Wartime Clothing Drives: Hosiery and the Homefront

“Our boys need sox, knit your bit.” Circa 1918.

This post comes to us from Danna Bell-Russel of the Library of Congress.

Have you or your students ever sent letters or care packages to soldiers overseas? Contributed money to organizations that support the military? This practice isn’t new. Even as early as the American Revolutionary War, those left at home thought of ways to support those fighting to preserve our freedoms.

One of the ways that those left behind supported their military men was through creating clothing. The Library’s collections contain broadsides, photos, letters, and posters documenting drives to produce goods ranging from socks to slippers to sweaters. During the Civil War, one relief association even gave Abraham Lincoln a sofa cushion.

“Hospital slippers for the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union,” 1861.

One broadside pattern provides directions for making slippers for Union soldiers recovering in hospitals. In the first six months of 1862, the Ladies’ Aid Society of Philadelphia distributed more than 1000 pairs of slippers, as well as thousands of boxes of other clothing, bedding, food, medicines, and books. Another poster encouraged those at home to knit socks for those fighting abroad during World War I.

Teaching Ideas

  • Ask students why clothing patterns like these were created. How did they benefit the soldiers overseas and, more importantly, those at home?
  • Write a letter from the point of view of a soldier, a family member on the home front, or even one of the knitted socks! What is the writer seeing, hearing, thinking, or feeling? How does the writer feel about receiving or sending the care package?
  • Invite students to research other ways Americans on the home front have supported the troops throughout history. Then, compare and contrast these efforts. What has changed? What has stayed the same? Why?
  • Challenge students to organize a school-wide effort to support the troops. Maybe students choose to knit socks, write letters, or raise money for care packages. (Students could even create slippers using the pattern on the broadside.) Ask students to consider what insights this gives them into the point of view of participants in earlier wartime support efforts.

Illustrated poem by George Ade and William Herschell, 1918.

Can you think of other ways to help students explore war drives in U.S. history?

2 Comments

  1. Mim Bizic
    August 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I know all of the girls in my mother’s family participated in this, and that my grandmother, Andja Mamula, was President of the Circle of Serbian Sisters, called “Majka Jugovici”, who met twice a week at the church to knit, roll bandages and ship packages where needed.

  2. mary haas
    August 12, 2011 at 10:31 am

    My mother also worked with a group that rolled bandages, etc. During WWI my mother was very young and walked to the enlistment to deliver pairs of sox for soldiers that her mother had knit at home. One time my mother complained about the “ugly green” color of yarn and asked if they did not have a nicer color So she was given navy blue yarn so then my grandmother knit for the navy. My grandmother came as a immigrant from Sweden to the US in 1886 entering the US through Castle Garden.

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