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War Garden Girls: 1918

Circa 1918. "National War Garden Commission. Vigo County Canning Clubs." Indiana "farmerettes" at a War Garden exhibit in Washington. View full size.

Circa 1918. "National War Garden Commission. Vigo County Canning Clubs." Indiana "farmerettes" at a War Garden exhibit in Washington. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5


Do we know the names of the girls photographed? I had many relatives in Vigo County in that time period, would love it if they were related!

Botulism danger in low acid foods

For at least the last 60 years, there have been only two methods for canning low acid foods accepted as safe and they are pressuring or pickling. Prior to that, very long cooking times were recommended for vegetables and meats, both during processing and before serving, but that still wasn't enough to completely avoid cases of botulism so the USDA changed its guidelines. Most fruits contain enough acid to be safely canned in just a water bath, but some, like tomatoes, can't always be depended upon to contain enough acid. I have always added some ascorbic acid powder to such things, just to be sure.

I love this picture! I learned to can from my mother-in-law, in 1974. She said that dozens of filled jars all lined up was about the most beautiful sight there was and I agree! I don't put up nearly as much as I once did, but still can't stand to have my family eating store-bought jam or relish, and I always put up some watermelon syrup for my grandmother's famous Kuchen.

Yes I can

The canning clubs were organized by extension agents. Over the years, the USDA has done a good job in teaching safe food preservation through university extension services, extension agents, and extension clubs for homemakers.

When I taught myself to can in the early 1990's I relied on the Ball Blue Book (the bible of home canning, published by Ball Jars) and a series of pamphlets from the University of Kentucky extension service.

Growing and canning my family's food was one of the things I did so I could stay at home with my children when they were little. It was hard, steamy work (from planting the seeds through filling the jars), but it was entirely worthwhile for many reasons. I'd do it all again. It's great to be self-sufficient. That's what gardening and preserving the food is all about.

Indiana Buckle

Ball State University in Muncie was established by Frank Ball and his brothers, the makers of the Ball Mason jar, the world standard for canning products.

Terre Haute or bust!

Well, Purdue is the ag college in Indiana. It makes sense that they sponsored the ag extension agent. But the delicious contents in those jars were no doubt home-grown in or near Terre Haute, county seat of Vigo County and present home of Indiana State University.

On the banks of the Wabash.



Great job, vangogh!

A very hot job

In the days of victory gardens and beyond, my mom and our neighbor canned countless varieties of foods and since all the best harvest seemed to be around the month of August, it was on the hottest, steamiest days of the year, with no air conditioning, huge boiling pots of jars and lids to sterilize, water baths for the canned goods, a stifling, crowded kitchen and merciless, inescapable heat. No turkish bath could compare to the humidity and oppressive atmosphere of our sultry surroundings. Even though they worked together (misery loves company) and split the bounty, I hated "canning days" but still was required to help. Talk about a crappy job. One friend of ours even canned meats when they slaughtered a hog or cow. As an adult, I have never done any of these things, as I felt it was more trouble than it was worth but of course these days we can get just about anything at any time. We don't know how lucky we are.

Technicolor canners

hope you enjoy this colorized version....

[It's beautiful! Thank you. Click to enlarge. - Dave]

Arcadian Sunset

Discussing with a friend the progression away from such activities as canning - at least in the LA area - I said:

My great-grandfather had a farm.
My grandfather had a garden.
My father had a can opener.
I have a microwave.

Not Dead Yet

Dying art? I think not. I'm married to a professional calligrapher. There are plenty of them out there. Not many on the net, though. My wife is pretty much a luddite, as are her contemporaries.

Did you know about the new St. John Bible? Hand illustrated and lettered. It's beautiful (and still in progress).

I did like the university citation on the bottom of the sign. Go Boilers!

Nice sign.

Someone really had a fun time hand lettering that sign.
There's a dying art.

Canning today

In the rural Midwest and South, home gardens and canning are traditions that are still very much alive. Every supermarket carries jars and lids, many families have their own garden or access to a local farmer. Nowadays freezing has been added to preservation methods, which is safer for low-acid foods such as corn. We put up chutney, tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn, blueberries, apples, peaches, lime and mustard pickles, and beans if we can get our hands on enough.

(I hated the month of August when I was a seemed like one endless day of beans to snap and tomatoes to skin and cucumbers to slice).


Even thirty years ago it wasn't easy to find reasonably-priced fresh fruit or vegetables between October and June. Many families grew their own produce and canned or froze it when it was at its prime, rather than eat store-bought canned produce or, worse, go without fresh produce entirely in the winter (as my dad's family did back in the thirties).

Given the work it takes to can vegetables (let alone grow them), these girls should have been proud of themselves.

To one of the anons: botulism from improper canning procedures (usually not following the recipe or not using a pressure canner when required) is possible, but exceedingly rare. One cookbook I have claims that there were 31 deaths in the entire United States from home-canned foods between 1901 and 1953, but over 500 from commercially canned food. Yet everyone has a friend of a friend who knew someone who died from eating a spoonful of home-canned food.


I wonder if Miriam Retherford had anything to do with this.


I've always wondered why they call it canning. Isn't it really jarring?


My grandmother used to talk about the occasional poisoning from botulism in canned goods. As a child she had seen a neighbor take just a taste--a half of a small spoon--of some canned preserves and then die soon thereafter.

4 Outa 5 ain't bad

Love the four very proud-looking girls and rightly so. Maybe the one in the middle didn't win anything but whatever, she should still be pleased to be recognized.

1918 -> 2018: ONE CENTURY LATER

Could this become a repeat event? Out of necessity, we may all be growing and canning our own food by the year 2018. Is there any arable land in your family?

[Something tells me we won't. But if the need arises, I do have a little nephew who's usually covered with dirt. - Dave]

Color, Please.

Of the many photos on Shorpy, this is one I would truly like to see in color.


Washington Post, Jul 14, 1918

War Gardens and Why We Make Them

Prizes for Home Canners.

A prize contest for home canners, on a national scale, has been announced by the war garden commission. To stimulate interest in food conservation, the commission has offered $10,000 in thrift stamps and National Capitol prize certificates, as prizes for the best home canned vegetables grown in war gardens located in villages, towns and cities. The National Capitol prize certificates will be awarded to canners in competitions at recognized canning displays and fairs throughout the country. There must be at least five entries in each competition. With each certificate will be awarded a book half filled with thrift stamps. This plan has been adopted to encourage additional buying of stamps and help win the war. ...

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