Wartime fat shaming (1917)

Image result for world war II rationingHere’s another story from the Cornell University Archives. Faculty at the NY State College of Home Economics worked closely with the federal Food Administration to develop and manage food rationing during the First World War.

Home Economists taught people how to use underutilized foods, but in calling on citizens to “do their fair share” in rationing, they inadvertently turned America’s housewives into an army of informants. Mrs Devereux, of New York City, complained that her neighbors were too fat and didn’t deserve ration cards: “The over-heavy fed person (and he is numerous) could be sharply reduced in quantity and compelled to live on his own flesh, until he is in a normal condition.”

Another woman, writing from Florida, alleged that German agents were under orders “to buy and eat and hoard all the wheat they possibly can.” The letters offer a worrying vision of self-radicalization. Women (and a few men) suggested all sorts of inventive ways to spy on, shame, cajole, and punish their neighbors for not rationing food effectively. Letters started to arrive within a few weeks of the declaration of war in April 1917.

(box 17, folder 41, NY State College of Home Economics records, Cornell University Archive)

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American exodus, viewed from Africa

In Cotton and Race across the AtlanticI wrote about several attempts to transplant African Americans to Africa. The idea of emigration is an old one, dating a century beyond the well-known antics of Marcus Garvey and his “back to Africa” movement. Historians have written a lot about African American emigration movements, but relatively little is known about how Africans viewed these movements.

A fragmentary letter held by Ghana’s Public Records and Archives Administration in Accra hints that some Africans were excited by the prospect of building ties with the African diaspora in America. On June 17, 1912, Christian Jacobson wrote to Sir Emmanuel Mate Kole, the Konor (king) of Krobo (southeastern Ghana today) about one emigration proposal:

“The Negroes in America had formed a trade relation now between the West Africa, and they are opening a factory there – They desire our Brothers or people in Africa also to go in [with?] them Company and reap [missing text] profit from our own Soil [missing].”

I don’t know anything abut Christian Jacobson, but his diction suggests that he was Ghanaian, rather than Danish. Jacobson tried to get Mate Kole to buy 25 shares of this American company. He insisted this as a legitimate business: “They have go their own Steamers and everything for the business and there is no fear of doing anything with them.”

I don’t know if Mate Kole invested or not, but he would have been wise to stay away. The company in question was the Akim Trading Company, the brainchild of “Chief Sam.” Chief Sam duped hundreds of African Americans into buying shares in his company. A few dozen set sail for Ghana with Chief Sam in 1914, but found that the “Chief” had no power to give free land to American settlers as he had promised.

Read more about Garveyism and emigration (and see a photo of Chief Sam) here: http://wyatt.elasticbeanstalk.com/mep/MG/xml/mg080003.html

Sources:

Christian Jacobson to Mate Kole, 7 June 1912, SC 17/192, PRAAD-Accra.

Semhar Negasa, “Chief Alfred Sam,” blackpast.org