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Sisters of the Soil: The Work of the Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I.

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Presentation on theme: "Sisters of the Soil: The Work of the Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sisters of the Soil: The Work of the Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I

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3 Rose Hayden-Smith University of California UC ANR/UC Santa Barbara Food and Society Policy Fellow March 2007 Updated 5/2008

4 The Seeds of Change “The war, in fact, has shaken the very foundations of the old Victorian beliefs in the limited sphere of women to atoms.” --- Helen Fraser

5 War Changes Things… World War I proved extraordinarily transformational for the United States…

6 Concerns about the food system were central to this transformation

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10 “Food Will Win the War” Government Concerns/Goals: Prevent civil unrest Prevent civil unrest Alleviate agricultural labor shortages Alleviate agricultural labor shortages Feed mobilizing troops Feed mobilizing troops Feed starving European allies through American food conservation AND increased production efforts Feed starving European allies through American food conservation AND increased production efforts

11 Government Concerns/Goals: Encourage local production and consumption to reduce the food mile and save trains for transport of food and materiel Encourage local production and consumption to reduce the food mile and save trains for transport of food and materiel Mobilize and unify Americans around food conservation and production efforts, particularly GARDENING Mobilize and unify Americans around food conservation and production efforts, particularly GARDENING

12 Uncle Sam says GARDEN

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14 Food is Ammunition

15 Sow the Seeds of Victory!

16 Three Programs U.S School Garden Army U.S School Garden Army National War Garden Commission National War Garden Commission Woman’s Land Army of America Woman’s Land Army of America Linked efforts Linked efforts All associated with a government agency All associated with a government agency

17 National War Garden Commission

18 United States School Garden Army

19 Woman’s Land Army

20 What was the WLAA? The WLAA enabled nearly 20,000 urban women to enter America’s ag sector to work as ordinary wage laborers between The majority were college-educated women. The WLAA enabled nearly 20,000 urban women to enter America’s ag sector to work as ordinary wage laborers between The majority were college-educated women. The WLAA challenged in fundamental ways the social customs and mores of American society, and was vital to securing woman’s rights and suffrage in the United States. The WLAA challenged in fundamental ways the social customs and mores of American society, and was vital to securing woman’s rights and suffrage in the United States.

21 Women in Ag Previously The work of rural women hidden The work of rural women hidden WLAA fundamentally different WLAA fundamentally different Challenged in a very direct way proscriptions on woman’s work, woman’s role, woman’s capabilities Challenged in a very direct way proscriptions on woman’s work, woman’s role, woman’s capabilities There was resistance to this effort There was resistance to this effort

22 Cross-Fertilization: Precursors Gardening within domestic sphere. Gardening within domestic sphere. Gilded Age: enormous interest in horticulture in both Europe/America. Gilded Age: enormous interest in horticulture in both Europe/America. Domestic sphere construct stretched to accommodate women as para- professionals in horticulture (personal expertise to prof practice). Domestic sphere construct stretched to accommodate women as para- professionals in horticulture (personal expertise to prof practice).

23 Cross-Fertilization: Precursors Much work done within context of reform. Much work done within context of reform. Legislation (Morrill, Hatch, Adams, Smith-Lever). Legislation (Morrill, Hatch, Adams, Smith-Lever). Women’s horticultural schools. Women’s horticultural schools. Women’s civic organizations (WNFGA). Women’s civic organizations (WNFGA). Atlantic Crossings. Atlantic Crossings.

24 Cross-Fertilization: Precursors Imprint of the Progressive Era. Imprint of the Progressive Era. Emphasis on scientific agriculture. Emphasis on scientific agriculture. Highly ordered. Highly ordered. Progressive interest in relationship between urban and rural spheres. Progressive interest in relationship between urban and rural spheres. British land army experience. British land army experience. Helen Fraser…advancement of woman’s rights. Helen Fraser…advancement of woman’s rights.

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27 “Shaken the very foundations…to atoms” The WLA represented a challenge to traditional notions of separate spheres and traditional roles. The WLA represented a challenge to traditional notions of separate spheres and traditional roles. It was viewed by many as an opportunity to advance an agenda of woman’s rights in America = to British experience. It was viewed by many as an opportunity to advance an agenda of woman’s rights in America = to British experience. One of the organizing groups was the Woman’s Suffrage Party. One of the organizing groups was the Woman’s Suffrage Party.

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29 Why Did Women Participate? Patriotism Patriotism Altruism, outlet for reform Altruism, outlet for reform Educational and training opportunities Educational and training opportunities Economic opportunities Economic opportunities Adventure Adventure To promote woman’s rights To promote woman’s rights Key: Women interrupted education and life plans to participate! Key: Women interrupted education and life plans to participate!

30 Who Were They? Mostly white, urban and middle class Mostly white, urban and middle class Young Young Majority college-educated Majority college-educated Most unmarried Most unmarried Some trade workers (impt for class laboratory) Some trade workers (impt for class laboratory) Leaders: professionals, educators, reformers, lots of cross-reference with suffrage movement Leaders: professionals, educators, reformers, lots of cross-reference with suffrage movement

31 “Every morning, when you started off, it was with a feeling of adventure – no telling what might happen before you got home. No one minded taking chances.” - Helen Kennedy Stevens land worker, Feb 1918

32 Building a Cold Frame: Overview of the WLA Organized in 1917, immediately after war declared on Germany. Organized in 1917, immediately after war declared on Germany. Organized by multiple groups: WNFGA, Ambler staff, Woman’s Suffrage Party, State Council of Defense, Garden Club of America, YMCA. Organized by multiple groups: WNFGA, Ambler staff, Woman’s Suffrage Party, State Council of Defense, Garden Club of America, YMCA. WLA 15,000-20,000 in number; only a portion of all female land workers. WLA 15,000-20,000 in number; only a portion of all female land workers.

33 Cold Frame Centralized, national structure, minimally staffed, but what was staffed was important Centralized, national structure, minimally staffed, but what was staffed was important Staffed entirely by women Staffed entirely by women Entry into states via councils of defense. Entry into states via councils of defense.

34 Cold Frame Organized locally by community-based organizations, institutions, groups, in collaboration. Organized locally by community-based organizations, institutions, groups, in collaboration. Funded by other women! Funded by other women! Relationships, relationships, relationships. Relationships, relationships, relationships.

35 What Was Life Like for a Farmerette? Unit system, para-military structure. Unit system, para-military structure. Many of most successful units organized at elite women’s college…reform ethic, woman’s rights there already. Many of most successful units organized at elite women’s college…reform ethic, woman’s rights there already. Systematic training, communal living, standardized work hours and wages, organized labor deployment. Systematic training, communal living, standardized work hours and wages, organized labor deployment.

36 What Was Life Like? Camps (tents, houses). Camps (tents, houses). Deployed into smaller work units to a variety of farming operations. Deployed into smaller work units to a variety of farming operations. Unit manager negotiated wages for entire group. Unit manager negotiated wages for entire group. Health and nutrition key. Health and nutrition key. Moral uplift and education. Moral uplift and education.

37 What Was Life Like? All-women communities. All-women communities. Fun and recreation…singing, swimming, “husky harvesting.” Fun and recreation…singing, swimming, “husky harvesting.” National organization published a newsletter…lots of cultural expressions and forms. National organization published a newsletter…lots of cultural expressions and forms.

38 What Was Life Like? Training and education key Training and education key Not an unskilled ag labor force Not an unskilled ag labor force Extension models utilized Extension models utilized Civic orgs provided training as well Civic orgs provided training as well At colleges (UC Farm at Davisville, etc.) At colleges (UC Farm at Davisville, etc.)

39 What Did Farmerettes Do? Tasks…fruit picking, grading, packing; hoeing; truck gardening; grain silo work; trucking; thinning, raising, harvesting vegetables; hay making; general farming; equipment operation; field work; dairying; poultry farming; livestock management; tobacco harvesting; timbering; road building. Tasks…fruit picking, grading, packing; hoeing; truck gardening; grain silo work; trucking; thinning, raising, harvesting vegetables; hay making; general farming; equipment operation; field work; dairying; poultry farming; livestock management; tobacco harvesting; timbering; road building.

40 How Were Farmerettes Received? Encouraged by Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lathrop Pack, Progressive Leaders Encouraged by Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lathrop Pack, Progressive Leaders Mixed reception by govt officials Mixed reception by govt officials Press extremely positive Press extremely positive LOVED by farmers (and wives!) LOVED by farmers (and wives!) But concerns existed… But concerns existed…

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42 Ventura County While more prevalent north of the Tehachapis and in LA Basin, a WLA crew brought in the fruit harvest at the Philbrick’s farm in Ojai. Local newspaper reports were highly complimentary of the “Farmerettes.” While more prevalent north of the Tehachapis and in LA Basin, a WLA crew brought in the fruit harvest at the Philbrick’s farm in Ojai. Local newspaper reports were highly complimentary of the “Farmerettes.”

43 Statistics By summer 1918, approximately 1000 units in operation in at least 21 states. By summer 1918, approximately 1000 units in operation in at least 21 states. Many units affiliated with elite women’s colleges: Vassar, Barnard, Mills. Many units affiliated with elite women’s colleges: Vassar, Barnard, Mills. Some affiliated with public ag schools: Cornell, UC. Some affiliated with public ag schools: Cornell, UC. High wage states: CA, NY High wage states: CA, NY Low wage states: PA, VA Low wage states: PA, VA

44 Statistics Very strong in West, Northeast; middling strength in Midwest; didn’t flourish in the South. Very strong in West, Northeast; middling strength in Midwest; didn’t flourish in the South. In West and Northeast, many leaders also affiliated with suffrage movement and other reform efforts. In West and Northeast, many leaders also affiliated with suffrage movement and other reform efforts.

45 Wages & Working Conditions Great sensitivity re: labor relations in US during this period Great sensitivity re: labor relations in US during this period Enormous issues around race and immigration Enormous issues around race and immigration Ag labor shortage Ag labor shortage WLA provided a plausible response to these challenges… WLA provided a plausible response to these challenges…

46 Wages and Working Conditions National organization somewhat conflicted (larger sensitivity to labor issues in US). National organization somewhat conflicted (larger sensitivity to labor issues in US). Regional variations. Regional variations. Harder work = higher wage. Harder work = higher wage. California workers demanded and received higher wages than their peers. California workers demanded and received higher wages than their peers. Awareness by some in WLA that they were workers. Awareness by some in WLA that they were workers.

47 California One of first states to mobilize. One of first states to mobilize. Growers took laborers seriously – built housing (Vacaville – AMAZING!) Growers took laborers seriously – built housing (Vacaville – AMAZING!) Women begin to be viewed as farmers in own right (court decision) Women begin to be viewed as farmers in own right (court decision)

48 California No. California unit published manifesto, secured favorable working conditions. No. California unit published manifesto, secured favorable working conditions. UC contributed to success in impt ways. UC contributed to success in impt ways. Katherine Phillips Edson and other reformers led the way. Katherine Phillips Edson and other reformers led the way.

49 Recruitment World War I standard: infant mass media industry. World War I standard: infant mass media industry. Posters…”until the boys come back” Posters…”until the boys come back” Speeches… Speeches… Articles… Articles… Colleges provided incentives… Colleges provided incentives… Media charmed by “farmerettes”. Media charmed by “farmerettes”.

50 Hoeing the Tough Row: Resistance Women’s suitability for hard physical labor questioned repeatedly. Women’s suitability for hard physical labor questioned repeatedly. Imperil future health (read: child bearing capability?) Imperil future health (read: child bearing capability?) Regional resistance. Regional resistance. Some of Wilson’s administration doubted. Some of Wilson’s administration doubted.

51 Resistance Timing of entry, duration in labor force. Timing of entry, duration in labor force. Resistance to promoting suffrage (put aside differences in wartime). Resistance to promoting suffrage (put aside differences in wartime). Work outside domestic sphere. Work outside domestic sphere. Nativist concerns. Nativist concerns.

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53 Gleanings: The Demobilization WLA work continued on smaller scale as 3M men demobilized…patriotism, which had been used to draw women into war work, was now used to push them out (don’t take job from veteran). WLA work continued on smaller scale as 3M men demobilized…patriotism, which had been used to draw women into war work, was now used to push them out (don’t take job from veteran). Labor shortage less acute due to increased mechanization, greater crop yields. Labor shortage less acute due to increased mechanization, greater crop yields.

54 Gleanings: The Demobilization Women involved at this point working because of Women involved at this point working because of –Economic need –Like nature of work –Engaging in more specialized ag work –View themselves as having earned right to be laborers

55 “ To the call both to conservation and to increased production, the American people have responded nobly. How quickly they have changed their attitude, how splendidly they have made good by adapting themselves to the new conditions! When the war garden movement was started, the problem of food production was on the way to be solved." Luther Burbank

56 Outcomes Significant increase in food production Significant increase in food production Minimal labor disruptions due to WLA and other female labor forces Minimal labor disruptions due to WLA and other female labor forces WLA members in CA lobbied for - and was first group to receive concessions from growers – temporarily increased status of ag labor WLA members in CA lobbied for - and was first group to receive concessions from growers – temporarily increased status of ag labor Some of these women spun off into larger labor movements Some of these women spun off into larger labor movements

57 Outcomes So successful that program was institutionalized during World War II – more than 2 million women enrolled via Federal Labor Dept (rural/urban) So successful that program was institutionalized during World War II – more than 2 million women enrolled via Federal Labor Dept (rural/urban) Real acceptance by US govt Real acceptance by US govt Post-WWI boom in conferences promoting women’s work in ag, including one key conference at Amherst Post-WWI boom in conferences promoting women’s work in ag, including one key conference at Amherst

58 Outcomes Increased opportunities for women in education and fields such as horticulture Increased opportunities for women in education and fields such as horticulture “Girl with the hoe” in WWI became prototype for “Rosie the Riveter” in WWII “Girl with the hoe” in WWI became prototype for “Rosie the Riveter” in WWII

59 Outcomes 19 th Amendment proposed 1919 (June), ratified 1920 (August). 19 th Amendment proposed 1919 (June), ratified 1920 (August). “The right of citizens in the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” “The right of citizens in the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

60 Individual Stories Sarah Richardson went to Nebraska to work for the ranch that employed her as a WLA worker Sarah Richardson went to Nebraska to work for the ranch that employed her as a WLA worker Linda Schroeder (“Tiny”) secured work as a driver/tractor operator Linda Schroeder (“Tiny”) secured work as a driver/tractor operator Mrs. Doble worked fulltime as “expert pruner” in orchards Mrs. Doble worked fulltime as “expert pruner” in orchards Katherine Sampson wintered in CA, took a tractor course, and returned to Nebraska to seek employment Katherine Sampson wintered in CA, took a tractor course, and returned to Nebraska to seek employment Many others returned to college, and/or married Many others returned to college, and/or married

61 Individual Voices “Perhaps the greatest joy in the work lies in the health and vigor of it.” “Perhaps the greatest joy in the work lies in the health and vigor of it.” --- Marguerite Wilkinson --- Marguerite Wilkinson

62 Individual Voices “We did not break down or get sick or sun struck…We went home serene and brown and strong.” “We did not break down or get sick or sun struck…We went home serene and brown and strong.” --- Cornelia Throop Geer --- Cornelia Throop Geer


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