Monday, September 15, 2014

Russell Library to Open New Exhibit, Food, Power, Politics: The Story of School Lunch

The Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia will feature the exhibition, “Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch” Sep. 26, 2014 to May 15, 2015. The exhibition examines the complicated past of the National School Lunch Program, signed into law by President Harry Truman on June 4, 1946.

With a focus on people and events in Georgia, the exhibition was developed in celebration of the Russell Library’s 40th anniversary in 2014. U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell, Jr. authored the original legislation establishing the NSLP and played a crucial role in steering it through both houses of Congress. Russell said that the creation of this program was his proudest legislative achievement during his long career in the U.S. Senate.

School lunchroom in Georgia, ca. 1955.
Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection, Russell Library
What began as a way to strengthen the nation through better nutrition for school children soon became a complicated program administered by local, state, and federal partners with competing interests. “The story behind this initiative is one of twists and turns, as the program evolved to meet the changing needs of children, politicians, and corporate interests over time,” said lead curator Jan Levinson. A bigger and broader program more than 60 years after its original passage, the National School Lunch Program continues to be a political hot-button today.

In addition to Russell, U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (1968-1979), also played a key role in school lunch. Talmadge’s support of the Childhood Nutrition Act (1966) and subsequent amendments greatly expanded the NSLP, including the creation of the school breakfast program.

The exhibit script was assembled by two PhD students in the University of Georgia’s Department of History: Ashton Ellet and Kaylynn Washnock. Both served as summer interns, conducting research, writing, and editing, as well as selecting original documents and artifacts for display. “We were lucky to have two very talented historians working on this project, and I think the finished product shows their commitment and talent for public history,” said Levinson.

The exhibit features historic images depicting schools and children in Georgia dating back to the 1920s as well as related ephemera, including lunch pails, sample menus, and classroom activity packets.  Letters, speeches, and assorted publications document the legislative battle to create and expand the program from the 1940s to the 1990s, complemented by video and oral histories.
The Russell Library is collaborating with UGA’s Athens Science Café and the Clarke County School District to sponsor an event focused on childhood nutrition featuring speaker Dr. Caree Cotwright, associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, taking place on Oct. 22 at Chase Street Elementary School. Other events complementing the exhibit are scheduled for spring 2015.

The exhibit is free and open to the public through May 15, 2015. More information about the complementary program series can be found by visiting The galleries of the Special Collections Libraries are open from 8am-5pm Monday through Friday and 1-5pm on Saturdays. The building is not open on the Saturdays of home football games. Admission is free. For more information contact Jan Levinson at or by calling 706-542-5788. To schedule a tour of the Special Collections Libraries Galleries, contact Jean Cleveland at or by calling 706-542-8079.

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