Giving back on Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition, one that has been reported on throughout the decades by historic Oregon newspapers. One such historic Oregon newspaper, the Morning Oregonian, faithfully chronicled how the people of Portland, Oregon, have been charitable to those with less during a holiday that is celebrated by sharing abundance.
Looking through the pages of the Morning Oregonian, from 1906 through 1913, it becomes apparent that a favorite focus was how Portland’s littlest residents benefited from the generosity of others on Thanksgiving. In a November 30, 1906, article titled “Big Dinners for Little People,” the Morning Oregonian assured that “Babies Not Overlooked” in the marking of the holiday. These babies who got to partake in the bounty of Thanksgiving were sheltered by the Baby Home, established in 1888 to house homeless and neglected infants. On November 30, 1906, the Morning Oregonian reported:
The tiny tots at the Baby Home were too young to understand the reasons for the observance of Thanksgiving Day, but they were old enough to realize that a Thanksgiving feast was not something that could be enjoyed every day. There are 16 babies at the Home and 10 of them were old enough and strong enough to sit at the tables. For more than an hour they literally stuffed themselves with the good, old New England bird, roasted to a turn, and the many other good things that go to make up a regulation Thanksgiving dinner.
Like the Baby Home, the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society was established as a haven for Portland’s homeless youth. The Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society was founded just three years prior to the Baby Home, in 1885, but it had the similar mission “to improve the condition of the homeless, neglected, and the abused.” The same November 30, 1906, Morning Oregonian article stated:
Sixty-four little boys and girls sat down to dinner in the home of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society and sixty-four full-grown men and women could not possibly have eaten more than they. They had everything that was really worth eating. Turkey, of course, cranberries, oysters, sweet potatoes, rich brown gravy, mince, pumpkin pies, etc.
In its November 29, 1912, edition, the Morning Oregonian ran a photograph of children in the care of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society sitting at rows of tables set for Thanksgiving dinner, with each table having its own a robust roasted turkey. The photograph was published alongside the article “Happy Day Passed: Orphans and Invalids Receive Additional Attention.” Its caption read: “There were no keener appetites in Portland yesterday than these.”
The following Thanksgiving, in 1913, the Morning Oregonian recounted how the boys and girls who resided at the Children’s Home in South Portland were “made happy” on the holiday. The Children’s Home was “a dormitory for impoverished and orphaned children” that had opened its doors in 1884. In the November 28, 1913, article “‘Turk’ Holds Sway on Charity Day” that had the subtitle “Children’s Homes Remembered by Benefactors,” the Morning Oregonian noted:
At the Children’s Home, in South Portland, six lavishly laden tables were arranged for the 84 little boys and girls of the institution. Each table was presided over by an attendant and it was wonderful to see the bright, happy faces of the kiddies when the big, brown turkey appeared. Such radiant happiness could only be characteristic of childhood. The soup plates soon were empty and then came the principal part of the dinner – the turkey. With it there were celery, vegetables and cranberry sauce. When each child had eaten all he wanted, there was ice cream, cake and fruit for everyone.
“There was enough turkey for everyone,” read the caption of the photograph that accompanied the article. In the photograph, there is row upon row of boys and girls at the Children’s Home, each child wearing his or her holiday best and enjoying the Thanksgiving meal. Some of the children seemed to have cheeks filled with food as they turned to look at the camera.
In the November 28, 1913, article “‘Turk’ Holds Sway on Charity Day,” the Morning Oregonian further reported:
The children in the home all were healthy and happy and gave evidence of great care on the part of Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Matlock and the assistants. The donations received at the Children’s Home came largely from the public school children and consisted of dozens of jars of jam, glasses of jelly, canned goods of all varieties, package goods, potatoes and apples. Miss Miriam Jacobs sent cakes and turkeys were donated by Mrs. H. W. Corbett, Mrs. C. H. Lewis, Miss Sally Lewis, Kessler and Fry, Mrs. P. J. Mann and others.
On this Thanksgiving, may we all be as charitable as Miss Miriam Jacobs, Mrs. H. W. Corbett, Mrs. C. H. Lewis, Miss Sally Lewis, Kessler and Fry, and Mrs. P. J. Mann were toward the less-fortunate little ones of 1913 Portland. Whether the holiday season is spent with the family we were born into or the one that we chose, perhaps we can take time to give back to the community in one way or another, whether it is initiating a food drive, donating food to a charitable institution or organization, or lending a helping hand at a local soup kitchen. As the Morning Oregonian shows in its early 20th-century reportage, giving back on Thanksgiving can “make happy” those who could benefit from our kindness the most.