Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin: A Feeling of Purpose

Museum supporter Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin had the sense that she was part of something important as she grew up in the South during the war.

Adelaide Benjamin with her parents and brother. Courtesy of Adelaide Benjamin.

War touched the life of every American, including Adelaide Wisdom, a young girl growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Wisdom family was uprooted and moved to El Paso, Texas, following Adelaide’s dad when he was sent there as a Marine Corps recruiter.

In an oral history recorded in the studio at The National WWII Museum in September 2013, Adelaide recalled life as a child on the Home Front. The family listened to the radio together and kept up on the war news. Adelaide and her brother collected scrap, scavenging any metal they could find—pieces of old coat hangers and bicycle tires—and contributing those to scrap drives. Girl Scout Adelaide had a weekly allowance of 25 cents and put 10 cents of that into war savings stamps. Air raid drills in school could be scary, and they caused excitement and a little bit of anxiety for Adelaide and the other students, bringing the war right into the classroom.

Victory Garden poster. Courtesy National Archives.

Adelaide recalled her family’s Victory Gardens, both in New Orleans and El Paso. The Victory Garden was a central part of Home Front life. With the rationing of food goods in place due to wartime shortages and the need to supply our Armed Forces and Allies, Americans were encouraged to grow their own food in “Victory Gardens.” There were more than 20,000,000 Victory Gardens planted across the United States. Individuals planted gardens in backyards, in window boxes, in parking lots, and in parks. There was a Victory Garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and, in 1943, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even planted one on the lawn of the White House. Home Front gardeners made a tremendous contribution to the war effort and the US food supply. By 1944, Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the United States, with a wartime total estimate of more than one million tons of vegetables produced. The Wisdoms’ garden in New Orleans was a particular success. Adelaide recalled, “We grew mirlitons, and string beans and tomatoes in our backyard. Mother was a great gardener; everything flourished.” The garden in the family’s new wartime home of El Paso proved more of a challenge due to the much drier climate.

After the war, the Wisdom family returned to New Orleans. Adelaide graduated from Hollins College, Newcomb College, and then Tulane University Law School, where she participated in the Law Review. Adelaide married WWII veteran and fellow lawyer Eddie Benjamin in 1957. They practiced together and were married for 55 years before Eddie’s death in 2012. World War II had a profound effect on Adelaide’s life, and she showed her support by engaging as a Charter Member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. 

Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin is one of the many heroes you will come to know through her own words in Expressions of America.

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