Rising to the Challenge: M. A. C. and Food Rationing During World War I

12 03 2018

Potato Crop Photo

There seems to be nothing more patriotic than sacrifice, especially when your country needs you. The sacrifice that most people think of are the lives of the servicemen and women who choose to fight for their country, but what about the sacrifices made at home? How do the people who stay home contribute to the war effort? By rationing food, particularly wheat and sugar. Food rationing is a common enough practice during war, and Michigan Agricultural College was no different during World War I.

“War bread” was the name for the replacement of wheat bread. In an effort to spread the idea of rationing, the M.A.C. women “placed in the corridor of the library building a table on which folders, circulars and literature on food conservation subjects, including recipes for war bread” were made available to the general public. Wheat was supplemented with other ingredients such as “barley, corn flour, cornmeal, bran flour, oat flour, rolled oats, boiled rice, rice flour, buckwheat” and even potatoes. While we are not at war ourselves, there is a familiarity in the dietary habits of the war restricted people of the past and our diet obsessed modern day culture. Some of these ingredients are still in use for gluten-free products.

Flour Ration Poster


The home economics course also stressed the need to cut back on wheat flour in their August 1918 edition of the extension course notes. In the introduction of the section titled “Breads for War Time,” it is stated that “…Allied countries have agreed that their wheat bread shall contain 20 per cent [sic] of other grains than wheat….no patriotic American housewife will use less than that amount until the necessity of helping our allies and those others dependent on us for food is passed.” It is made perfectly clear that this was not a request or a guideline. Not only is the standard clearly set on how much wheat was to be used, but a disregard for said standard would call into question the loyalty of the woman who dared to bake bread with more than 20% wheat flour.

Sugar had similar standards to bread, although some of the substitution options would have been more palatable than the bread options. Once again, it is the home economics course notes was the source providing alternative options when rationing sugar in cooking. Foods such as cereal, cakes and desserts were the main focuses in decreasing sugar, and many of the suggestions for substitution would have been dried fruits, corn syrup, or leaving out sugar altogether if possible: “Eat fruits for the fruit flavor–they contain their own sugar….Use plain cakes….Use corn syrup, cane syrup…apple or other fruit syrups, molasses, honey, jelly or jam made from syrup, in place of sugar.” There are also several alternative recipes listed to help students cope with the new war time diet they were facing. One such recipe was for apple pie. The ingredients listed were “2 C sliced apples/ ½ C corn syrup/ 1 T corn starch [sic]/ ½ t cinnamon,” and the directions were as minimal as the ingredients used: “Arrange apples in tin lined with plain pastry.  Combine corn syrup, corn starch and cinnamon and pour over the apples.” The replacement ingredient for sugar would have been the corn syrup, which would have allowed for meals to continue on with as few changes as possible.

Even traditional social events were subject to substituting their food. Every year, there was a barbecue held in front of Wells Hall. However, there had recently been a campus wide event to raise money for Liberty Bonds, so “ after…feeling a wee bit poverty stricken…the class of 1920 decided that it would be more in keeping with the wishes of Mr. Hoover to have a barbecue without the roast ox. As a substitute…was that stable luncheon delicacy, the Club C doughnut.” It was noted that the change in protein choice “was purely a wartime function,” so this wouldn’t be a new tradition, but rather, a show of support for the country and soldiers at war.

It was apparent that everyone was doing their part to ration what they could on campus, from student events to the departments to the students themselves. While it is apparent that most of the substitutes were meant to keep life going as similarly to before the war as possible, the differences are still there. Therefore, the resolve to help with the war from student and faculty alike is impressive, and the act of sacrificing such staples from a diet such as wheat, sugar and meat shows a commitment that is to be admired.

By Catharine Neely

“M. A. C. Women Push Food Campaign.” MAC Record, 9 Nov. 1917, vol. 23, no. 8.

“Breads for War Time,” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“How Can I Use Less Sugar?” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“How Can I Use Less Sugar?” Cooperative Extension Course Notes in Serial 00035, folder 35.

“Meatless Barbecue Big Success.” MAC Record, 9 Nov. 1917, vol. 23, no. 8.


Greek Life at MSU

17 03 2014

Student groups and organizations have always been a part of the MSU’s history. Literary societies, activism groups and even squirrel watching clubs have shaped student life at the University since its beginning. MSU has also been home to one of the most iconic collegiate groups that has spurred on movies, books and television series, Greek Life.

Greek Life started at M.A.C in 1872 with the establishment of Delta Tau Delta. They were followed by Phi Delta Theta in 1873. However in 1896 the faculty banned national Greek organizations from forming at the College. Phi Delta Theta chose to be recognized as a local organization by changing their name to the Phi Delta Society. Due to the ban, many non-Greek societies began to form. The Union Literary Society, the Hesperian Literary Society and the Excelsior Society were among them.  In 1891 the first all-women’s group, the Feronian Society, was established. They were founded just five years before the creation of the Women’s Program in 1896. Academic and literary societies sought not only to have a forum for intelligent conversations, but also to plan and attend extravagant events and balls.

Members of the Phi Delta Society in the 1920 Wolverine Yearbook

Literary Societies also sought off campus housing, at the exclusivity of their members. However President Snyder was great proponent of the collegiate dormitory system and found this idea to be elitist and unnecessary. In 1905 the College did not have enough living spaces to accommodate all of its students. The faculty relented and allowed the Hesperian Society and the Colombian Society to buy its own meeting houses off campus.


The Trimoira Literary Society established at M.S.C in 1913

The 1920s gave way to an increase in students attending M.A.C and the lack of housing led faculty to allow off campus housing for more society members. In 1921 the ban on national Greek organizations was lifted and the first organizations to be established were the Alpha Gamma Delta and Alpha Phi Sororities. Alpha Phi was created by members of the Feronian Society.  Following them were the Forensic Society, who became Lambda Chi Alpha and the agriculturally based fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.

Members of Alpha Phi in 1925

Throughout the 1920s more and more literary societies became affiliated with national Greek organizations. The Aurorean Literary Society became Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity in 1923. Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity was forged from the Dorian Literary Society in 1924. In 1925 the Orphic Literary Society became Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. From then on Greek life grew and became an integral part of MSU student life.

Competition has always been an important aspect of Greek Life. Chapters held Tug of War across the Red Cedar River, Chess Tournaments in local houses, as well as academic achievement contests throughout the school year. In 1930 Sigma Kappa Sorority won an exciting victory for overall best GPA on campus. They narrowly defeated the previous year’s winner, Alpha Chi Omega.

During the 1940s, World War II led to an overall decline in male enrollment at M.S.C. Fraternity houses were used to lodge coeds, due to a lack of women’s housing. Houses were also used by the Army and local R.O.T.C chapters. After the War, the G.I Bill allowed more and more students to attend college and Greek Life at M.S.C once again became a popular student activity.

In 1948 the first African American fraternity at the college was established by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. They were committed to philanthropic service to all mankind and to the advancement of interracial groups at the college. The first African American sorority at M.S.C. was Alpha Kappa Alpha. They were established in 1954 and engaged in such as activities as reading to the blind and giving campus tours. Today MSU proudly hosts all nine historically African American Greek organizations on its campus.

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in the 1950s

In the 1950s Greek life continued to expand. In 1959 the count was up to 20 nationally recognized sororities and 34 fraternities. All of these organizations participated in campus wide events such as Spartacade, Greek Sing, Water Carnival, Greek Week and Homecoming festivities. One fall, the Kappa Sigma fraternity bought a World War II era plane from a local bar owner for $40. They set it up outside of their house so that it appeared to have crashed into the side of their house. They placed a dummy inside and splattered the whole thing in ketchup for dramatic effect. A sign beside it read “He rushed Kappa Sigma but didn’t quite make it!”

1957 photo of Winter Carnival Float created by Alpha Omicron Pi and Theta Chi

1951 outdoor homecoming display of William and Mary’s execution on the lawn of Phi Delta Theta.

Greek Life saw its decline in the 1970s. Campus dorm life became less restrictive and the traditions of fraternity and sorority members seemed to be out of date. Many chapters closed due to lack of membership; including Alpha Omicron Pi in 1972 (the chapter was re-established in 1989).

In more recent years Greek life at MSU has seen a steady increase with recruitment and rush numbers moving well into the thousands. In November of 2013, 141 years after the first fraternity established at MSU, the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council became recognized by the University.

Photo courtesy of MSU GreekLife: Representatives from Panhellenic Council and Interfraterity Council pose with President Simon and others at the recognizing of Greek Life by the University.


Michigan State University Archives, “African American Presence at MSU; Historic Firsts.” Accessed March 12, 2014. http://archives.msu.edu/collections/african_presence_firsts.php.

Michigan State University Greek Life, “MSU Greek Life: History and Future.” Last modified January 01, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2014. http://www.msugreeklife.org/history-and-future.

The 1959 Wolverine Yearbook, Michigan State University.

Thomas, David A. Michigan State College: John Hannah and the Creation of a World University. 1926-1969. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Widder, Keith R. Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land-Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005.

Written By Caroline Voisine