BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Knitting for the Boys Over Yonder

Bryan County Genealogy Library

In 1917, every patriotic man, woman, and child in America was expected to support our soldiers fighting “over yonder.” They were directed to do so by joining the Red Cross, buying bonds, rationing food and supplies, rolling bandages, and knitting wool clothing.

Soldiers desperately needed wool socks because they fought in cold, wet trenches and wore poorly made boots. The first ones had iron heels and rows of hobnails to prevent slipping. The metal conducted cold, and the heavy boots came apart at the seams. A better boot was soon designed, but was still not insulated. Men often compensated by wearing two pairs of socks and a larger boot size. An appeal from the forces in Europe asked for 1,500,000 knitted “sets”- sweater, muffler, wristlets (fingerless gloves), socks.

Red Cross groups began organizing knitting groups and providing patterns, yarn, and classes. Participants paid a small deposit if they took the yarn home. The deposit was returned when items were completed. If a woman could not afford the deposit, it was often paid by a charitable person or group.

Most knitters were women, but men too old for service or exempted because of their occupations also learned to knit. Firemen, train conductors, and others knitted in between duties or at group meetings.

Caddo had a “Children’s Knitting Club”. Children belonged to the Junior Red Cross and typically made wash cloths. Children who could not knit were encouraged to help their mothers with other house work, thus freeing her time so she could knit.

Knitting was considered a patriotic duty, so it was acceptable to knit at home, school, social events, club meetings, even in church. However, there were times when people in theaters were politely asked to pause in their task because of the loud clacking noise.

The Democrat commented that “very few of our women know how to knit, but all can learn”. Readers were advised to call Mrs. Fred Curtis for instructions. The Elks Club offered their club as a place for the knitters to gather.

Caddo knitters met in the Howe-Semple building every Friday from 2:30-5pm. There was also a schedule for the church groups: Monday the ladies of the Christian Church; Tuesday, Catholic ladies; Wednesday, Baptists; Thursday, Methodists. Work coordinators were Mrs. John Crutchfield, Mrs. Amos K. Bass, and Miss Antoinette Peters.

In January of 1918 Mrs. E. C. Battaile of Calera published a thank you for the “good fire and clean quarters” provided for her knitting group in the upstairs of City Hall. There was also a reminder in the Calera News that knitted socks needed to be “11 inches long in the foot, and 14 inches long in the leg”.

A group was organized at the Robinson school house. Mrs. Hollman was chairman and Mrs. C. D. Robinson was secretary.

Bokchito coordinators were Miss Elice Sullivan and Miss Mary Rebecca Loveless. Some of the members were: Mrs. J. B. Grantham, Mrs. Nabors, Mrs. C. C. Abernathy, Mrs. T. J. Thompson, Miss Lovin, Mrs. Lou Noland, Mrs. Lamberson, Miss Lizzie Baeron, and Mrs. Bradshaw,

A year of almost continual knitting prompted a fashion trend to combat the sheer boredom of making the same items, in the same dull colors (Khaki, gray, heather, and white), over and over again. Patterns for stylish knitting bags appeared in the paper. They were to be made from colorful fabrics and trimmed with pretty embellishments.

At the end of the war many talented knitters continued to knit for their families. Others, with a heavy sigh, abandoned their needles forever.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.