local histories, it seems likely that settlers of this region brought dogs with them as companions and protections against the dangers of the frontier. Since they were untaxed, dogs were not mentioned as possessions or listed in wills.

 In 1853, Vermont historian Zadock Thompson wrote, “In Vermont, each family in the country usually finds it convenient to keep one dog…in the villages a few dogs are kept, better if fewer.”   

While not all wandering dogs created problems, tramps or uncontrolled dogs have always been a problem. Some were merely “free range,” following their owners or patrolling their neighborhoods. As scavengers, they were somewhat desirable. In 1877, the Bradford Opinion said that a dog “that wanders, looking for a handout or a chance to steal whatever he may find to eat.” It reported that Orford’s Willard Brothers had a tramp dog “which all people will do well to pass on the other side.”  This spoke to the  fear of attacks, dog bites, rabies, and hydrophobia, believed to be a symptom of rabies in humans. 

These fears were not unfounded. Local newspapers carried stories of humans being attacked by “mad dogs,” but most reports were from locations afar.

As early as 1801, several urban areas passed ordinances forbidding dogs from running at large. In one case, they were required to wear wire-basket muzzles. These cities also attempted to control wandering as a cause of unwanted pregnancies. Some cities sponsored “dog killing sprees.”

The attacks that were local and caused considerable damage were against livestock, especially sheep.  In 1878, the St. Albans Messenger carried an article calling for a “more stringent” control of dogs.  It quoted one farmer who believed that “sheep would prosper if dogs were annihilated.” The article used the word “slut” in reference to these  “miserable mongrels.” An article in The United Opinion in 1886 suggested “A dog is only a civilized wolf anyway.” 

Locally, dog attacks on sheep  created a “sad havoc.” In 1877, dogs killed more than 20 sheep belonging to Mrs. H. Keyes of Newbury. In Vershire in February, 1884, it was reported that a dog “killed forty sheep recently, and its owner has just sacrificed the animal.” In 1900, the Smith family of South Newbury abandoned sheep because of the damage inflicted by dogs.

The Vermont Department of Agriculture report of 1920 reported that the damage inflicted by “four worthless curs” was an example of dogs that “slink off and destroy sheep or kill poultry…and even kill hogs and small cattle. You must control the dog!”

 There have been a few reports of dog attacks on sheep in this newspaper in the last 30. Iinterviews with those who keep sheep today indicate they keep up their guard, but attacks are not a significant problem. 

Attacks on deer were, and still are,  another problem. Local articles from Newbury and Vershire in the first decade of the 20th century refer to deer being harassed by local dogs. The 1892 report of the Vermont Fish Commission stated that the use of dogs to hunt deer is illegal and the law permits the killing of dogs running at large and killing deer. Leash laws have limited the number of dogs allowed to run without supervision. New Hampshire has a state-wide leash law while Vermont leaves it to individual communities. 

Licensing was another technique used to control dogs. Vermont required dogs to be licensed in 1876.   Individual towns in New Hampshire began that practice as early as 1871 and the state  began requiring towns to license in 1891. Towns collected fees and placed them in a dog fund from which compensation for damage caused by dogs against sheep was paid, “but it  was never enough.”        

While attacks on livestock and deer were prohibited, hunting dogs have been prized. Orford’s Mt Cube is said to be originally named Mt. Cuba in honor of a favorite hunting dog killed by a bear on its slopes.     In 1871, it was reported that “Edgar Bragg of West Fairlee has a dog that has caught and killed one hundred and five woodchucks during the summer and is good for as many more.”     

While earlier dogs, on the whole, had been “mistreated and held in contempt,” by the mid-19th century, many dogs were looked upon by their owners as good, loyal and adoring pets. Generally, dogs ownership reflected both the personality  and economic status of owners. The wealthy were more likely to own purebred dogs while the poorer often had mixed breed common dogs as companions or workers. 

Breeding purebred dogs became more common in the mid-19th century. In 1884 the American Kennel Club was created to promote them. Dog shows were held to exhibit the breeds best specimens. Dorr writes that some imported breeds became the object of fads. One of the most popular was the St. Bernard. In 1887, The United Opinion suggested “Everyone should see these noble animals.”

By the 1880s, the Scotch collie became the new fashionable dog followed by the Boston terrier.  Breeders treated dogs as a consumer products  and skillful breeding changed their shape and markings to meet the customer demands.

Images of dogs began to appear in commercial trade cards, greeting cards, calendars, children’s books and as ceramic figurines.  Increasingly, stories of dogs implied that they possessed human emotions. Theft of valuable dogs was not uncommon.

Articles on the treatment of dogs proliferated. The New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established in 1842, one of the earliest animal welfare groups in the nation. Despite calls for it, the Vermont SPCA was not established until 1889 and  cruelty to livestock seemed to be its first focus.

In 1893, The Country Gentleman included the following: “If you own a good dog, do not kick him outdoors when you go to bed and tell him to shift for himself.  He cannot expect to remain a good dog long.” The United Opinion published a long article in January, 1895, on kindness to house dogs, with suggestions for housing, feeding and bathing. 

Many families fed their dogs food scraps from their tables, bathed them in homemade soap and doctored them at home.  Around 1900, commercial dog food began to appear. In 1908, an ad for Spratt’s Famous Dog Cakes & Puppy Bread appeared in a Vermont newspaper claiming “What oatmeal is to Scotch children, Spratt’s food is to Dogs.”

Dogs have always played a role in America’s armed services. During colonial wars, they were used hunt enemies and haul supplies. Soldier dogs accompanied units in the Civil War. “Mike” was the pet dog of the 1st Vermont Calvary. In World War I, “Stubby” a pet for the Yankee Division, was decorated by General Pershing and was made an honorary Sergeant. In addition to being companions for soldiers, dogs carried messages, detected hidden bombs, acted as guards and scouts and hauled supplies, functions they continued to perform in later wars. In World War II, a dog named “Chips” was awarded a Purple Heart, despite having nipped Gen. Eisenhower.

Scout-dogs were used in Vietnam to detect ambushes and find booby traps. It is estimated that they saved 10,000 American lives during that conflict. The bonds that developed between the handlers and their dog in that and later conflicts, have been tearfully chronicled as, after 1971, they are reunited in America following discharge. 

Dogs also played a role as police dogs and became attached to fire companies. Their extraordinary sense of smell and an ability to be trained, made them invaluable as search-and-rescue dogs. Over the years, the same talents that led to the rescue of lost children was used to track runaway slaves and inmates. The same protective instincts that rescued families from attack or fire was used by police against protesters.  

The concept of training service dogs began in the 1930’s with assistance for visually-impaired. Service dogs now assist those who are hearing-impaired or suffer from a wide number of conditions including PTSD, epilepsy, stress and diabetes.

Some dogs have become famous. There have been Presidential dogs including FDR’s Fala and Obama’s Bo. Television and films have made Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Benji and Old Yeller dog screen legends. The Little Rascals had Petey while at the opposite end of entertainment dogdom, Stephen King’s created the  terrifying canine, Cujo.  

In times past, there were a number of dogs that caught the attention of the public. In the 1890’s there was Owney, the railroad dog. For a number of years, this postal dog hitched rides on trains throughout the Northeast. He would get off a different stations to “inspect” and was cared for by railroad employees. The United Opinion mentioned that about once a year Owney would take a trip through Vermont. 

In 1903, Bud, a bull terrier, rode shot-gun on the first successful cross-country auto trip.  Picked up in Idaho by Burlington physician H. Nelson Jackson and his mechanic Sewell Crocker, Bud was outfitted with googles for the remainder of the New York-bound excursion.

Locally, there were well-known dogs.  In 1897, a published report mentioned the death of Rover, “the faithful old dog” that belonged to Charles Smith of West Topsham. “His familiar figure will be missed by everyone in the village as he was a universal favorite.” That same year there was a “tale of a sagacious dog” from Corinth who sought help when its elder mistress Mrs. George Jewell fell while out of doors in a storm.

 And there were dogs known for their astuteness. In 1895, there was a report of a shepherd dog in Bradford that was especially adept at herding cows for his master. One day he abandoned his herding to run off into the woods. His master discovered that the dog had found a break in a fence and guarded it to prevent his herd from straying. In 1917, a tongue in cheek report was published about a Newbury Center dog who left the neighborhood in an attempt to evade taxation. That, the report concluded, was a “wise dog.”

I requested dog stories from locals.  I was told about Hockey Puck, the Rottweiller of Piermont who  fell into a manure lagoon while chasing a cat. There were Corkey and Rusty who saved a West Newbury youngster from the “threat” of a woodchuck. Tatters grew up in the 1950s as a partner in the most daring of imaginative adventures with little Cynthia. 

Teddy was a cocker spaniel just a few weeks older than his master. When the family moved from a village home to a farm, it took Teddy several years to stop making daily three-mile round trip to the old home. Sam was described as a “gentle protector” that once led a three year old youngster away from the dangers of a nearby road.  And, of course, there was Osmo, the shoe-destroying chocolate lab. 

If you were to look back at the photos in the Pet parade, you will see a number of good dogs.  Some were named  Shadow, Lacy, Moose and Brady. I am sure that the proud and loving owners of all dogs pictured would agree with author Mark Dorr: “We often say that a dog in a loving family is a lucky dog, but the really lucky party is the family.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Taxes of the Past: Rebellion and Revision

This notice was posted around Bradford in 1883 as a notice to taxpayers. Barron Hay, co-owner of the Prichard and Hay Store at the corner of Bank Street, served as treasurer for both the village and town of Bradford. A good choice as he was described as being "strong in business affairs." (Bradford Historical Society)  

TOPSHAM TAX TIME: In 1885, Finette (Jones) Frost, widow of John Frost, was taxed $9/76 on the Power Springs Road farm that she and her husband had established.  It was at a time when many
Vermont farmers were feeling the impact of property taxes levied by both the state and local governments. (Town of Topsham)

This 1942 poster was distributed by the War Production Board.  Financing war efforts from the colonial wars forward meant that governments had to raise taxes as well as borrow.

"previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evidence to the Legislature to be of more service to the community than the money would be if not collected.’   Vermont Constitution, 1793

The earliest movement to separate the American colonies from Great Britain s inspired by the issue of taxes.  As soon as New Hampshire and Vermont were established as political entities, their governing bodies moved to collect taxes from the inhabitants to cover governmental expenses.

This column explores the history of taxation in the two states from their beginnings to the early 1940s.  Information was collected from town histories, newspapers and online sources. Especially helpful was the Vermont History article “The Evolution of Vermont State Tax System” by Paul Gillies. 

This history of taxation is too complicated and controversial to cover thoroughly in an article of this length. The following touches on just some of the major developments during this history..  

When I taught units on taxation, I described the characteristics of an effective tax system. These include fairness, with each taxpayer paying his fair share, based on ability to pay. The system should be adequate to meet the basic needs of government programs. It should be easily understood and complied with. Transparency of the tax system means easy access to information from collection to appropriations. Finally, it should not be too costly to collect.

Over the years, there has been general acceptance that “the best tax is always the lightest.” 

Governments levy taxes for a number of reasons with the need to pay for government programs being primary. So-called sin taxes are levied on items or behaviors considered undesirable, such as tobacco or liquor. Tariffs can be used to protect domestic industries. Licenses and fees regulate those who are allowed to practice a profession or activity. 

New Hampshire was a royal province from 1680 to 1776. Taxes were generally decided by the Royal Governor and his appointed Executive Council. The representative assembly was given the power of consent. Property taxes were levied based on the value of assets and on the assumption that those who owned the greatest amount of property were the most able to pay. Taxes were also levied on shipping, mills and craftsmen.

Once the pattern of taxation was established there were few changes until the 1770s. There was a consistent problem of concealment of assets from assessors and taxes were often met with “mutinous and rebellious disposition.”  

During the period from 1688 to 1763 there were a series of intercolonial conflicts known as the French and Indian Wars. New Hampshire communities found themselves on the front lines of those wars and the extraordinary cost of protection was borne in part by the province and its taxpayers. Lotteries, fees, fines and bonds offered some relief from property taxes.

Those expenses also created a financial burden for Great Britain. The resulting new taxes levied by Parliament on the colonies  were a major cause of the American Revolution.   

Most of the towns in our region were part of the New Hampshire Grants and were under the control of the provincial government. Until property transferred to resident owners, the initial taxpayers were often absentee proprietors. Local property taxes were determined by meetings of the eligible male voters. 

The lack of a stable and convenient currency created a problem for local tax collectors. Local taxes for  the town church, roads and schools were often paid in kind through labor or crops. Taxes paid in corn or wheat put the local government in the produce business. In 1791, Haverhill’s highway taxes could be paid “in labor at three shillings per day, or other articles in proportion.”

 Although it continued to be a policy until the early 19th century, taxes to support the town church created resistance from some locals.

As Vermont became a separate entity, the cost of government was borne in part by the sale of property confiscated from Tories. The resulting low tax burden made Vermont attractive to new settlers. Except for a state tax on towns to pay for the war, state government’s needs were small and the attitude toward new taxes was very conservative. In towns such as Corinth, suffering from the financial recession of the late 18th century, the threat of property seizure was needed to assure compliance.

Early in their statehood, both states made a major change in their voting laws and allowed all free adult males to vote without a property requirement and with the payment of a small poll or head tax.

Both states and their local communities recognized the need for public education. By 1810, district primary schools supported by property tax were established in area towns. In 1811, for example, Newbury voters raised one cent on the dollar of appraised value for schools. In  1828, New Hampshire created its Literary Fund, marking the first time that state funds were allocated to towns.

In 1849, New Hampshire became the first state to authorize towns to levy taxes in support of public libraries.  Vermont followed suit in 1865.

During the same period, the national government relied on tariffs and an excise tax on liquor as major sources of income.  They were controversial. In 1791, the federal government placed an excise tax on distilled liquor to pay for the debts of the Revolution. In 1794, the farmers of western Pennsylvania  were in openly revolting against that tax.

A series of tariffs passed by Congress to protect northern industries from foreign competition was a major cause of the sectionalism that resulted in the Civil War. To finance that war, the United States passed the first federal income tax in 1861. Local towns were saddled with debt from  bonuses they awarded to local combatants.  

Like during the colonial period, assessment of property remained a problem. Property owners were allow to appraise their own property. With some assets easily hidden, the system was open to underreporting and fraud. It was not until 1833 in New Hampshire and 1841 in Vermont that full appraisal by local listers was established. 

An article in The New England Farmer in 1860 referred to property tax as being “unjust and oppressive.” This inequality of taxation had “a tendency to discourage young men from engaging in agricultural pursuits. Farm and stock cannot, like cash and notes of hand, be concealed.”  There was also the problem of taxing standing timber prior to it being harvested. This practice help to encourage deforestation.   

In the latter half of the 19th century, both states frequently tackled with tax issues. New taxes were levied in both states against railroads, financial institutions and telegraph and insurance companies. In 1896, Vermont passed its first inheritance tax.  

These new laws impacted local businesses. In April 1898, the following notice appeared in The United Opinion: “On account of the excessive state corporation license tax, the North Thetford Water Company voted to annul their charter and cease to do business as a corporation.”

New laws defined the responsibilities of local communities, their power to tax and the role of the grand lists and listers. In 1890, Vermont passed a law requiring towns to appropriate funds for the support of public schools. 

All levels of government attempted to deal with tax evasion. Notices in The Vermont Phoenix in 1882 referred to the significant penalty for failing to report an accurate personal list of taxable property. In Vermont it could result in a doubling of the amount due, while in New Hampshire the offender was forced to pay a quadrupled tax.  

A search of Vermont newspapers reveals that local tax collectors or treasurers published notice of taxes due. They often set up collections in local hotels and offered discounts for early payment. As communities took on new responsibilities, taxes were increased. For example, as free bridges replaced toll, towns had to assume the financial burdens involved. 

An example of the impact of local taxes can be seen in the 1891 statistics for Newbury. The town’s grand list was $15,599, a figure that represents one percent of the appraised value of taxable property.  The voters had accepted a town tax of 50 cents and a highway tax of 15 cents. The latter raised $12, 479, which along with the town’s share of state highway tax helped Newbury maintain its extensive road system.

Two decades later, The United Opinion carried the following: “ There is a prospect of a 90 cent school tax for the coming year instead of $1. Let us all rise up and sing ‘There is sunshine in our home today.’ The taxpayers of Newbury should congratulate themselves in the able and business manner their affairs have been conducted this past year.”

Not was all sunshine. Property was seized for non-payment of taxes, with seizures increasing during economic downturns. In 1887, the assets of the Vermont Copper Mining Company in Vershire were sold in a tax sale.

There were those who often felt they were not getting a proper return for their taxes. In 1896, a resident of the Ricker’s Mill neighborhood complained that there was no local benefit from Groton’s snowrollers. “We pay our taxes and get little in return.”

In 1904, a letter to the St. Johnsbury Caledonian pointed out that taxing women without giving them the vote was taxation without representation.    

Despite that, property tax remained the principle source of revenue. As villages residents began to require services not needed or practical for rural areas, villages governments were established. The Woodsville Fire District was chartered in 1878, Wells River Village in 1888 and the Village of Bradford in 1890. Property owners within those district were taxed for sidewalks, village streets and fire protection.

The federal government expanded its tax base significantly in the first four decades of the 20th century. A tax on capital gains was implemented in 1913. In 1916, the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment cleared away legal challenges to a federal income tax. That year a federal estate tax was also passed. A federal gasoline tax was added in 1932.  In 1935, the Social Security program was created, with benefits going first to workers and later expanded to survivors and the disabled.

During the two world wars, the tax rates were raised to meet the expanded military budgets. During World War II, the government implemented payroll withholding of income taxes.  

During that same period of time, Vermont’s tax system underwent major changes.  During the first three decades of the 20th century, both states added or increased excise taxes on items ranging from gasoline and Christmas trees to ice cream.  In 1915, Vermont’s state property tax was increased to support reorganization of local schools.

World War I added costs to both local and state governments and taxes were raised accordingly. An article in several Vermont newspapers in 1919 stated that New Hampshire taxes had almost tripled and Vermont taxes had doubled in just one year. A portion of those increases were for bonuses for service personnel.

For the five years after the flood of 1927, Vermont adopted a special flood tax to cover the costs of rebuilding damaged public infrastructure. In 1929, both states considered adding an income tax.

In Vermont the Legislature adopted an income tax in 1931. It replaced the state highway and education tax as well as the general property tax. This tax became the basis of state revenues at that time.

In New Hampshire, an income tax was first considered in 1929 and then again in 1937.  While the state came close to passing the tax, the Boston Globe caught the opposing mood of the residents: “Around the big-bellied stove of a country store in a New Hampshire town men sit and growl about taxes.”

Since that time each  states have struggled with the need to finance essential government services. Vermont added a sales tax in 1969. Guarded by The Pledge against them, New Hampshire has resisted the passage of either a general sales tax or an income tax. Taxes on businesses, a state property tax and room and meals taxes are its major sources of tax revenue.

The Tax Foundation figures for 2015 show the differences between the impact of taxes in the two states. In Vermont, the per capita local and state tax burden was $11, 176 with 43.8 percent coming from property taxes. New Hampshire’s per capita was $8, 012 with 65.7% derived from property taxes. 

Throughout our history, taxes have been the topic of considerable debate and even rebellion. Most citizens begrudgingly pay their taxes. They are usually more willingly when the taxes support programs  of personal benefit.   

Their attitudes are somewhere between fiscal philosophy of the late U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes and the late New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thompson of Orford. The former said,  “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”  The latter said, “Low taxes are the result of low spending” Therefore, “Ax the Tax.”     


Saturday, March 10, 2018

World War I: Locals At Home

A century ago residents of our area were faced with the impact of World War I and faced shortages, cold weather and influenza. This is a collection of World War I posters that appeal to the general public for support.

Journal Opinion, March 7, 2018 

“We are facing conditions which are unique for this generation in these days of war.”

Harry E. Parker, Editor, The United Opinion

Between April 1917 and November 1918, the United States sent 2 million men to fight “the war to end all wars.” Ultimately, 16,000 Vermonters and over 20,000 from New Hampshire, including hundreds of locals, joined that force. In April 2017, this blog featured an article on that fighting force entitled “Locals Over There.” It can be accessed at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.

This essay deals with impact of the war on the civilian population of the two states a century ago.  As  Parker suggested, the impacts were significant and affected every aspect of daily life.     

Even before America entered the war, demands from European combatants for American goods helped fuel an economic boom in the nation, a boom that was felt in Northern New England. This included a demand for machine tools, textiles, armaments, lumber, shipping and agricultural products.

The national government reversed the traditional policies of laissez-fair. Special boards were given unprecedented control over both the economy and personal life. The federal government took control of telephone and telegraph systems as well as merchant shipping and railroads. Other boards included Fuel Administration, War Industries Board, War Labor Board and Food Administration. Every attempt was made to operate the economy more effectively to meet the demands of “total war.”

In 1917, the federal government established the Committee on Public Information to cultivate public support for the war and “guard secrets of value.”  Thousands of so-called Four-Minute Men appeared at public gatherings with prepared brief speeches, “every one having the carry of shrapnel.” Posters and bulletins and newspaper columns advanced the patriotic fervor.

As with citizens nationwide, local residents embraced the war effort, viewing it as both a moral crusade and a matter of national self-defense. In June 1917, the film “Stand By the President” was shown at the Fairlee Opera House. “Win-the-War” meetings were held locally.  

Support for the war was necessary, it was explained, “because if the Germans should win they will take everything away from the people of America.” Newspapers carried news of German atrocities against neutral nations. It was later determined that British propaganda exaggerated both the threats and the atrocities in order to incite America’s participation in the war. 

Both New Hampshire and Vermont passed legislation to mobilize their citizens and defend against  possible saboteurs. The New Hampshire Legislature led by Governor Henry Keyes of Haverhill set a record for martial legislation, including the registration of aliens, regulation of firearms and explosives and conservation of resources.  An espionage act was passed in Vermont permitting the warrantless arrest of individuals suspected of plotting against the government or giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Across the nation, the vigilante American Protective League, claiming members in most towns, set out “to run down slackers and seditious aliens.” It was difficult and dangerous to oppose the war. There were few actual cases of antiwar prosecutions in the two states. As in other states, there were efforts to reduce German influence. This led the  Berlin (NH) Mills to change its name to Brown. Newspapers  referred to German measles as liberty measles.     

 Anti-war songs such as “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be A Soldier” were replaced with songs such as “Over There” in support of the war efforts.   

There was a certain degree of paranoia with accidents or fires sometimes blamed on German saboteurs. Troops were stationed at valley railroad bridges including the ones in Bradford and between Wells River and Woodsville. These bridges were of significance as they were used by troops traveling to Quebec before shipping to Europe.   

Two-thirds of the American cost of the war was financed by loans. A series of Liberty Loan Drives were held. Additionally, these bond drives helped to fight inflation by taking excess money out of circulation.  

Full-page advertisements for these drives appeared in The United Opinion. Vermont raised over $55 million for the five drives. Local communities met the goals set. In 1917,  Bradford raised an oversubscription of $88,000.

War savings stamps were sold with special emphasis on school sales. Vermonters raised $13.90 per capita and New Hampshire followed with $11.78. Fairlee was one of the top three Vermont communities raising $27.43 per capita. As in other communities, locals in Orfordville proudly displayed their Liberty Loan Flag.

The needs of the American armed forces as well as the Allies in Europe led to shortages at home. There were shortages of wheat, sugar, fats and meat. Using the slogan “Food Wins the War,” the government attempted to meet the shortages by altering the diet of the American public.

Americans  were encouraged by food boards at all levels to observe wheatless, meatless and sugarless days. Tremendous quantities of meat and wheat were voluntarily saved for shipment to American forces and their allies overseas. Sugar saved by rationing was used in the manufacture of munitions. In 1918, 50-50 regulations were adopted requiring customers to purchase half their flour from alternate grains such as corn meal, oats or barley flour.

 The public was encouraged to buy local produce to reduce the pressure on the transportation system. Newspapers discouraged hoarding and encouraged families to stretch food supplies and “practice the gospel of the clean plate.” The bumper crop of potatoes in 1918 led to a two-state campaign to use potatoes in place of other foods. One poster encouraged residents to “Be A Potatriot.” 

War gardens were created throughout the two-state area. Parks and front lawns were sometimes plowed up and planted with vegetables. Grange organizations gave canning lessons. In Vermont, the Green Mountain Guard recruited 30,000 boys and girls to assist on farms and gardens. Camp Veil in Lyndonville was established to train older boys in farm work. The U.S. School Garden Army motto was “We Eat Because We Work.” 

 Coal, used as a primary fuel in both homes and businesses, was in especially short supply. Reserved for other war efforts, railroad cars were unavailable  for shipping coal to Northern New England  created the situation. The especially severe winter of 1917-18 setting records for sustained low temperatures compounded the problem. 

According to Haskins’ History of Bradford, starting in late December and continuing to early February there were 40 consecutive days when the thermometer recorded temperatures below zero. On 30 of those days it never got above zero.

Correspondents for The United Opinion from neighboring towns wrote of unofficial temperatures of 35 to 60 degrees below zero.  In Newbury, there were five days when it never rose above nine below zero. Pipes froze and then froze again. 

To deal with the fuel shortages, fuel committees were appointed to deal with distribution in each Vermont community. Rationed coal was “dribbled out to consumers.” It was said “A weekly supply was cause for congratulations; a month’s supply, Heaven-sent relief.” Consumers were encouraged to “save that shovelful of coal a day for Uncle Sam.”

In Dec 1917, the Hanover Gazette reported on the situation in Orford. “A shortage of coal and very little wood for sale has caused considerable anxiety among all classes of people here.” The anxiety was shared by other area residents.

A state program, entitled Cut-A-Cord, encouraged men and boys to seek surplus fuel from Vermont forests. It was so successful that the amount of firewood was doubled during the winter of 1917-18.

Other efforts to conserve fuel included restricting the number of days nonessential plants and places of entertainment could be open. Churches were encouraged to hold union services with other churches.  In January, 1918, school vacations were extended.  For a 10-week period there was even an attempt to have “heatless Mondays.”

To add to the burdens facing locals, influenza struck the area in 1918. The epidemic was part of a pandemic that killed over 100 million. Over one-quarter of Americans became ill and 675,000 died directly or indirectly from the disease. It was known as “Spanish flu.” Local notices in Bradford and Orford claimed that the disease originated in the German army and was “a Kaiser’s contribution to this country.”

The United Opinion of September 27, 1918 reported that local health officials were warned by the State Board of Health that, “the apparent seriousness of the disease makes it necessary that some precautions be taken to limit its spread….patients should be isolated in the home.”  Affected families were told to keep their children from school and family members from public gatherings.

As the disease spread, schools were closed in all area towns and some businesses closed for lack of adequate staff.  By October, the State Board of Health ordered the closing of all public meeting places and prohibiting public assemblies throughout the state.

The disease had  an especially high toll along younger residents. Health workers were overwhelmed by the case load and often fell ill themselves. 

Before the epidemic faded there were over 1,772 flu-related deaths in Vermont and about 3,000 in New Hampshire. Caskets were in very short supply. 

There was also a major shortage of available laborers to work on farms, in factories, mines and forests and in the shipyards of southern New Hampshire. Vermont lost up to one-third of its male workers. This shortage was caused by the number of men who joined the service or sought employment elsewhere.   

Many of those places of work were vital to the war effort. Some factories began round-the-clock production. The government introduced daylight saving time to give additional time for outdoor labor.  In Vermont, over 7,000 women and 1,300 children were part of the labor force, many for the first time. 

One example of the impact of the war on the local economy was the reopening of Corinth’s Pike Hill copper mines. Farmers were able to sell their crops, often at very high prices.

During the severe wool shortage, Orson Clements of Corinth refused to sell his wool to the government at the offered price. It was confiscated at what the government considered a fair price. After Clements’ death, wool he had hidden from government agents was found around his farm. 

As much as possible, volunteers attempted to share the burdens the war brought to the home front.   Virtually every non-profit organization stepped up their work. In addition to the churches of the two states, organizations such as the Boys Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, YMCA, YWCA, Knights of Columbus,  Masonic groups, Granges and the Salvation Army assisted the war effort.

Primary among those groups was the Red Cross. Local Red Cross units were established in area towns where they had not been previously. Red Cross membership campaigns in Vermont resulted in membership increasing from 1,200 to 80,703. The Red Cross provided services ranging from canteens for servicemen at railroad centers such as White River, Jct. to assisting with the wounded in France. 

The funds for those activities were raised through Red Cross fund drives and by programs sponsored by the other organizations mentioned above.  Throughout the valley, plays, suppers and concerts benefited the Red Cross.

The Red Cross also organized shipment of bandages, knitted items and personal care items to the servicemen. They encouraged others to join in this effort.

During 1918, 16-year old Catherine Murphy of Bradford kept a diary entitled “In the Service.” It chronicled her family and school’s support for her brother Pat who was stationed in France.  Pat Murphy and his best friend Fred Louanis enlisted in the service in 1917 near the end of their sophomore year at Bradford Academy.

Catherine’s diary listed the dates when boxes were sent to Pat and Fred, the contents and the postal cost. For example, on Dec. 12, 1918, a 25-pound box containing mittens, stockings, fruit cake, candies, writing supplies and reading materials was shipped at a cost of 55 cents. In the spring, the family send two pounds of maple sugar along with boxes for other Bradford soldiers. 

Her Bradford Academy class sent boxes with similar items as well as shoe laces, toothpaste, soap and handkerchiefs.  Listed in the diary were items the soldiers mailed in return, including French coins, handmade hankies and buttons from German uniforms.

One of the most poignant impacts of the war was the absence of so many young men and women. Families yearned for news of those overseas, even when letters were censored or conditions were redacted. Blue star flags were displayed in the windows of the homes of absent servicemen. Tragically, sometimes those blue stars were replaced by gold indicating a service casualty. 

The conditions borne by the citizens of the two states during the Great War are reflected in the following review of  Vermont’s role published in 1928. “The spirit shown by her inhabitants in days long gone by, still lived in 1917 and 1918 in the breasts of all her stalwart men and women and now, as then and always, Vermonters bear their full burden with an unfaltering and grim determination.”

Little did they know that in just a few years they would be called upon to again bear the burdens of a total war at home and abroad. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hails to the Chiefs: Washington and Lincoln

FIRST AND SIXTEENTH: Presidents Washington and Lincoln both served the nation at pivotal times in its history. Their lives demonstrated strong moral values, solid judgment and a strong commitment to the union that is America.

By the time Abraham Lincoln entered the 1860 presidential race, he was known as "The Railsplitter." The term, taken from his rural frontier youth, was perhaps more of a campaign gimmick than a serious personal description.  The image is a 1911 Lincoln Day postcard. 

CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. Long before Washington's Birthday became part of a three-day weekend, it was customary for businesses to close on Feb.22.  This poster from the late 1800s celebrates the actual birthday.

Journal Opinion 2/7/2018

“As long as human hearts shall everywhere pant, or human tongues shall anywhere plead, for a true, rational, constitutional liberty, those hearts enshrine the memory and those tongues prolong the fame of George Washington.”  Robert Winthrop, July 4, 1848

Monday, February 19 is President’s Day in Vermont and George Washington’s Birthday in New Hampshire. It will be part of three-day weekend created by Congress and first observed in 1971. It will be a chance to get a good deal on everything from mattresses and automobiles to remainders of winter garments. Conditions seem to indicate a great weekend for skiing and snowmobiling, activities that will draw crowds from down country.

Winthrop’s quote was part of his speech at the dedication of the cornerstone for the Washington Monument. At Washington’s death, Harry Lee referred to Washington as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Those words describe Washington’s place in American history.

There is another birthday observed this month. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.  In 1903, his private secretary John G. Nicolay recalled “He was beloved by his countrymen because he was the full embodiment of American Life, American genius, American aspiration. A self-made man whose experience proved that the son of the humblest farmer could one day rise to the White House, he wielded frightening power but used it judiciously and without arrogance.”

This column describes the manner in which both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays have been observed since their deaths and how those observations have changed.  

George Washington was born on Feb.11, 1731 in Virginia. With parliamentary adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the date was changed to Feb 22, 1732. He served as commander-in-chief of the American Continental army, as president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention and as the first President of the United States, completing two terms. In his Farewell Address, Washington set forth his vision for the new nation.

As he completed his time in each of those positions, Washington relinquished power. That, in itself, is a testimony to his character. He became regarded as “father of our country.” Washington was the original “American Idol.” He died in 1799 after a career of five decades in public service.

Unlike Washington, Lincoln occupied the national scene for only seven years, from his historic Senatorial debate against Stephen Douglas in 1858 until his death in 1865. Lincoln was elected President as the  candidate from the new Republican Party in 1860 and reelected in 1864. 

His election triggered the Civil War, a struggle that severely tested his leadership. He is credited with saving the Union and freeing millions of slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation followed by the enactment of the 13th Amendment. He was assassinated in April, 1865. As with Washington, Lincoln possessed personal virtues worthy of honor. But these leaders were not infallible. Readers can look elsewhere for articles  on both men’s weaknesses and failures.   

Plans to honor Washington began soon after his death. In 1791, the new capital was named in his honor. One of the first observances was held in New London, NH in 1800. In 1806, a children’s book on Washington’s life was authored by Mason Weems. A total fabrication, it was, never the less, the origin of stories that have helped to define Washington for generations. For example, Washington did not take his ax to his father’s cherry tree.      

In the early 19th century, Washington Birthday celebrations were commonplace. It’s annual observance was second only to the Fourth of July as a patriotic holiday. In 1814, Vermont’s Jefferson county was renamed in honor of Washington, as much in opposition to the former as admiration for the latter. The centennial of his birth in 1832 was marked by nationwide festivals.

In 1844, the Whig Party of Vermont called for a meeting in every town for this “auspicious day.” The Vermont Phoenix editor wrote “the name and character of Washington are the inheritances of our whole country.” In 1848, construction of the Washington Monument began. In 1851, the suggestion was that Feb. 22 was a day set aside as a day for reading Washington’s Farewell Address and seriously reflecting on his duty to the country and to the world.”

Two years later, the northern portion of the Oregon Territory was named Washington Territory, a title it kept when it was admitted to statehood in 1889.

During the Civil War, New Hampshire and Vermont troops observed Washington’s birthday as a general holiday. One soldier described “the roar of cannon fired in salutes filled the whole land.” The reading of Washington’s Farewell Address became an annual event in the United States Senate.

In 1870, federal offices in Washington began closing for the holiday. In New Hampshire and Vermont, Washington Balls were held in 1871. But in 1873, a Rutland editor decried “the very little recognition” and suggested that “the few flags which were displayed served, however, to take the curse off of business.” In 1874, the highest peak on the Northeast was renamed Mount Washington.  (May have been called that as early as 1784 in honor of General Washington.) In the centennial year of 1876 “observances were more elaborate than usual.”

The next year, the editor of the St. Johnsbury newspaper wrote “People love a holiday, and so long as Washington’s birthday furnishes them with the pretext for stopping work, putting on their best clothes and seeing processions, so long will Washington’s name be a motto for the festival.”  Neighborhood newspaper columns often mentioned visitors who came to spend Washington’s Birthday with local families.  

In 1885, the federal observance of the holiday was expanded to the whole nation. Locally, Washington’s Birthday continued to be a major social and political holiday, especially when it occurred as part of a weekend. During the 1880s, the birthday was celebrated with musical presentation, lyceums and suppers, often as a fund-raising event.  It was common for George and Martha Washington to make an appearance in appropriate costumes.

In 1889, a Birtheve dance was held at the school house in East Corinth and another at the Parker House in Woodsville. Newbury’s Tenney Library hosted a special program. It was generally the custom for local schools to hold programs honoring Washington. That year, Newbury students were allowed time off. One youngster, writing of a cold afternoon trip to Bradford during this free time, expressed the wish that Washington had been born in June. 

Because of his connection to their histories, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Masonic groups and the Improved Order of Red Men paid special attention to Washington’s birthday. Church services were devoted to his memory, with special emphasis on the anniversaries of events such as his inauguration. While businesses, banks and post offices closed for the holiday,  businesses did not specifically mention the anniversary in advertisements. 

In the period before World War I,  Washington’s Birthday celebrations continued to be very common. In 1909, participants at a North Thetford social “partook of the cherry tree.” At Newbury’s Chadwick Hall a colonial costume ball was held.  Social events often featured Washington Pie,  a filled cake similar to Boston cream pie.  

Despite the early observances of Lincoln’s birthday, celebrations of the martyred President’s birth never achieved the high emphasis of Washington’s. The closeness of the two birthdays along with the rise of Valentine’s celebrates made Lincoln’s somewhat less important socially. Besides, Lincoln’s role in the Civil War was still fresh in the minds of many southerners.

In 1867, New Jersey became the first state to declare it a holiday  but efforts in the early 1870s and again in 1881 to make it a federal holiday were unsuccessful. 

 Major efforts to honor the Great Emancipator were made by African-American groups.  Lincoln’s birthday and the Feb. 14th birthday of Frederick Douglas were the origins of February as Black History Month.  

 At the same time, observances were being held by local and state Republican party organizations and veterans groups throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. As with Washington, local Grange organizations used Lincoln’s life as the topic for programs. In 1895, the Vermont Young Men’s Republican Club gathered 1,000 participants in Burlington for “rousing celebration” to mark Lincoln’s Birthday. When the birthdate fell on a Sunday, it was common for sermons to be dedicated to the life of Lincoln.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, many businesses began to close on Feb. 12, especially in the 11 states where it was a legal holiday. Increasingly, newspaper notices began to mention the two birthdays together.   

Locally, it was common for one group to take Washington’s Birthday as an occasion for an annual event and, rather than compete for the public’s attention, another would take Lincoln’s. In 1912, the Vermont legislature passed a resolution calling for all schools to hold Lincoln Day exercises.    

During World War I, the Red Cross used the two birthdays in a special drive to gain school-age members.  In 1918, the American Alliance called for a national loyalty campaign in February.

A review of The United Opinion and other Vermont newspapers reveals that celebrations of both birthdays continued after 1920.  Illustrated syndicated columns on the lives of the two presidents appeared frequently. 

 In 1923, along with reports of terrible roads and illness, the newspaper reported social events along with the comment “Washington’s greatness is everywhere acknowledged.” A dance in Fairlee was “well attended.” Reports of the newly dedicated Lincoln Memorial in Washington were prominent.

The next year, Bradford’s Doe Brothers sponsored a Lincoln Essay Contest, the newspaper had major articles on the lives of the two presidents and dances and church services were held everywhere including in Orford and Thetford Center. This was the pattern that continued through the years especially when there was a major commemorative event.  

The 1932 bicentennial of Washington’s birth was just one such occasion. The President and Governor encouraged Vermonters to use the occasion for community service. In Bradford, a community program filled the Congregational Church. If there was a pattern to the celebrations in the 1930s, it was that Lincoln’s day was observed by meetings and Washington’s by dances. 

During the early years of  World War II, the nation was reminded that the two presidents faced “elusive victory, low morale and a series of misfortunes” but met them with “brave resistance.” In 1944,  Christians and Jews observed Brotherhood Week during February and the local paper carried the following: “We are blessed to have a national government which give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.”

As early as 1920, Washington’s Birthdays became associated with winter carnivals in the two states. By the early 1940s, February 22nd had become a major ski holiday, especially when it adjacent to a weekend or during school vacations. In 1948, The United Opinion reported that all area hostels were overwhelmed with skiers. As conditions at many major ski areas were icy, local conditions were some of the best in New England. Corinth’s Northeast Slopes had it best year in its 12-year history.  

The late Dorothy Cole recalled when large ski groups came to stay at the Cole Lodge on the Lower Plain in Bradford in the 1950s around the February holiday. Guests would sleep and eat at the Lodge and ski at Northeast Slopes.  

In 1968, the federal government enacted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Beginning in 1971, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February. The Act did not combine Lincoln’s birthday with Washington’s. Despite public perceptions to the contrary, the Act did not create a holiday entitled President’s Day. However, a number of states use that term or some combination of the titles Presidents, President’s, Washington’s and Lincoln’s. A few states still honor Lincoln’s birthday as a separate holiday.  In New Hampshire, it is officially Washington’s Birthday, despite the use of the term President’s Day on some official state calendars and in general usage. 

The three-day weekend continues to be a major boost to retail sales and the tourist industry and are a major contributor to businesses’ bottom lines.  Several retired teachers told me they felt that school emphasis on the birthdays lessened after 1971.

There are constant daily reminders of Lincoln and Washington. Their images are on stamps and currency. Their names are on everything from streets, highways and city names to mountains, counties and one state. Their image is on numerous statues and engraved on Mt. Rushmore.  While Washington has more place names, Lincoln is the topic of more books.

Major films such as Spielberg’s Lincoln, books such as Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the recent local arrival of the statue of Lincoln at Saint-Gauden’s National Historic Site in Cornish renew public awareness of Lincoln. In the weeks ahead, both names will be attached to repeated television and newspaper ads.

Washington and Lincoln are relevant to us today because their lives demonstrated strong moral values, solid judgment and a strong commitment to the union that is our nation. Their contributions serve as examples of how a single individual can make an enormous difference in the futures of all Americans.

Local Lincoln historian David Puritt recently wrote “Abraham Lincoln’s birthday should be celebrated annually because he holds an absolutely unique and desperately needed positive place in our history.”  One could easily substitute Washington’s name in that sentiment. Hail to both these great men. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Cooking Up A Christmas Storm

PITIFUL HOLIDAY PICKINGS,  Depression-era photographer Russell Lee captured these rural
children eating their Christmas dinner of potato and cabbage. Although not a local family, this scene reflects the plight of many families during the Great Depression. Fortunately, local food shelves help to ease the burden of food scarcity suffered by local families.  Support your local food shelf at holiday time and throughout the year.    (Library of Congress) 

ENOUGH IS BETTER. For many families having a Christmas dinner with family and friends is central to the celebration. When dishes reflect tradition, planning the menu is easy.  Not having to deal with wartimes scarcities and empty chairs is even better.  See additional illustration below.

Journal Opinion  Dec. 20, 2018

“There were plenty of good things left….such as tend to make up a good Christmas dinner, which goes far to show that the barren hills of Vermont will produce food, with a little fixing, to be agreeable to the eye and pleasant to the taste.”  Vermont Farmer, Jan. 23, 1874

By the time you read this column, your Christmas dinner may already be prepared or perhaps it is over with even the leftovers finished. But with some of the holiday season still before us, this column offers you an opportunity to compare your festive experience with those of others who experienced Christmas dinners from colonial days to the 1950s.

Each family, past or present, creates Christmas experiences for itself. Factors such as age, economic status, ethnic heritage and family traditions and even national and world events have an impact on those experiences.

No column limited by the space available here can hope to capture all of the variations found in the assortments that are our nation’s people. Please be tolerant if it does not speak to your family’s traditions. At the same time, celebrate and cherish those traditions and pass them on to younger members of your family and community.     

The Puritans and many of their descendants who settled in our area were opposed to Christmas celebrations. Their objection was based on its connection with paganism and the Roman Catholic Church as well as the unruly manner in which the season was celebrated in Europe. No mince pies, Christmas puddings, holiday ales or goose for them. For settlers, such as those in Ryegate and Corinth, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day were more festive.

The Pilgrim Church and Church of England descendants were more likely to observe Christmas, holding services and encouraging seasonal charity. Many religious leaders, however, continued to object to the excesses of the carnival-like celebrations that were often typical of the season in many communities around the nation. 

Until the 1820’s, Christmas celebrations were largely public rather than family-oriented. As this began to change, festive foods unique to the season and served within the home became more important. Local markets catered to the holiday demand with traditional foods that helped to make the season special.  By the 1850s Vermont newspapers were carrying references to sweetmeats, eggnog, plum pudding, turkey, and oysters for the family holiday menu.   

 Christmas in wartime is especially difficult. For those in the armed services, Christmas meant being away from home. For the bedraggled troops at Valley Forge in 1777, Christmas dinner was cooked over a campfire and was likely a gruel made from whatever the men could scavenge from the nearby farms and forests.

By the Civil War, the foods of Christmas were well-established in the minds of New Hampshire and Vermont soldiers. Writing from their winter encampments, soldiers celebrated as they could while lamenting their distance from the family holiday table.

Local newspapers reported that for Christmas in 1862, President Lincoln ordered “a great quantity of poultry” for the soldiers in Washington D. C. hospitals. The following year, the Ladies Relief Society of Bradford raised funds for a similar Christmas dinner. The U. S. Sanitary Commission provided Christmas dinner for wounded soldiers from both states.

Also in 1862, it was reported that some members of the 12th Vermont Regiment, stationed in Fairfax, VA, escaped hardtack and salt pork and enjoyed a rich meal of oyster soup, potatoes, good Vermont butter and boiled pork. The meal was topped off with nuts and raisins and “a cocoa-nut cake from home.”

It was a rare respite from grueling conditions.  One soldier wrote “Now that is not such bad living for poor soldiers, is it? Sitting down to a table and eating like civilized men.”

One Union veteran recalled that, during the war, he and two of his fellow soldiers were held prisoner in a Confederate prison. For a time, prior to Christmas, the three managed to save a small portion of their daily rations of three tablespoons of cow peas and a pint of corn meal, so that on Christmas day their meager meal “took on the appearance of a feast.”

In the years following the end of the war, Christmas became even more important commercially.  Vermont newspapers such as the Vermont Watchman and the Bradford Opinion published lists of holiday goods offered by local merchants.  Foods offered included Christmas goose and turkey, canned  and fresh fruits. Since merchants were more specialized in those days, a shopper had to visit several to get the items needed.

In 1876, the Bradford newspaper featured a front-page article entitled “The Christmas Dinner.”  In addition to the items listed above, the menu included oyster soup as well as mince and pumpkin pies and Christmas tarts. 

Published at that time, Jennie June’s American Cookery Book offered an elaborate Christmas dinner menu including mock turtle soup, turkey with necklace of sausage, cranberry sauce, oyster fritters and desserts of plum pudding and tipsy cake followed by fruit and nuts.

Vermont newspaper menus of the 1880’s added other dishes with the note: “Christmas dinner is hardly complete and satisfying unless a roast turkey, in its mammoth properties occupies a conspicuous position on the table.” It also mentioned the folly in “a gorging of dyspeptic sweets and unwholesome food.”

Many of the period cook books and newspaper articles on Christmas food reflect the good fortune of those in the middle and upper classes. The wealthier the family, the more likely the quality and quantity of the foods would be more substantial.

Christmas was always less festive for the poor and homeless.  Newspapers carried stories of the plight of the less fortunate.

 In 1871, the Bradford newspaper included the story of one family whose festive meal consisted of a     5-cent loaf of bread. Another story described a family meal of corn beef, a little box of figs, boiled cabbage and coffee.

During the period after the Civil War, church and civic groups as well as some businesses provided dinner for the indigent. Baskets of food were also distributed by religious groups such as the Methodist churches and Salvation Army. Veteran groups provided meals for the neediest from their ranks. 

The demand for charity was especially great during periods of economic depression. During the panics of 1873, 1893 and 1907, Christmas was, for many people, “just one more day on which to struggle to put food on the table.”

In 1877, the Vermont Board of Agriculture was promoting the raising of geese for the Christmas trade. Still, by the end of the century, Vermont turkeys were becoming nationally known and, according to the Vermont Board, were “prolific.” 

Christmas cookies, candies and cakes were made for home or as gifts. As in the past, some Christmas foods had to be planned or even made days or months in advance. Christmas fruit cakes and plum puddings were best when aged. Rural cooks might make fruit pies in the late fall and store them to freeze in cold attics until the holidays arrived.

The first decade of the following century experienced periods of inflated food prices. In 1908, it was reported that the price of Christmas foods had doubled over the previous five years. Food purchased at local stores and eateries reflected the increases. At the St. Johnsbury House, Christmas dinner was advertised at 50 cents per person in 1908 and 75 cents two years later.

During World War I, the members of the American Expeditionary Force stationed in France  were promised a traditional Christmas meal. In 1917, the ships carrying cranberries and turkey were delayed by threats of German submarines causing the Paris turkey market to be completely depleted. Many of the soldiers stationed in England were treated to a traditional English dinner of beef and plum pudding. 

On the home front, the grim realities of war scarcity affected Christmas meals. Cooks were asked to conserve red meat and other foods fueling the war effort. Christmas fell on a Tuesday that year. It was a day designated as meatless and so chicken or turkey were acceptable foods.  

The Great Depression brought hardships for many families. A lima-bean casserole at home or soup from a charity kitchen constituted Christmas dinner for many. For others, Christmas was celebrated in a thrifty manner, with dinner being described as “enough is better than a feast.”  Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes reprinted in the United Opinion offered holiday recipes that fit frugal budgets as well as changing tastes.

When interviewed about their experiences during the 1930s, local elders recalled that money was scarce and Christmas meant homemade gifts and homegrown food. That might mean sacrificing the largest turkey or rooster on the farm or making a plump chicken into a delicious pie. For several, the food was rabbit or venison. 

During WW II, the armed services worked hard to provide a traditional Christmas meal to personnel at home and abroad. Those in battle zones were less likely to have all the trimmings. Stateside, canteens provided Christmas meals to soldiers and sailors

At home, rationing meant that Christmas dinners were not as elaborate as normal.  O, loved ones were absent. Christmas staples such as chocolate, sugar and butter were rationed and, although turkeys were not, they were in short supply. The public was encouraged to stay at home and  eat foods produced locally thereby reducing the impact on the transportation systems.

The prosperity enjoyed by many in the post-war period resulted in the expansion of the holiday experience.  Food was central to that experience and so expanded waist-lines were not uncommon.  Traditional foods made for decades continued to be part of the holidays that stretched from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

Traditional foods help to make all those holidays special, linking the present with the holidays that have gone before.  For many families, Christmas day began with a special breakfast and, depending on the age of the children, was eaten before or after presents were opened.

At parties and gatherings for employees, club and church members and neighbors and friends, food was central. Every year, newspapers and magazines published new recipes that adapted old favorites to new times.

Ethnic groups have always added their own dishes to their family’s holiday table. Those who fasted before Christmas Midnight Mass, might follow the service with festive goodies.

For others, Christmas dishes included sweet stollen breads, holiday tamales, panettone or meat pies. A family with an Italian heritage might be as likely to serve lasagna and pork loin as turkey. Traditions made the answer to the question of “What shall we have for Christmas dinner?” pretty cut and dried.

For a small minority of local residents, the holiday being celebrated was Hanukkah, an eight-day festival of lights. Special foods might include brisket and short ribs as well as oil-rich potato latkes and donuts.

For many this Christmas, the local food shelf, community dinner or donated basket will be the source of their Christmas dinner. It is estimated that up to 13% of New Hampshire and Vermont families are “food insecure.” That insecurity is made even more difficult in the face of the bounty of others.

One Vermont newspaper observed in 1888: “Heaven has not granted us stomachs according to our wealth and the rich man cannot eat more than the poor man.” But we know that since finances control the food selection, the needy have always had less to eat.

 In 1891, a Londonderry, VT newspaper printed the following: “No conscientious person can enjoy his Christmas dinner if he knows anybody else within reach to be hungry. The consciousness that we have giving food to the needy provides us with the finest appetite.”

Whether this holiday for you is sacred or secular or both, assisting those who face food shortage in your community can add to the blessings of the season. Even if you are too late to help with someone else’s Christmas dinner this year, remember there is a new year coming. That donation to your local food shelf will provide you and yours with finer and more satisfying appetites.


Since the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas dinner has been a perennial subject of cards and newspaper illustrations.  Whether way on military duty or around the family table, Christmas festive treats bring warmth to the winter season.

Union troops open Christmas boxes from home to reveal treats as well as welcome gifts of socks and other article of clothes.