October 23, 1914
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 51-112; A work committee in the Ball Room of Government House. Note that some of the women are sewing by hand and machine; others are knitting.
Following the declaration of war in August 1914 Lady Margaret Davidson, wife of the Governor of Newfoundland, called upon “the women of Newfoundland to assist in aiding the British Empire in the present crisis by providing the necessities needed by our soldiers at the front. ”
Seven hundred women attended the first meeting. Those in attendance passed a resolution to form a “Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland” with the object of helping the men of Newfoundland in the defense of the British Empire.
The first gathering of the women for their ‘sewing and knitting sessions’ was held at Government House, St. John’s on September 17, 1914.
A month later, on October 23, 1914 the ladies satisfied with the amount of work that they had completed invited the residents of St. John’s for “an exhibition of the articles of clothing made by the different workers throughout the Island, for our soldiers at the front.”
Those who visited Government House saw in the exhibit “socks, shirts, pillows, pajamas, hospital jackets, knitted caps, and hand kerchiefs.” Lady Davidson explained that the articles came from “Spaniard’s Bay, Carbonear, Fermeuse, Stephenville and Twillingate.” She was particularly pleased with the women of Twillingate who had contributed 1, 144 pairs of socks.
She was also quick to point out that in many other outports the workers “are busy sewing and knitting, and their contributions will be received in due time.”
Photo Credit: Government House, St. John’s. On October 2, 2014 Her Honour, Patricia Fagan, hosted a reception at Government House in Honour of the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland, later to become known as the WPA
Lady Davidson explained that “in the city about 800 ladies are engaged four days a week making garments.” Throughout the Dominion of Newfoundland she said “the various church guilds are working steadily and the members of first aid classes and nurses are making bandages.”
A special project of some of the younger women was the “making garments for the Belgian children.”
Lady Davidson and her lady friends from the Women’s Patriotic Association were proud of their work and insisted that “of the clothing received it is of the best material and workmanship.”
The first shipment of the material was made on the S.S. Tabasco a British Steamer responsible for general cargo. In January 1917 carrying a similar load the Tabasco was torpedoed by a German Submarine.
Recommended Archival Collection: Patriotic Association of the Women of Newfoundland Description number MG 842.5 This fle consists of printed publication prepared by Women’s Patriotic Association (WPA), with introduction by Lady Margaret Davidson. Instructions for knit wear and convalescent clothes for soldiers included.
Recommended Reading: “A Pair of Grey Socks. Facts and Fancies. Lovingly dedicated to the boys of the Newfoundland Regiment. And to every woman who has knitted a pair of grey socks” by Tryphena Duley, Verses by Margaret Duley.
Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.
Knitting Socks: Demonstration: Sock Knitting: In just two years, the women of Newfoundland and Labrador knit 62,685 pairs of socks for the troops in the First World War. Come to the Collecting the Great War: Enlisting Your Help exhibition to watch a pair of grey socks being made, using the original pattern, and try your hand at knitting. Demonstrations are ongoing on level 2 Wednesday’s from 6:30-9:00 until December 10th.