Friday, August 22, 2014

The Story of School Lunch: Experimentation in the Progressive Era

Over the past two summers Russell Library interns Ashton Ellett and Kaylynn Washnock assisted in curating the new exhibit, “Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch” opening September 26th in the Russell Library’s Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit examines the complicated past of the National School Lunch Program, from feeding malnourished children and putting excess commodities to good use, to the more recent debates over childhood obesity and nutrition in America. This post is one in a series where Ashton and Kaylynn provide a preview of key documents featured in the exhibition.   

Front cover, USDA Farmer's Bulletin
No. 712 published in March 1916.
Experimentation with school lunch in the United States began during the Progressive Era (1890-1920). In growing urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston religious institutions, professional women’s groups, and charities launched the first free milk and lunch programs to combat pervasive childhood malnutrition.

As the USDA Farm Bulletin No. 712 noted, “Growing children have special needs in the way of food.” As the future generation of America, the growth of healthy children was of the utmost importance. The USDA’s sample menu relied on available foods according to season. While the winter menu baked apples, the summer diet offered students a variety of fruits.

Without state or federal aid, the majority of American school children continued without a school-provided lunch. But shortly, a period of financial depression and war would reshape thoughts on the issue.

Want to find out more about School Lunch? Visit Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery inside the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries from September 26, 2014 through May 15, 2015. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788.

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