Today Ogallala Comfort and Milkweed Balm use the milkweed plant in their products, but this amazing plant actually played a vital role throughout the United States during WWII when a national campaign, promoted by the Department of Education, encouraged children to collect milkweed pods to help save lives. The white, silky floss in the pod was used as a stuffing for life vests to keep soldiers afloat.
Pennsylvania native Dottie Slomer recalls her experience collecting milkweed pods for the war effort in her one-room school house. “Our teacher explained how we were helping the war,” Slomer said. “We walked a dirt road, and when we found the milkweed pods, we twisted them off and put them in a burlap bag carried by one of the older kids. We didn’t worry about our hands. We didn’t wear gloves. Whenever we got some, we were happy and cheered.”
The small schoolhouse was made up of about 25 children ranging from grades 1-8. They collected three or four burlap sacks to send to the military.“I had a brother in the coast guard and one in the navy about that same period,” she said. “They kept saying that if anything happened to their ships, the life preservers would save them.”
WWII was a time of rationing and fear. “The thing that scared me most was the blackouts. During air raids, we had to make sure our house was dark, not to be seen. That was scary,” Slomer said. “We often sit and think about what has happened in our lifetime and what the future will bring.”
Slomer’s daughter raises milkweed in her backyard and has her dad planting it now. “It has come full circle,” Slomer said. “Now it is for the butterflies.”