So We Meat Again: Species and Meat Cut Purchasing Records for Early MSU

During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.

In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. “Agricultural boarding hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”

Agriculture in the Time of War: The Women’s Land Army at MSU

MSU Women’s Land Army milking cows, 1944. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

MSU Women’s Land Army milking cows, 1944. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

My goal for CAP for this semester is to continue to research sustainability in food practices at MSU. Previous blog posts have discussed some of these topics, including the role of women and the entire local community during World War II in programs such as Victory Gardens. These types of activities supplemented the community’s and MSU’s resources by providing local food that could be sold inexpensively or canned for future use. These acts and large-scale participation also encouraged a sense of community in itself, especially during a time of nation-wide stress.

World War II had other significant impacts on MSU’s campus; one of which was the depletion of male students who had left to serve in the war. Looking through course catalogues from the same time period, it is clear how large the impact was on the number of students enrolled in the college. For example, the class numbers listed for the 1942-43 year consisted of around 521 men and eight women in the agricultural department alone. These numbers dropped dramatically in the following academic year, with a total of 93 men and ten women enrolled in the agricultural department.

Florence Hall, chief of the Women’s Land Army. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

Florence Hall, chief of the Women’s Land Army. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

Because much of the work that was required for agricultural majors required not only laboratory work, but also manual labor, including farm and dairy work, this lack of enrollment, especially in the agricultural department, required alternative solutions to maintain these industries on campus and also across the nation. In order to keep up with demand for agricultural products, many institutions turned to women to fulfill these duties, much like what was also done for industrial needs (i.e. Rosie the Riveter).

Therefore, in addition to activities such as victory gardening, other programs were created that were aimed at supplementing the loss of male farm workers. One of these programs was the Women’s Land Army, which was established in the United States during WWI and was based on programs that were already in existence in other countries, such as in Great Britain. This national program consisted of women who replaced the male farm workers who had left to serve in the army. Interestingly, during WWII the program was headed by Florence Hall, a 1909 home economics graduate of MSU, who had taught school in Lansing, MI and worked at the Department of Agriculture under the Bureau of Dairy Industry after her graduation.

In order to support this effort, MSU offered a short course for women in order to train them to work in “dairy, poultry, and general farming”, which took place on campus during the fall of 1943. This course was “designed to give women opportunity to obtain good training to fit them for patriotic service in agriculture”. Instruction during the course consisted of a heavy workload of six days per week, six to eight hours per day for a total of four weeks. Women enrolled in the course learned many skills including care of animals, milking, making cheese, and use of machinery. The cost of the course, including room and board, was provided to the women enrolled.

MSU Women’s Land Army training course brochure. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

MSU Women’s Land Army training course brochure. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

MSU Women’s Land Army training course brochure. Courtesy of MSU Archives

MSU Women’s Land Army training course brochure. Courtesy of MSU Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, this program had a dramatic effect on agricultural production during the war, while also demonstrating that women could efficiently work in the same types of industries that were typically attributed to men.

 

References:
MSU Archives
The M.A.C. Record; vol. 48, no. 03; May 1943

For more information about the Women’s Land Army and Florence Hall: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/winter/landarmy.html