Squirrel week is meant to celebrate everything about squirrels and everything squirrel related. Squirrel day is the one day of the year when we certainly refrain from harming squirrels. Most people, of course, are not even aware that a “squirrel day” really exists, but I am sure that not many of you would enjoy killing squirrels on any day. However, this did not seem to be the case nearly a century ago in 1918. A newspaper released during this time revealed an inhumane aspect of our culture’s history. The newspaper contained an announcement asking all “schoolchildren”, no matter their age, race, creed or gender, to kill all the squirrels that they see on sight. That is a pretty surprising newspaper release to find in the archives when searching for a happy story about squirrels on squirrel day.
During the week of April 29th to May 4th all schoolchildren in the state of California were being begged by adults and other authorities to kill squirrels wherever they saw them. Not only did many of the children end up killing a lot of squirrels, but also well over one thousand children lined up at the end of the week to turn in their collections of squirrel tails. At the time, killing squirrels was regarded as a civic duty. Perhaps the scars leftover by the recently ended First World War made that generation of children and their parents a bit tougher, who knows?
Sometimes newspapers all across the country would promote squirrel killing. During the year of 1918 it would not have been unusual to see a political cartoon featuring a squirrel in a German Army helmet, which clearly depicted squirrels as our enemies. Many people hated squirrels back then for the same reason that some people cannot stand squirrels now—they can be problematic. Squirrels used to be considered pests that would cause harm to our homes and trees. So killing them seemed fair to the American public at the time. However, it was eventually learned that squirrels do more to get rid of other pests instead of being pests themselves. So now we think that they are cute critters.
What other reasons, not mentioned above, could have led people to kill so many squirrels?