A century ago, world was at war and Modesto was celebrating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 1917 would be a most unusual one for Modesto residents. First, it was held on the fifth Thursday of November since the law making it the fourth Thursday of the month had yet to be passed. The other unusual feature was it was held during World War I. With so many of the men called away to the war, it made for a most unique November holiday.

With the United States having entered into World War 1 in April of that year, the rest of 1917 was spent trying prepare a woefully unready Army for combat in Europe on the side of Great Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austro-Hungary. Already, some American soldiers were in Europe but not enough to turn the tide while the Allies were waiting to see if Russia, which had recently had its government overthrown by the Bolsheviks, would sign a separate peace with the Germans and drop out of the war, which they did in March of 1918.

The Allies were desperately awaiting the flood of American soldiers, as the Modesto Evening News had noted “British Army Loss 120,000 in November.” (Modesto Evening News, Nov. 30, 1917). France’s projected expenditures for the next quarter of the war were estimated at $1.8 billion. (9 billion Francs).

The war was having an impact on local residents. Area residents were moving all about the country to military bases and in some instances to Europe. Leslie Wilkinson of Oakdale had received a promotion at Camp Lewis, in the northwest. Homer Ling, a member of the aviation corps, had arrived safely in France. Bob Jenkins, formerly of Oakdale, had transferred from Camp Lewis to Hempstead.

Local Pvt. Lloyd F. Suggett wrote a letter to the paper raving over the excellent cooperation the troops were receiving at Camp Travis, San Antonio, Texas. Suggett being one of over 100,000 soldiers in the San Antonio area preparing to ship over to Europe. Even a war couldn’t stop two Modesto residents from marrying no matter the distance. Gladyth Gleim travelled from Modesto across the country and arriving five days later married Sgt. Raymond Tomes at Camp Hancock, Ga.

In Modesto, a Thanksgiving Dance was to be held at the Auditorium with admissions being 10 cents for men in masks while ladies with masks got in for free. The night before Thanksgiving would also see a city meeting that would have an impact on life in the city that is still felt today. The city council would hear the bids for 3,000 street trees to be planted around the city with several bidders expected. The young trees planted back then have grown into the large trees that now dominate downtown’s skyline, providing much needed shade during the summer and also upturning the sidewalks that some of us trip over on a regular basis.

If you wanted to cook your dinner, you could go to the San Francisco Fruit Market at 10th and H, where “Fine Turkeys-Per Pound 34¢” were for sale. If you wanted to avoid the hassles of cooking, the Hotel Hughson was advertising its Thanksgiving Dinner from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Several ads in the paper also noted that Saturday, Dec. 1, would be the official opening of the Christmas shopping season.”(Modesto Evening News, Nov. 28, 1917). No one was opening in the small hours of the morning or offering drastic discounts to lure in shoppers.

Within a year, American soldiers would finally tilt the balance of power in Europe and the Allies would defeat Germany bringing World War I to an end.

Sources: Modesto Evening News, Nov. 28 and 30, 1917.

McAndrews is a docent at the Great Valley Museum and a community columnist. Send comments or questions to