And Now You Know: WWI Homefront in Orange

Published 4:12 pm Saturday, November 10, 2018

By Mike Louviere

When World War One started conditions in Orange became a preview of what would happen 25 years later.

The conflict in Europe had begun in 1914 and America had made a great effort to stay neutral and out of the war.

Orange had become a shipbuilding center due to the availability of pine, oak, and cypress lumber to build the needed vessels for shipping supplies to Britain and France, America’s allies.

By early 1917, it was evident that America was going to have to become involved in the war. Germany had declared unrestricted warfare and had sunk several American flagged ships. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany. April 6, Congress declared war. America would be entering the war with her allies.

Wooden Hull at low tide. Note the metal spikes. Downtown Orange, Texas, is three miles in the distance. Photographer and date unknown.

By 1918, there were 28 vessels being built in Orange by the shipyards. There had been an influx of workers and their families coming into Orange. There was a shortage of housing. The McCorqudale Quarters was a section of town with old houses of various shapes and sizes, mostly small. An area called “Toytown” had been hastily constructed. “Toytown” was located on the northwest side of Orange. It was a small community of uniform, small houses built in an area surrounded by tall pine trees. Both places were filled to capacity in a very short time.

In addition to the shortage of homes, there was a shortage of food. Meat, flour, and sugar were especially scarce. Some foods had been controlled by voluntary rationing. Eventually, the government placed limits on foods that could be bought.

Tuesday became known as “Meatless Tuesday” because no meat could be bought on that day. Large dealers and bakeries could only buy an allotted amount of wheat and flour mixed with wheat. Some flour was made from rice. Pancakes made with rice flour were said to be “not very palatable.”

Daylight Savings Time was conceived to cut down on the use of artificial light. It was also an effort to conserve energy and fuel. Other measures were taken to conserve coal and other fuels for the war industries and travel.

Along with the influx of workers in Orange, there were also soldiers and sailors in town. One young lady had a “beau” who was a soldier and was embarrassed when her little sister looked at his legs, saw his leggings and exclaimed, “Look sister he has corsets on his legs.”

The faculty at Anderson School consisted of Miss Cora Evans, principal and Misses Theresa and Leslie Sholars, Hazel and Grace Reeves, Oma and Lynn Harrington, and Lyndall Brown as teachers. The Orange school board did not hire married women as teachers in those days.

School children planted gardens to raise food. Young girls rolled bandages out of old sheets and tablecloths for the Red Cross and knitted mufflers and sweaters for the soldiers. Some girls made clothing to be sent to war orphans in the war-torn countries.

When the Thrift Stamp program started, it was advertised that if each person in the United States bought one 25 cent stamp it would provide the government with 25 million dollars.

Liberty Bonds were also sold and were considered a loan to the government.

One day Miss Evans, the principal at Anderson, went to each classroom and announced that the war had ended. Everyone was excited! Later they found that this was a false announcement. A few days later, on November 11, the Armistice was announced. It was real this time.

There were whistles and horns blowing, flags flying, people were cheering and singing and shouting. There were makeshift parades. The town was so crowded that traffic had to stop, the streets were jammed with celebrating people.

The “War to End All Wars” had ended.

Sadly 21 years later, in 1939 a new war in Europe started. In December 1941, the United States joined the war and things in Orange began to change. Steel ships were being built for this war effort. Orange would explode to a population of nearly 70,000. There would be shortages of housing and food. Rationing would take place.

It was 1918 all over again, just on a greater scale.

“And now you know”.