HELENA – People in Helena got a chance Saturday to experience firsthand how Montanans living through World War I helped with the war effort.
The Montana Historical Society held an event called “Homecrafts on the Home Front” at the Original Governor’s Mansion. Volunteers helped visitors try their hands at work like knitting, spinning yarn and quilting.
About 40,000 Montanans volunteered or were drafted into the military during the war – almost a tenth of the state’s population, and one of the highest service rates in the U.S.
“Montanans were also volunteering to do a lot on the home front as well,” said Maggie Ordon, MHS curator of history. “That ranged from helping out at the Red Cross to hosting fundraisers to planting victory gardens in their backyards and in their communities.”
Ordon said Gov. Sam Stewart’s daughters, then 10, 8 and 6 years old, remembered sewing together knit squares into blankets for soldiers and for war refugees. Others sewed together community quilts that would then be raffled off to raise money for the troops. In one case, a Cascade County community quilt raised $1,000.
“Trying these things is a great way for people to get a physical experience, to really tap into that physical experience of what it was like 100 years ago while a war was going on,” Ordon said.
The Original Governor’s Mansion has been holding events throughout the year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. Ordon said it’s an important time in Montana’s history.
“This gives a chance for people to know what was happening on the home front, and how patriotic and enthusiastic Montanans were,” she said. “But there’s also another element, where there’s a lot of conflict and tension, where a lot of unions and miners were advocating for their rights, too. We hope people get a sense of what it was like 100 years ago living in Montana, and all the different views and opinions and experiences.”
The mansion will be open for tours Tuesday through Saturday, at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., through Sept. 15. After Sept. 15, it will be open Saturdays only. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children.