Thanksgiving at VA - through the years - VA History Office
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VA History Office


Thanksgiving at VA - through the years

As another Thanksgiving is upon us, thoughts turn towards the traditions that surround the holiday, many of them involving food. Amid shopping, chopping, baking and barking, there may be some among us who stand in the middle of the kitchen wondering how those before us got it all done.

At the National VA History Center Archives, staff members (tired of their own frantic recipe Googling) went looking to see what past Thanksgivings looked like and were rewarded with positive results.

From a note in the Cincinnati Enquirer dated 26 November 1897, we know that several thousand pies, 500 quarts of cranberry sauce, and 25 bushels of sweet potato were on the menu. Also noted was the presence of approximately 5,000 Veterans. (The Archives team now looks upon their own more modest families, and the dishes that will need washed, a little more favorably.)

Newspaper clipping from 1897 describing Thanksgiving for Veterans at Dayton National Home for Volunteer Soldiers.

Forty years later, in 1931, very little changed, other than the oyster dressing being changed out for sage.

Interestingly, on the day this menu was used, Thanksgiving was not a legal holiday. That didn’t happen until 1941, in which the fourth Thursday of November was declared as Thanksgiving Day.

Moving forward almost 40 more years, the 1970 menu has a little more color and vibrancy, but items served changed little, with the possible exception of, again, the dressing. Here, the menu shows southern dressing. Since some team members were back to Googling recipes, it seems that Southern dressing is made with liberal amounts of sage and oysters are optional. So, really, nothing has changed.

From everyone at the VA History Office, we wish you and your family a warm, safe holiday.

By Robyn Rodgers, Senior Archivist, VA History Office and the National VA History Center 


National VA History Center archives

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