In a gaslight-lit pavilion at Twelfth Street between Olive and St. Charles Street in St. Louis, visitors of the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair enjoyed a daily raffle and other attractions such as stereopticon, fund-raising auctions, and votes for their favorite general. The raffle prizes, ranging from a Singer sewing machine to the Smizer Farm (a 500-acre farm confiscated from a Southern sympathizing family), attracted considerable public interest. In 1864, the Western Sanitary Commission (WSC), a St. Louis based charity engaged in caring for wounded soldiers and aiding civilian refugees in the Western Theater, faced the constant problem of access to adequate funds to carry on its work. The WSC cooperated with the local community to organize the Sanitary Fair as a sizable fund-raising event to resolve this issue. Charity fairs were popular at the time, and when compared to those held in northern cities like New York City, WSC’s Fair was one of the most successful.
The community volunteers that coordinated the event held differing views of how the Fair should be organized. One example was the issue of allowing alcohol in the fairground. Some organizers opposed permitting alcohol due to their religion or support for temperance, while others were concerned about alienating German Unionists who considered alcohol culturally significant. The decision to allow the raffling of prizes was also controversial. The WSC supported the raffles due to their fund-raising potential. In contrast, church leaders and women’s groups believed raffling encouraged gambling and were concerned that the raffles undermined the Fair’s public image. After hearing both sides ‘ opinions, the executive committee voted and decided to hold the raffles. Like other WSC activities, that process reveals how Missourians learned to cooperate with different classes, ethnicities, races, and genders in their efforts to relieve the wounded soldiers and refugees of the Civil War.
Creator: J. McKittrick
Subject: Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair; Civil War, 1861-1865, American Civil War, 1861-1865, Fairs, American Civil War, 1861-1865
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
Accession Number: A0487-00006
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Region: St. Louis Metro