History Nebraska Blog

School Lunches Once Provided by WCTU

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was early associated with providing food to the public, sometimes as a charitable project, sometimes to finance other projects. In Omaha the group once operated a popularly priced restaurant near Fifteenth Street and Capitol Avenue, where according to the Omaha Bee on August 29, 1886, “Twenty-five cents would buy a square meal.” The Bee also noted on November 12, 1899, that the Omaha High School’s onsite lunch program was operated by the ladies of the WCTU. 

 Looking toward Omaha High School from Fifteenth and Farnam in 1875. NSHS RG2341-19


The Bee said: “The high school lunch room, under the management of the women of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, has been in successful operation for five years and is as much a permanent and recognized part of the institution as any department of instruction. . . . A daily average of 300 pupils avail themselves of the opportunity to get something fresh and wholesome without going home or down town for it.” 

The WCTU’s work with student lunches wasn’t entirely altruistic. The Bee noted that every year the project “has paid a substantial and increasing profit, and this year, the best financially since the beginning, the profit has been running about $60 per month.” It was noted that revenue fell toward the end of each month, probably indicating that many students had exhausted a monthly allowance from their parents for lunches.  

The menu included such student favorites as baked beans, ham sandwiches, and coffee, a beverage not found in modern school lunches: “Baked beans are a popular article for their palatable and nourishing qualities, no less than for the size of the ‘hill of beans’ that one can get for 3 cents. Ham sandwiches . . . may be put on the shelves day after day without risk of diminishing their hold upon the studying public.” 

The Bee added that the WCTU provided students with cinnamon rolls for one cent each; coffee and chocolate for three cents per cup; and milk for two cents per glass.

-- Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications    

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