By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
As Americans we truly love our freedoms – including the freedom to complain, especially about perceived restrictions on those freedoms. Today, as the nation battles COVID-19, some of those complaints center around the freedoms to eschew mask laws. Whether or not being required to wear a mask is an infringement of personal rights and freedoms is not an issue we’ll take up today. But the freedom to eat what you liked, when you liked, was one that concerned many in 1918; with some asserting their right to have biscuits or bread as they liked and others chastising them for not saving more flour for soldiers stationed abroad. While America may have been fighting Germany then, instead of a virus, it seems like the freedom to complain and to shame is one that Americans have always held dear.
After being named Food Administrator for the west end of the county in March of 1918, Mr. W.F. Fultz made it his priority to keep an eye on flour rations and to make sure they were observed.
While he initially praised merchants for making sure they were abiding by the food rationing rules, by June he was cracking down on those attempting to skirt the flour rationing laws, which limited families to six pounds per person each month, and threatening them with fines of up to $25. This was a hefty fee in 1918 and equivalent in purchasing power to more than $428 in 2020 when adjusted for inflation.
By the end of the month, Fultz was fed up, characterizing those scofflaws skirting the flour laws as “ignoramus(es)” with “brain(s) too light to know its purpose” and who needed to eat fewer biscuits and more “corn bread” or to volunteer for service overseas.
“If you don’t want to fight,” Fultz wrote, “raise plenty for them that does and eat plenty of corn bread and beans and keep your mouth shut about the flour.”
He likened those violating the law and hoarding flour to murderers, “worse…(than) a German spy” who, when caught, “should receive the same treatment.”
One thing we can say for sure about W.F. Fultz, he wasn’t bashful about doing his job, or about expressing his fundamental rights to free speech.
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles drawn from the historical newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks of Jack Fultz. When necessary typographical errors and misspellings in the original have been corrected for clarity. We thank Sally James of Sally’s Flowers in Olive Hill for sharing her uncle’s collected clippings with us and the community. – Jeremy D. Wells, editor, Carter County Times