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Providing Comfort for Veterans: Primary Sources from the Civil War and Beyond

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A number of years ago I published a blog post on wartime clothing drives. I touched briefly on clothing drives and the work to make handmade items for those serving in the military. As I considered what to write about for a post on Veterans Day, I was drawn back to this post.

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

One of my favorite items from the post is the pattern for hospital slippers for injured Civil War soldiers that was provided by a Philadelphia druggist. In the essay on Anti-Slavery and Civil War ephemera found in the Library’s Broadsides and Printed Ephemera collection, it was noted that, in the first six months of 1862, the Ladies’ Aid Society of Philadelphia distributed more than one thousand pairs of slippers. How did the society’s members finish those slippers so quickly? And how did they determine what sizes to create?

Print out copies of the hospital slipper pattern for your students. Encourage them to review the directions and then provide scissors and glue and allow them to put together a paper copy of the slipper. How long did it take them? What problems did they experience?

Domestic Sewing Machine, 1882

Now ask them to consider making the slippers in various sizes without knowing what size shoes the soldiers wear? How would they determine the amount of fabric and other supplies they needed?  How long will it take to make a hand sewn pair of slippers? Sewing machines for home use had entered the market place but they were run by foot power not electricity. How would that have affected the time needed to create a pair of slippers?

Southington, Connecticut. Women making clothing for soldiers and for the Allied relief work. Fenno Jacobs, 1942

Want to learn more about clothing drives and other activities to provide support for soldiers? Read an appeal for assistance in Massachusetts and from the Sanitary Commission endorsed by Abraham Lincoln. See an advertisement to encourage patrons to shop early for the soldiers fighting in World War I.

For Veterans Day your students can explore ways they can support those in the military currently serving as well as those active duty and retired veterans recovering from injuries or living in long term care facilities. Can they send care packages? Make slippers? Visit and do a performance or other activity? Or something else to thank them for their service? They can also consider doing interviews for the Veterans History Project .

As a starting or ending activity for Veterans Day encourage students to read the post “What is A Veteran” by Kerry Ward published on the Library of Congress Folklife Today blog. Students can consider the definition of veteran they had before the post and the definition Kerry provides. Do they agree or disagree with Kerry’s definition. What is their reaction to the quote provided at the end of the post?

To all of the veterans reading this post: Thank you for your service to our country.


  1. We used this artifact in the Boston Public Library’s 2012 exhibition Torn in Two, courtesy of the Boston Atheneum. Women throughout the North used the pattern to provide slippers for the soldiers. We ‘enlisted’ my mother to make a pair from the pattern. She used a soft felt, keeping true to what would have been available at the time. They were very ‘blobby’ making them easily put on regardless of foot size or injury. I still have them.
    Debra Block

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