One Hundred Years Ago: New Hampshire’s Thanksgiving of 1919

An antique Thanksgiving poscard.

Thanksgiving Day of 1919 was celebrated with feelings of both great sorrow and hope. Within the previous  two years, at least 4,000 New Hampshire residents had died before their time (war causalities plus those who died unexpectedly from the flu). On this day in November, the memories of those losses were still painfully fresh. At the same time the Armistice had been signed over a year before, and so there was a deep sense of hope to rebuild lives and fortunes. Women had been fighting for their right to vote for many decades, and now, pending ratification, it looked like they would soon be able to.

I’ve gleaned some stories from New Hampshire’s newspapers around Thanksgiving Day of 1919 [Thanksgiving was on 27th of November] to see if we can go back in time to that era and understand how people felt and what they thought important.  It was a time when the steam train was still king, when automobiles were allowing more people to travel faster and further on their own, and women were feeling more empowered.

The Nashua Telegraph of November 25, 2019 announced several social dances being put on by the Odd Fellows of both Nashua and nearby Hudson. The YWCA on Temple street was sponsoring a party the day after. [Editor’s note, and here I learned that “at the sign of the Blue Triangle” indicated the YWCA]. In addition to plenty of entertainment (including Fitzgerald’s Banjo Orchestra) there was an equal number of religious services at all the local churches. Entertainment included a comedy play called My Honolulu Girl that was touring the nation. Hawaiian songs were popular this year.

Nashua merchants were offering thanks in their advertisements. An ice cream ad shows the differences been today and then for the popular flavors.  In 1919 the advertised flavors   included vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, pineapple, grapenut, harlequin (vanilla, strawberry, chocolate), country club (orange, coffee and vanilla), collage ice (stacked scoops ), bricks, sultana roll, bon glace, mellon rounds,” and more.

Nashua New Hampshire’s Victory Arch erected and dedicated 11 Nov 1919.

As for city lights and decorations during Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season, that same Nashua newspaper reported that “it was voted at a harmonious meeting of the Merchants’ association in City Hall. . . last night to guarantee the lighting of the Victory Arch until Jan 2nd [1920]…this action regarding the arch assure the maintenance of the beautiful electrical effects until after the holidays and will please all the inhabitants of the city who are loathe to see the arch dismantled at the present time.”   The Victory Arch mentioned had just been created and erected across Main Street in Nashua two weeks earlier, and dedicated on Armistice Day of 1919.  The Victory Arch included Nashua’s Honor Roll the names of Nashua men who gave their lives in supreme sacrifice in the World War.   A complete list of those who died during WWI and are connected with Nashua can be found HERE.]

Reeds Ferry Train Station in 1935. Photo by B.H. Webster.

The Hillsborough Messenger (Hillsborough NH) of Thanksgiving Week 1919 mentioned the comings and goings of local residents during the holidays. One interesting story on 27 Nov 1919 pn page 3 headlined: “NEW IDEA IN TRANSPORTATION. Trains to Slide on Runners, Separated from Track Merely by Thin Film of Water.”

People must have been astounded with this news. The article goes on to say that “if such trains become practicable, it is prophesied as noiselessness of operation, equal carrying capacity, and about twice as much speed.” [Editor’s note: Today we have a Maglev train that has no wheels and is moved by the use of magnetism, capable of 3,500 km/h)].

The Peterborough Transcript (Peterborough NH) had the usual local and state news.   The local Robert Frost Literary Society held a Thanksgiving Day meeting at the local High School where there were presentations, songs and recitations all focused on the celebration of Thanksgiving or on local history.

The newspaper included a reprint of “Mother of Thanksgiving Day”  by John Elfreth Watkins of the Utica Sunday Globe.  Of course advertisements filled the newspaper promoting purchases for Christmas. One advertisement by Moultons, the Rexall Store, was selling a First Aid Cabinet, and a nice assortment of Shot guns and rifles in the same ad.

Fatty Arbuckle show here starring in silent movie, “The Bell Boy.”

The Milford Cabinet of Milford NH published a paper on Thanksgiving Day 27 Nov 1919. Along with promoting entertainment and religious events, the articles included a report that the local Red Cross was struggling with funding. “English royalty” (Lord and Lady Dunsany of Belfast Ireland) were visiting friends in Dublin New Hampshire and passed through Milford. The local “New” Strand “Photoplay House” was showing a Thanksgiving special attraction “The Midnight Patrol” (a story of love in a Chinese Underworld in which the valor of the American policeman plays an important part,” and Fatty Arbuckle in “The Bell Boy.” (and others)

Farmington News newspaper of 19 shows a detailed description of women’s usual household tasks.

The Farmington News of Farmington NH was similar to other New Hampshire small town newspapers. A Thanksgiving Dance was to be given the evening before Thanksgiving by the local Women’s Club. Music was furnished by the well known team of Beaudoin and Bagley. Nutter’s Market was offering a shopping list of ‘fresh killed’ turkeys, chickens and other fowl. Other necessities for the Thanksgiving banquet offered were white karo, snow drift shortening, and La Touraine Coffee and Teas. In the meantime Feineman Bros of Rochester carried a big ad promoting men’s underwear. And of course of interest to women, a precise outline for “Handling the Household Income” that was actually a time budget rather than a money budget.

Two surprising articles appear in this newspaper. The first entitled “Pestilence Caused By War,” connected the cause of the influenza of 1917-1919 to both the eruption of Mount Kloet in Java, and the use of poison gas in the fighting in Europe during WWI. [Of course we known now this is not true, and that the flu started in the United States).  The 2nd surprising story had to do with 15,000,000 hand grenades left over from WWI, belonging to the War Department, that were going to be distributed in the form of miniature War Savings hand grenade banks. The article goes on to say that New England’s allotment of 250,000 of these would NOT be distributed. They were to have been given to thrifty boys and girls under 12 years of age who purchased a War Savings Stamp. Children over 12 would receive one when they purchased two War Savings Stamps.

I end my story on this note, hoping that my readers have learned at least one thing of interest to them. I wish all my family, friends and readers a wonderful and thankful day.

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2 Responses to One Hundred Years Ago: New Hampshire’s Thanksgiving of 1919

  1. Amy says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Janice!

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