When the United States entered World War 2, the country was tasked with myriad problems tied to mobilizing the largest military force in history. Feeding so many troops proved a major difficulty. While the U.S. is sometimes referred to as “the world’s breadbasket” due to its plentiful food supply, the government wasn’t able to just take what it needed: farmers needed to be paid for their products. No government could long afford to pay for food at free market prices, so the U.S. government instituted measures (including rationing) to keep the price of food at a level affordable for a sustained war effort.

Encouraging private citizens to grow their own produce was one such measure. An ongoing wartime campaign by the Department of Agriculture promoted “victory gardens” through the use of posters and educational brochures. Families who grew their own vegetables would be less dependent on rationed canned goods, and a lesser demand for commercially-grown produce would allow the government to keep prices low enough to affordably feed the troops. Every citizen was encouraged to grow produce to help the war effort, whether in a backyard garden or (in the case of urban dwellers) in window boxes.

Some civilians already had a head start growing their own produce. Money was tight (or practically non-existent) for many during the Great Depression, and a lot of families took to growing vegetables as a method for simple survival. During the war these people just continued their same backyard agriculture practices. My mother’s family was very poor during the Depression and, although Mom had a job in a defense factory during the war (she was a proud “Rosie the Riveter”), her family continued to grow their own vegetables throughout the conflict.

Victory gardening was also an ideal activity for children and teens, for reasons both practical and psychological. Tending a victory garden gave kids the feeling that they were contributing to the war effort, just like their parents and older siblings who either were away fighting or working in factories to produce material and munitions.

Many period magazines provided helpful instructional articles on growing victory gardens, and comic books were no exception. In 1942 Parents Magazine Press published How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War, which was packed full of ideas and suggestions for young people concerning ways in which they could participate in the war effort. The publisher, which took its name from its flagship title Parents Magazine, also produced an assortment of comic book titles. In general they steered clear of genre fiction and instead produced “wholesome” (by Wertham standards) comics, mostly “funny” books or real-life adventures.

How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War was a one-shot comic published during the first year of America’s involvement in the war. It contained about 50 pages of advice for children concerning their role in the ongoing war effort. It contained numerous short pieces about physical fitness, raising money (and then buying war bonds and stamps with it), collecting scrap metal, administering first aid, and discussed civil defense concerns (such as what to do during an air raid alert). How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War is a real gem of a comic; although if published today it would be considered little more than propaganda, it was a treasure trove of helpful information for kids at the time. Today it gives us a great glimpse into the “psyche of the home front” during the war years.

The idea of private citizens growing victory gardens has been floated a few times, unsuccessfully, in the years since World War 2. During the inflationary mid-Seventies, Gerald Ford proposed that citizens grow victory gardens as a part of his W.I.N. (Whip Inflation Now) initiative. In that immediate post-Watergate era, the idea fell flatter than its proponent getting off of a plane. And during the Iraq War of the 2000’s, some government functionary (I forget who) also mentioned victory gardens. We have to assume that this suggestion was intended as a sort of patriotic morale booster, since there was no practical reason (like a food shortage) for such a campaign. That appeal fell on ears so deaf that few people even remember it now.

You can learn a lot more about victory gardens and their historical context at Sarah Sundin’s blog site.

The page scans are from Comic Book Plus; as always, right-click a page and open it in a new tab for a larger view.

How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War, 1942

How Boys and Girls Can Help Win the War, 1942

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2016, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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