As Thanksgiving approaches, we think of the early settlers at Plymouth and the beginning of the holiday tradition. But Thanksgiving should also be remembered for another historical event that took place in Plymouth.
The year was 1947, just two years after the end of World War II. Overseas in Europe there was hunger. No food meant no peace or reconstruction for the war-torn countries.
The governor of Massachusetts, Robert Bradford, adopted an interesting idea from Iris Gabriel. Why not start a Thanksgiving campaign to help the hungry overseas? Bradford led the way in creating the Silent Guest program, with its headquarters in Plymouth. Bradford, incidentally, was a descendant of the governor of the Plymouth Bay Colony.
When Thanksgiving came around, everyone was asked to take in a silent guest to their table. You simply paid for the cost of this extra guest by sending money to a committee in Plymouth. These donations translated to food for hungry people in Europe.
The Silent Guest campaign was part of an overall effort to fight hunger and build peace. There was also the Friendship Train, which went coast to coast picking up food to be shipped to France and Italy.
The public was engaged, and so too were the government leaders. President Truman and his Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs made fighting hunger a top priority. Former president Herbert Hoover served as food ambassador in 1946-1947.
Secretary of State George Marshall pushed for interim aid to provide food in France, Italy, and Austria for the winter of 1947-1948. This was a key stepping stone to his famous Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. Food was the foundation for the eventual recovery of Europe.
Marshall won the Nobel Prize for this effort. But this was a prize shared by all Americans who took in many silent guests in the years after World War II.