100 Years Ago: The First Thanksgiving of WWI

Sketch: Wild Turkey by Church Fergus,
Bureau of Information and Education,
Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1978.

One hundred years ago Thanksgiving was celebrated on 29 November 1917. The United States had recently joined their  allies in Europe, with the first troops arriving on that continent six months before in the month of June. The reportedly first American “shot” had been fired only a month earlier on October 23rd. Most of the troops were still in training camps, and were not quite ready battlefield ready.

In another article I’ve written about how the conservation of meat and wheat was voluntarily being enforced on the home front, in order to feed both the troops and our near starving allies. Did the World War impact how Thanksgiving was spent in New Hampshire and the United States, in 1917?

Salvation Army sketch,
The Washington Times,
15 December 1917, page 4.

Some went about their normal business. The Portsmouth Herald of 20 November 1917 reported on” “the ‘drive’ for a Thanksgiving dinner for the worthy poor of the city, which is being conducted by the Salvation Army, is a small affair by the side of those with which the people have become familiar, and the requirements will be easily and cheerfully met.”  After 100 years the Salvation Army still plays an active and even greater role in assisting the hungry, at Thanksgiving and every day.

The terrible so-called ‘Spanish flu’ or influenza pandemic would not happen for another 2 months. People gathered normally in churches and entertainment halls. Sport games, musical presentations, and church services seemed to be the primary social events.

The traditional ‘turkey with all the fixings’ sort of meal was being encouraged, not discouraged. The Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth NH) newspaper of 21 November 1917 published a brief article that “REGULAR THANKSGIVING DINNER IS PERMISSIBLE” to ease the questions of the conserving cook. “Portland-Me., Nov 20.– Housewives who provide the regulation Thanksgiving Day dinner will not violate the letter or spirit of the Federal Food Administration rules, Dr. Leon S. Morrill, Federal Food Administrator for Maine, said today. “Poultry form the basis of the dinner,” said Dr. Merrill, “and in eating poultry the people are doing exactly what the Government asks. A bountiful Thanksgiving dinner can be provided easily without violating the regulations which we have pledged to observe in order that our soldiers, sailors and the Allies may receive the foods needed abroad.”

By Thanksgiving New Hampshire had already sent some of her young men and to Europe–those who had been serving in the New Hampshire National Guard and were felt to be at least partially trained, along with nurses and telephone operators.  At this time of giving thanks, their thoughts were with those soldiers in Europe, with sweaters and wristers having been knitted to supply the local boys. One Portsmouth NH newspaper story noted that more were needed for some who had been detached to field artillery units among the allies. Names were being sought so that every single Portsmouth boy would receive these gifts.

Man’s Wrister, page 13
of The Priscilla Knitting Book
Revised 1908.

That particular story brought up a question for me. What the heck is a wrister? I had to go on a tangential search to discover the answer.  The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) newspaper of 21 November 1917, Wednesday on page 7 included this article: “KNIT WRISTERS FOR A CHANGE. In between sweaters and helmets, smaller and less complicated things like bath mitts, wristers and wristlets, may be turned off for variety’s sake. And a bath mitt is ever so much easier to carry about than a sweater if one “Knits as one goes”–as most women do nowadays. *A wrister and a wristlet are not the same by any means. Wristers are bracelet sort of affairs that merely keep the wrists warm under the coat sleeve. Wristlets are really mitts that come up over the knuckles.” [And then the article continues with directions on how to knit these.

To make wristers use one hang of gray yarn; cast 52 stitches, nit 2, purl 2, five inches long and sew up in a wrister form. For these use No. 5 bone needles. If you are expert enough to use four needles you can knit the wrister all in one piece instead of a flat strip which must be sewed up afterward. If four needles use No. 10 steel.

Wristlets take one hang of yarn and should be made on No. 4 bone needles. Cast on 52 stitches. Knit 2, purl 2 for 12 inches and bind off. Sew up, leaving a two-inch space for thumb and four inches from one end.

Bath mits require No. 6, three-ply knitting cotton and two No. 4 bone needles. Cast on 48 stitches, nit 2, purl 2, for 20 rows. Then knit plain for 30 ribs or 60 rows. Sew together are sides and across one end.

**ADDITIONAL READING (Knitting Books, 1917 era)**

Knitting and Crocheting,” by Brown, Durrell & Co., Boston, 1885

The Priscilla Knitting Book, rev. 1908

The Columbia Book of the Use of Yarns, by Wm. H. Horstmann, 1904

Spool Knitting by Mary A. McCormack, 1909

Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book, Mrs. Jane (Eayre) Fryer, 1918

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].


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12 Responses to 100 Years Ago: The First Thanksgiving of WWI

  1. Virginia Penrod says:

    Fascinating and informative as always. Thanks, Jan.

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  3. Amy says:

    I’ve never heard the term, but I have used “wristers” while skiing to close the gap between my jacket and my gloves.

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  6. Holly Korda says:

    I have seen these described as “wristlets” during WWI. They had no fingers or thumb to allow the soldiers to use rifles, etc.

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