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Feature Articles

Family Economics Review: 1943-93

By Joan C. Courtless
Family Economist
Family Economics Research Group

Family Economics Review originated as a monthly newsletter in 1943. Called Wartime Family Living, its purpose was to keep USDA's Extension Service personnel informed about wartime shortages and rationing strategies. When World War II ended, the name changed to Rural Family Living and the content gradually became more focused on family economics research results. As the nature of the research changed to accommodate urban families and the U.S. population became overwhelmingly nonrural, a final name change occurred in 1957Family Economics Review came into being. This paper describes how the publication's content has changed over its 50-year history.

ith this issue, Family
Economics Review (FER)
enters its 51st year of publi-

cation. In the beginning,
FER was a monthly newsletter intended
for distribution to family economics
professionals in the U.S. Department
of Agriculture's (USDA) Cooperative
Extension Service. Its name was
Wartime Family Living and its purpose
was to keep Extension Service personnel
informed about wartime shortages and
rationing strategies. Extension agents
and specialists then incorporated the
information into their programs for rural

from manufacturing items for civilian consumption to those that helped win the war. Shortages were inevitable, despite efforts by the Federal and State Governments to distribute food, clothing, fuel, and other necessities as fairly as possible. Many items were simply not available “for the duration”—a phrase oft repeated during the war years.

The Forties

Many pages of Wartime Family Living
described and explained food distribu-
tion orders, production and manufactur-
ing quotas, and decisions made by the
Office of Price Administration (OPA)
as they changed throughout the war
years (see box, p. 3). The newsletter
reported decisions affecting rationing
and price controls to prevent inflation
(see box, p. 4) as they occurred. USDA
decided what foods needed to be
rationed and OPA determined how
and when to start. By making such
information widely available through
the Extension network, we were
performing a valuable public service.

The Great Depression ended as we mobilized our economy to win the war. Later in the decade, inflation was a major concern.

During World War II, officials in the Federal Government decided which commodities were needed by the military for the war effort. Factories converted

From 1943 issues of Wartime Family Living.

The kinds of metals and rubber that may be used in making fountain pens, mechanical pencils, wood-cased pencils, pen nibs, and pen holders have been limited. Production of these articles has been cut drastically. The use of rubber cement and adhesives also has been restricted. February.

Early issues of Wartime Family Living recall many details of those years that would be difficult to recapture in any other format. Contents of the newsletters reflect day-to-day family living and describe the effect of the war on daily lives. No subsequent historical event has created the same intensity of national purpose—a common goal shared by all Americans: to win the war.

Glycerine, an important ingredient of explosives, is made from fats—the same fats that you use in cooking.... Fats that you cannot use for food should be strained into a clean can and taken to a collection station. The Office of War Information points out that if every household would turn in half a pound of waste fat a month, current war needs for glycerine could be supplied. February.

Robes for men and boys have been simplified to conserve materials. Cuffs and pockets, with the exception of one pocket, have been discarded for the duration. Along with this simplification, manufacturers will be limited by standardization of the length, sweep, and width of hem (1 inch) on the finished garments. March.

The need for copper in the war effort continues to grow, so the War Production Board has issued an additional list of articles containing copper in some form that may not be manufactured for civilian use. It can no longer be used in the making of electrical wiring devices. Among these are included electric range and pilot lights, sockets, lamp holders and many types of electric switches. Use of steel in place of copper in these articles has been approved as safe by the Underwriters' Laboratories. April.

The tone of Wartime Family Living was patriotic and upbeat (almost cheerful) to convey a feeling of “all for one, and one for all.” USDA designed food plans that achieved good diets while reflecting expected food supplies. The liberal level plan was discontinued because it was not consistent with the war economy: “Any foods that contribute to the Nation's total food supply cannot be wasted.” Inflation was a serious threat; American homemakers took the Home Front Pledge: “I will pay no more than top legal prices. I will accept no rationed goods without giving up ration stamps.” Citizens were urged to help prevent inflation by buying War Bonds to draw off surplus purchasing power and to fund the War effort.

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Although most of the information discussed how to cope during wartime, other topical issues were: • Excise taxes and postal rate

increases, as they occurred. • Effective January 1943, the

Food Distribution Administration
ordered all commercially prepared

white bread to be enriched.
• Income tax withholding began

July 1, 1943.
• New products developed as a
byproduct of the war included
penicillin (not available to civilians
until after the war) and plastic
dishes used aboard U.S. naval

vessels and patrol bombers.
• Farm workers came from the

Bahamas and Mexico.

In order to ensure sufficient supplies of feathers for flying suits and sleeping bags for the Armed Forces, used and new goose and duck feathers and down are now reserved solely for military use... only chicken and turkey feathers may be used for civilian pillows and upholstery. September.

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