“To the Rescue of the Crops”: The Women’s Land Army during World War II
By Dr. Judy Barrett Litoff
Professor of History
By Dr. David C. Smith
Bird and Bird Professor Emeritus of American History
The University of Maine
We’re working for Victory, too; growing food for ourselves and our countrymen. While other women work at machines and in factories—we’re soldiers in overalls. . . . We’re running the place while Dad’s away.Toni Taylor, “Women on the Home Front,”
McCall’s, May 1942.
I noticed on the farms, mostly the little ones with just a shack for a house, there seems to be no one but the women left to do the work. You see them taking care of cattle, etc. It makes me proud to see how the women have picked up where the men left off and are keeping the home fires burning.Mabel Opal Miller to Pvt. Ivan Johnson
Letter of September 6, 1944.
One of the least known aspects of World War II in the United States is the crucial role played by the many women who plowed the ground, planted the seeds, cultivated the plants, and harvested much of the nation’s crops from 1942 through 1945. Without their contributions, food would have been even scarcer, both at home and on the fighting fronts. The physical well-being of the combat forces would have been less. America’s allies would have suffered greater privations than they did. Rationing, price controls, and dietary changes designed to meet food shortages would have been harder to bear. That this did not happen is a remarkable tribute to the women of the United States who, in response to great need, created a grassroots movement that came “to the rescue of the crops.” Whether the forces consisted of farm wives driving tractors, college women milking cows, housewives picking apples, or secretaries spending summer vacations harvesting vegetables, these workers responded with energy and ingenuity to the wartime need for farm labor.
On Farm Mobilization Day, January 12, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a nationwide address in which he underscored the important role to be played by American agriculture in the winning of the war. He told his audience that “food is the life line of the forces that fight for freedom. Free people everywhere can be grateful to the farm families that are making victory possible.” Using the motto, “Food Fights for Freedom,” the Office of War Information (OWI) in conjunction with the War Food Administration produced posters, pamphlets, and short films emphasizing that “raising food is a real war job” and “bread is ammunition as vital as bullets.” One widely distributed government poster proclaimed, “food is a weapon—don’t waste it,” while a 1945 OWI film, Wartime Nutrition, declared that the United States was both “the bread basket and the arsenal of democracy.”
Throughout the wartime years, the need for workers in agriculture, as well as in manufacturing and the military, was unprecedented. Balancing rival claims for labor presented an almost impossible challenge to a nation that had been plagued by the problem of high unemployment for over a decade. During the depression years of the 1930s, farm labor had posed a difficulty only in its surplus of workers. At the end of the decade, few observers of the agricultural scene envisioned that labor shortages would be a significant problem—even if war were to come.
When the Second World War broke out in Europe in 1939, Henry A. Wallace, the secretary of agriculture, had served in that post since 1933. After he received the Democratic nomination for Vice President in the summer of 1940, he was replaced by Claude R. Wickard, an Indiana farmer who had come to the Department of Agriculture early in the New Deal. During his tenure as secretary of agriculture, Wallace had developed a tightly run organization that allowed him to spend his time on more philosophical matters. As a result, Wickard was unable to obtain a strong hold on his position in the Department and in Roosevelt’s cabinet until late in 1942. Departmental infighting and political disagreements over wartime agricultural policies also limited his authority. These problems were not specific to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, as battles for power within the federal government occurred throughout wartime Washington.
Wickard had spent much of his public life dealing with crop surpluses and low farm prices while also working to establish the “ever-normal granary.” As secretary of agriculture, he was initially dependent on support and advice from persons affiliated with the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Washington-based leadership of the Extension Service of the USDA. These organizations focused their attention on issues such as high rates of parity, crop limitations, and possible export markets, which concerned large farmers. By contrast, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and, to a considerable degree, its ally, the National Farmer’s Union, were concerned with small farmers, alleviating the poor conditions of sharecroppers and migrant laborers, and the introduction of newer crops, such as soybeans and peanuts. The differing approaches to solving the nation’s agricultural problems precipitated considerable political divisiveness within the Department of Agriculture. These clashes resulted in a major departmental reorganization and the dismantling of the Farm Security Administration in 1943.
While agricultural officials debated these important issues, the farm labor shortage intensified as farmers departed from rural America to don military uniforms or seek more lucrative work in war industries. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics reported that between April 1940 and July 1942 more than two million men left agricultural jobs. By the end of the war, the farm population had declined by six million persons, yet wartime food production had increased by an astounding 32 percent over the years 1935–1939.
The women who lived on the nation’s six million farms readily accepted new responsibilities as they sought to alleviate the agricultural crisis, but the exigencies of war also required that new sources of farm labor be located. Nearly 230,000 foreign workers from Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Newfoundland, and Canada were imported into the United States during World War II to perform farm jobs. Approximately 265,000 prisoners of war were involved in some stage of agricultural production between 1943 and 1945. Eight thousand military personnel were furloughed to do emergency farm work in North Dakota, Maine, and New York, and servicemen were also granted furloughs to work at planting and harvest time on their home farms. About sixty-two hundred conscientious objectors worked at either seasonal or full-time agricultural jobs during the war years, and some twenty-six thousand Americans of Japanese descent were used in seasonal jobs on a furlough basis from their relocation centers during 1942, 1943, and 1944. In addition, approximately 2.5 million young people between the ages of fourteen and seventeen worked as Victory Farm Volunteers during the war years. Most important of all, however, were the millions of American women who came forward and helped to plant, cultivate, and harvest the nation’s crops.
Tidy statistics on the number of women who were employed in agricultural pursuits during the Second World War are difficult to ascertain. The Labor Information Bulletin estimated that three million women, or 27 percent of the entire agricultural labor force, worked on farms in June 1943. The U.S. Women’s Bureau reported that the percentage of women employed in agriculture rose from 8 percent in 1940 to 22.4 percent in 1945. The Extension Service of the USDA estimated that it had placed approximately 1.5 million nonfarm women in farm jobs between 1943 and 1945 and that an equal number of women had been recruited directly by farmers or found farm work on their own during the war years.
As early as May 1940, the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association, an organization of farm and garden club women that had played a prominent role in the establishment of the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) during the First World War, discussed the revival of the WLAA as one way to mobilize women for the impending agricultural labor crisis. The WLAA, modeled after the British Woman’s Land Army of World War I, had been established in 1917 as a private organization with loose ties to the Department of Labor. At the height of the War, in 1918, more than 15,000 women from throughout the United States had been recruited for the WLAA. By the spring of 1940, when the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association called for the revival of the WLAA, the British Women’s Land Army (WLA) of World War II had been in operation for about a year. Drawing upon the success of the WLA in England, Eleanor Roosevelt, in her capacity as assistant director of volunteer service for the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), lent her support to the formation of a Women’s Land Army when she announced in November 1941 that the OCD would recruit women to harvest the nation’s crops.
The entry of the United States into the Second World War in December 1941 generated additional interest in the establishment of a Women’s Land Army. Four months after Pearl Harbor, in April 1942, Farm Journal exhorted “women and children already on the farms of America” to be ready “to train small town and city women for summer, seasonal and vacation jobs in the poultry, truck and fruit farms of the country.” In the same month, Independent Woman, the official journal of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, highlighted the accomplishments of the Woman’s Land Army of World War I and posed the question: “Should we have a Women’s Land Army to help produce that all-time record breaking crop which is being asked this year as American farmers’ contribution toward winning the war?” A report published in the April 27, 1942, issue of Time was even more emphatic about the agricultural labor shortage and the need for a land army when it concluded, “With crops growing green and men busy with war, the farmerette may come back. If the U.S. [is] to feed the world, it must have a Land Army.” By July 1942, support for some version of a Women’s Land Army was great enough that Farm Journal reported that over 50 percent of five hundred farm women who were surveyed stated that they welcomed the establishment of such an organization. Commentary about the demands of the 1942 crop season frequently appeared in the letters written by farm women to loved ones and friends in the service. For example, on July 1, 1942, Dawn Dyer of Sprague, Washington, wrote to her future husband, who was training with the Army Air Corps, and described the hard work of wartime gardening: “After breakfast yesterday we picked peas. [Mother] freezes them so it wasn’t so hard. But I can feel the after affects of bending over. I’ve discovered some muscles I didn’t know I had. They’re sure making themselves known this morning.” One month later, with the pressures of harvest time mounting, Dyer wrote, “I’m going to break down and have a good cry pretty soon if we have any more breakdowns during harvest. This morning they worked on the old Dodge truck for several hours and that held things up. Then this afternoon they broke the header on the combine and ran out of gas.” Another young farm woman, Mardell [Smith?] of Anatone, Washington, wrote to a friend in the service in September 1942 and said, “I’m quite the farmer, Jack. You should see me—I ride the horse after the cows, drive hay trucks, and yesterday I even learned to drive the tractor.”
Late in October 1942, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Grover B. Hill delivered an address to the National Home Demonstration Council in Kansas City, Missouri, in which he accentuated the important contributions which the women who lived on the nation’s farms had made to the war effort during the previous crop season. He praised farm women for coming “to the nation’s rescue” during the “past summer when the lack of farm labor became so critical that on many farms it appeared that a considerable amount of the bountiful harvest might be lost. . . . They streamlined their household tasks to the bare essentials and went into the fields to work shoulder to shoulder with husbands, sons, and brothers.”
The 1942 farm labor crisis was further eased by the many nonfarm women who joined in the agricultural war effort. Throughout the United States, programs to recruit and train women for farm work were spontaneously launched. The University of Maryland instituted special four-week courses for women in gardening, poultry raising, and dairying. Home economist Katherine L. Potter organized a Women’s Emergency Farm Service (WEFS) in Maine. Corinne Alsop, with the aid of the University of Connecticut, created a Connecticut Land Army. In Vermont, Dorothy Thompson, the well-known journalist, organized a Volunteer Land Corps of city girls and boys who were placed on New England farms. Hundreds of young women were recruited from schools and colleges in New York City to help harvest the crops of the Hudson River Valley. A “Volunteer Land Army” of Hunter College students who were “bent on out-producing Hitler” went to Vermont to raise crops and conduct rural sociological studies. Another three thousand New York City emergency volunteers organized a “Land Army” to pick asparagus and other truck crops in New York and New Jersey. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) undertook substantial recruitment work among its members, and a spokeswoman for the YWCA told potential recruits of how the women of Mississippi had saved that state’s crops, “southern chivalry notwithstanding.” In California, the American Women’s Voluntary Services located one thousand women to help harvest the state’s fruit and vegetable crops.
Following the successful 1942 harvest, a young woman who had devoted her summer to emergency farm work wrote a letter to the New York Times in which she emphasized the crucial role to be played by women in wartime agricultural production: “We can drive tractors. We can milk cows. We want to join up quickly in the farm production army. We are waiting to go. But we will not wait long, because there is too much to be done and we will find farms for ourselves. Let us get together and organize a Women’s Land Army. Let us get together right away.” Late in 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt again promoted the idea of a Women’s Land Army in the United States during a nationwide radio address in which she offered extensive comments on the importance of the Women’s Land Army in England.
Articles in the popular press praised America’s “amateur” farmers for coming to the aid of American agriculture. In summarizing these efforts, Independent Woman asserted that any report of the 1942 farm picture “would be incomplete without special mention of the gallant service of women—a service which may well be the decisive factor in America’s food production campaign.”
Although publicity about the 1942 agricultural accomplishments of both farm and nonfarm women was widespread, Secretary of Agriculture Wickard was reluctant to support a Women’s Land Army. During testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture in September 1942, Wickard acknowledged the severity of the labor crisis when he stated: “Unless we can find some way to deal with the farm labor problem and other problems of farm production satisfactorily, we must find some way, in the not too distant future, to deal with a shortage of food. Food is just as much a weapon in this war as guns. I hope that we come to this realization in time to prevent still another instance of `too little and too late.'” Nonetheless, when President Roosevelt prodded the secretary to consider the use of women and children during the farm emergency, Wickard expressed only lukewarm support for this suggestion.
Despite the initial reluctance of Secretary Wickard to advocate the use of women and children as agricultural workers, high-ranking officials within the Department of Agriculture began to move ahead with plans for the creation of a Women’s Land Army. In November 1942 M. L. Wilson, the director of extension work and the person in the USDA primarily responsible for devising plans to meet the farm labor crisis, reported that prospective labor shortages for 1943 had stimulated considerable interest in the use of city women on farms. The following month, on December 28, Wilson appointed a special three-person committee of home economists to consider using nonfarm women for farm work. Mary A. Rokahr chaired the committee, and Grace E. Frysinger and Florence L. Hall were the other members.
With the appointment of the Rokahr committee, the Department of Agriculture began to devote serious consideration to the establishment of a Women’s Land Army. On January 8–9, 1943, M. L. Wilson invited thirty-five people representing twenty organizations to a conference in New York City to outline the “basic principles to guide the development” of a Land Army. A month later, on February 4–5, a national conference on Emergency Farm Labor Problems was held in Washington, D.C. The conference, which was divided into six workshops, issued a WLA workshop report that served as the blueprint for the proposed organization. On February 17 Secretary Wickard voiced his approval for the creation of a Women’s Land Army when he requested that the Extension Service and state agricultural colleges develop and supervise a “program for the organized recruitment and utilization of nonfarm women for appropriate types of farm work” as part of their emergency farm labor responsibilities. At the end of February, Meredith C. Wilson, the chief of field studies and training at the USDA, reiterated the department’s support for a Women’s Land Army in an article, “Feminine Land Army,” which he prepared for the New York Times. Wilson reminded the nation that “manpower for agriculture is of equal importance with manpower to produce combat weapons for our fighting forces. Like industry, agriculture is looking to the woman power to help solve its manpower problems.”
In March a revised and expanded version of the Women’s Land Army workshop report of February was distributed to USDA officials. On March 20, in anticipation of congressional approval of the Emergency Farm Labor Program, M. L. Wilson circulated a memorandum stating that senior home economist Florence L. Hall had been “temporarily” assigned responsibility for the Women’s Land Army.
The USDA issued a press release on April 10 announcing the formal establishment of the Women’s Land Army. Florence Hall’s official appointment as head of the WLA occurred two days later. Newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, gave prominent coverage to these events. The press reported that the WLA would be part of another new agency, the United States Crop Corps, an umbrella organization responsible for ensuring the successful harvesting of the crops. Women who had reached their eighteenth birthday and were physically fit would qualify for enlistment in the WLA. News articles also noted that a uniform, consisting of navy blue denim overalls, a tailored powder-blue sports shirt with a “Butcher Boy” denim jacket, and a visored hat, was being designed by Extension Service home economists. Hall told reporters that the work of the WLA would be “hard and long,” but the women would bring “dexterity, speed, accuracy, patience, interest, curiosity, rivalry and patriotism” to the task. Two weeks later, on April 29, Congress approved funds for the Emergency Farm Labor Program, including the Women’s Land Army.
As chief of the Women’s Land Army, Hall worked closely with home demonstration agents in the Extension Service and with the state agricultural colleges to develop plans and procedures for recruiting and training women for the WLA at the state and local levels. She also relied on women’s voluntary organizations, such as the American Women’s Voluntary Services, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the YWCA, to help with recruitment and training. In addition, she drew upon the expertise and support of the U.S. Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. Frances Valentine, a Women’s Bureau employee, conducted important studies of the 1943 work of the WLA in the northeastern and Pacific Coast states. In 1944, Valentine served as a consultant to the WLA and undertook a study of the WLA program in eight midwestern states.
Hall could also count on the assistance of long-time WLA supporter Eleanor Roosevelt. The first lady invited Hall to her May 10 press conference to present the WLA uniform to reporters. A home economist from the USDA modeled the uniform, and Hall explained that “overalls were selected for the Land Army uniform instead of slacks, so weight will be supported by the shoulders and [the] belt can be looser.” The Washington Daily News reported that the cost of the denim overalls was about six dollars, and that a wrap-around skirt was available for the “Land Army soldieret” who chooses to “go feminine for farmhouse work.” Despite this initial fanfare, the WLA uniform remained optional and was not widely adopted. When denim manufacturers converted their looms to tent twills, a denim scarcity resulted. Moreover, many women felt that it would be frivolous to purchase a uniform before their own work clothes wore out.
During the spring of 1943, the WLA, with the help of women’s voluntary associations, inaugurated a massive campaign to recruit middle-class town and city women for farm jobs. The Women’s Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission issued a special call to “women’s clubs throughout the country to mobilize their members for active service on the nation’s farms.” One WLA recruitment pamphlet declared: “WAR TAKES FOOD—FOOD for our fighting men. FOOD for our fighting allies. FOOD for workers at home. . . . We need more HANDS. . . . ENROLL NOW in the WOMEN’S LAND ARMY.” Heeding this appeal, the American Women’s Voluntary Services set up WLA information booths at B. Altman’s department store in New York City. Within a short time, booths were also busy at Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor, Stern’s, and Helena Rubenstein. Women were urged to give up their vacations to work on farms. A popular woman’s magazine encouraged office workers to plot “their vacation plans against a calendar of crop seasons,” so they could “be on the spot to help get in the food our army must have, our allies must have, our workers must have, the people at home must have.”
Training programs for the Women’s Land Army had actually begun several months before the WLA had been approved by Congress. In mid-February, for example, a formal two-week course in dairy and poultry husbandry had been introduced at the University of Connecticut. The first fourteen women to enroll in the course included office workers, retail clerks, and candy makers. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the training site and observed the women at work in the dairy barn. Later in the spring, courses in vegetable production and greenhouse work were introduced. Faculty from the University of Connecticut and personnel from the U.S. Employment Service and Cooperative Extension helped with the training. Formal graduation exercises occurred every two weeks, and these training sessions continued into 1944.
Many WLA recruits lived at home and participated in day-haul programs in which they traveled back and forth to work each day in buses, trucks, or car pools. Recruits from distant cities lived either in camps or on farms. While some states established training courses, such as the one sponsored by the University of Connecticut, most WLA workers received “on-the-job” training. At first, only nonfarm women could join the Women’s Land Army, but eligibility requirements were modified late in 1943 to allow both farm as well as nonfarm women to be members. In fact, the WLA routinely emphasized that the “farm woman is the unsung heroine of the food front” and that she works “longer hours than ever before . . . at the double job of housekeeper and farm work.”
During the 1943 crop year, forty-three states appointed home demonstration agents to serve as either full- or part-time WLA supervisors, nine states offered special agricultural training courses, and seventeen states operated camps for women workers. WLA recruits included farm wives and daughters, college students, school girls, teachers, store clerks, stenographers, service wives, and homemakers. These women raised vegetables in New England, topped onions in Michigan, detasseled corn throughout the Midwest, shocked wheat in North Dakota, picked cotton in the South, planted potatoes in Maine, and harvested fruits and nuts on the West Coast. They also drove tractors, fed livestock, and performed dairying and poultry work. In total, 250,000 women were placed on farms during the 1943 crop season.
The work of the Women’s Land Army was well appreciated by the American public. The covers of popular magazines featured land army recruits, and numerous articles about the WLA were published. Local and national radio stations aired programs on the important work of the WLA. In addition, the land army received enthusiastic endorsements from leading women’s organizations. The National Advisory Committee of the WLA counted among its members the presidents of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Council of Catholic Women, the National Parent-Teacher Association, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the National Home Demonstration Council, and the Associated Women of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In her 1943 report on WLA activities in the northeastern states, Frances Valentine offered some astute observations:
Since she has a choice, each woman and girl must decide where she will put her efforts on war work. But she should put it where it is needed and needed now. She is obligated to take a job that bears a direct relation to her country’s war needs. The women who will warm the hearts of America’s fighting men are those who pick a good hard job and do their best at it. Farming is just such a job. The women of 1943 were just such women.
Margaret Hickey, the chair of the Women’s Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission and a member of the National Advisory Committee to the WLA, drew further attention to the important work of the Women’s Land Army when she was quoted in the New York Times on December 7, 1943, as saying, “The day of the lady loafer is over.”
In order to disseminate information about the work of the WLA to state supervisors as well as to provide them with ideas about publicity and recruitment, Hall inaugurated a Women’s Land Army Newsletter in the fall of 1943, which she continued to publish until December 1945. She reported on her numerous visits to WLA training sites throughout the nation, provided tips for recruitment, included information about publicity campaigns, and urged supervisors to keep her abreast of state and local WLA activities.
The December 17, 1943, issue of the Women’s Land Army Newsletter reported that forty-one women representing thirty-seven states had participated in WLA workshops held at four regional conferences on the Farm Labor Program during November and early December. In commenting on the success of these workshops, Hall stated, “Many good stories of accomplishment, many good ideas relating to the use of women workers in agriculture, many good suggestions for next year’s program, were exchanged during the four conferences.”
In their 1943 annual reports, WLA state supervisors recounted how they had made contact with women’s organizations, colleges and universities, newspaper and magazine editors, representatives from business and industry, and numerous farm homes. They evinced pride in the results of their work, but they also recognized that the coming year would bring forth significant challenges.
WLA supervisors reported that low farm wages and the competition for relatively high-paying jobs in urban areas often made recruitment difficult. The reluctance of farmers to accept women as agricultural workers posed still another problem to be overcome. In the Midwest, where agriculture was mechanized and heavy farm machinery was regularly used, farmers were particularly skeptical about recruiting women for farm work. Supervisors emphasized that a shortage of day-care facilities presented significant problems for many WLA mothers. They also recommended that additional training programs for nonfarm women be instituted.
WLA supervisors in the South reported that the deleterious and complex nature of southern race relations sometimes hampered recruitment campaigns. Supervisors noted that because field labor in the South was often associated with the work of black women and men, many white southerners objected to the use of white women in the fields. Yet reports from several southern states also acknowledged that efforts to recruit and train black women for the WLA had been deliberately bypassed. South Carolina officials admitted that “it was thought best to start the Women’s Land Army in the State with white women only this year, as, if it became known first as a [N]egro program, it would have been impossible later on to interest white women in participating.”
Nonetheless, black women throughout the South demonstrated their support for the agricultural war effort in a number of important ways. For example, the March 1943 meeting of the Home-Making Institute, sponsored by Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, used the slogan, “Produce, Conserve, Consume for Victory.” Nannie Burroughs, the well-known black educator and founder of the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., was the featured speaker. In Bolivar County, Mississippi, the Bolivar Commercial reported in April 1943 that two young women from the all-black town of Mound Bayou had “made six bales [of cotton] on seven acres . . . of their land.” In addition, Winnie Anderson, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, was hired by the Bolivar County Farm Bureau to help black farm families develop ways to increase wartime agricultural production.
Projections of farm labor needs for the 1944 crop year suggested that U.S. women would be required to make even greater contributions to the agricultural war effort. USDA officials estimated that as many as 800,000 women and 1.2 million young people would be needed in 1944 to assist in agricultural work. In February of that year, regional conferences attended by state WLA supervisors, employment experts from the Extension Service, and representatives of the U.S. Employment Service were held in New York City, Memphis, Chicago, and Denver to plan for the coming crop year. When addressing the New York City conference, M. L. Wilson concluded: “The major burden of harvesting the increase will fall squarely on the shoulders of the women of the country and teenage boys and girls.”
In recognition of the continuing agricultural labor crisis, women enlisted in the WLA in large numbers during the spring of 1944. New York City veterans of the 1943 land army held a reunion in late April and adopted the name, “The Winter Soldiers of the Women’s Land Army.” Prospective employers were invited to this meeting so that they could begin their summer hiring. Among those who were present was the Broadway and Hollywood star Will Geer, whose crop on his Hudson River Valley farm had been harvested entirely by WLA members. In a May 17 article that underscored the need for additional WLA recruits, the New York Times published a University of Michigan student’s letter: “My fiance was killed in this war and I feel that perhaps that I, by helping to produce the food so vitally needed by our soldiers, can in part make up for the loss of at least one fighting man.” The WLA prepared posters and pamphlets exhorting women to come forward during the 1944 crop year, and the popular press continued to publish laudatory articles about the Women’s Land Army.
In an effort to assuage the concerns of potential enlistees about low farm wages, the WLA included information about payment and compensation in its 1944 recruitment pamphlets. Women were assured that they would be paid “the prevailing wage in the area in which they work[ed].” The WLA reported that year-round wages averaged between twenty-five and fifty dollars a month, with room and board furnished, while hourly rates for seasonal workers ranged from twenty-five to fifty cents. In addition, land army members had the option of purchasing a personal-accident insurance policy for $1.50 a month. However, the WLA conceded that “farm wages do not provide the strongest incentive for doing farm work in wartime” and cited the chief motivating factor for joining the land army as the “desire to perform patriotic service.”
Although some farmers remained skeptical about using women as agricultural workers, many others came to appreciate the contributions of WLA recruits. By the end of the 1944 crop year, at least some white farmers in the South approved of the use of white women in the fields. As an example, the WLA supervisor from South Carolina reported that “in the past there has been the feeling that white women should not do farm work, but this feeling is gradually changing and some of the best farms are now being operated by [white] women workers.” Across the nation, farmers expressed support for the work of the Women’s Land Army. Comments, such as “WLA workers rate high with us. Don’t know what we’d have done without them!” and “Fine help. Couldn’t ask for better,” were often reprinted in the Women’s Land Army Newsletter. The annual reports issued by state WLA supervisors concurred with this judgment. The sentiments expressed by W. S. Brown of Springfield, Colorado, which were reprinted in the “1944 Colorado Annual Report,” were shared by many farmers throughout the United States. “Last summer,” remarked Brown, “a 19 year old girl from Oklahoma worked on my ranch. I have never had a hired man who was as efficient in farm work, milking cows, driving a tractor, etc. She was married this fall, and I would like to find another like her.”
The number of states that offered training courses for WLA recruits rose from nine in 1943 to forty-four in 1944. Of special significance were the many tractor training courses offered in Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Maine. In Maine, for example, three hundred women received tractor training to work as “shift crew” harrowing potato fields during the late afternoon and early evening hours. In this way, women who were homemakers or who were employed during the day could also join in agricultural work.
The shortage of day-care facilities continued to pose dilemmas for WLA mothers. With the help of Lanham Act funds, 3,100 federal day-care centers were established throughout the United States during World War II, but many more were needed. Insufficient child care services for land army recruits, as well as other working mothers, during World War II created problems that were never adequately resolved.
Land army recruits expressed concerns that WLA camps were poorly managed and that sanitary facilities were inadequate. In New York State, where twenty-five camps housed three thousand recruits, WLA workers complained to the U.S. Employment Service that living and working conditions at some of the sites were substandard. Frances Valentine reported that “few” of the camps in the eight midwestern states she investigated in 1944 had “adequate facilities for bathing or for washing clothes, and some had an inadequate number of toilets.”
These problems notwithstanding, the list of WLA accomplishments for 1944 is quite long. Approximately 175 Smith College students worked throughout the summer on New England farms. Nearly two hundred Sweetbriar College students promptly responded to a call to help save Virginia’s apple crop. In one county in Oregon, five hundred homemakers were credited with saving the state’s bean crop. They boarded the “Housewives’ Special” each day at 8:30 a.m., worked until mid afternoon, and returned home at 3 p.m. in time to market and prepare supper. Women drove trucks to grain elevators in the Midwest, chopped cotton in the South, organized a central harvest agency in Oklahoma where farmers could telephone their labor needs which were then broadcast over the local radio, hoed potatoes in Colorado, and established community canning centers across the nation. In all, 774,000 nonfarm women were placed in farm jobs during 1944.
Plans for the 1945 crop year were developed at five regional conferences during December 1944, but before these plans could be fully implemented, the Second World War had ended. Yet the end of the war did not eliminate the need for agricultural labor, and Florence Hall reminded the nation that “this year’s farm labor situation is still serious.”
Recruiting efforts for 1945 were similar to those of the previous two crop years. More than two thousand “Winter Soldiers of the Women’s Land Army” attended rallies held in New York City during the early months of 1945. When addressing the WLA veterans, the state agricultural commissioner of New York declared, “The farmers want the girls back.” In an article published in the July 1945 issue of Independent Woman, Florence Hall reiterated the need for farm labor by relating the story of a midwestern farm woman who drove a tractor from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. each day before beginning her farm chores and regular housework.
Throughout the United States, women again heeded the “call to farms” as they helped to weed, thin, prune, harvest, and preserve the 1945 crops. In Kansas, ten thousand town women helped farm women with cooking, housework, child care, gardening, and trucking wheat to elevators. Twenty-eight hundred workers in two Oregon counties devoted 21,431 “man” days to harvesting over 2.5 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. Georgia’s farm labor supervisor reported that it was “a common sight to see women behind the planters and distributors, behind the plows driving tractors, or hoeing.” Acknowledging the varied work experiences of land army recruits, Hall noted that the WLA roster included “accountants, actresses, artists, bank clerks and tellers, beauticians, entertainers, buyers, nurses, dietitians, designers editors, electrical crane operators, ferry command pilots, government employees, . . . policewomen, research chemists, translators . . . and women from many other vocations.” In total, approximately one-half million nonfarm women participated in WLA activities during the victory year.
As the largely forgotten rural counterpart of Rosie the Riveter, land army recruits performed crucial agricultural work that had not been readily available to them in times of peace. For many of the 1.5 million nonfarm women who joined the ranks of the WLA during World War II, the experience proved invaluable. In assessing her summer as a land army worker, one young woman remarked: “[It was] one of the best summers in health gained, new friends made, and perhaps most important of all, a conscience eased by doing some useful work.” Another enlistee commented: “I would not have been happy had I not done this work or something like it. . . . We had long hours to work, but I was glad of that because it made me feel like I was helping the war effort that much more.” The winning essay in a General Federation of Women’s Clubs contest on the topic, “My Experience Doing Wartime Farm Work,” written by Mrs. Leslie Tresham of Hornick, Iowa, highlighted the significance of agricultural work for American women:
It was with a feeling of pride and uncertainty that I started my day as a farm helper. I had promised a farmer, whose only son had enlisted in the Marines, to haul corn from a picker to the elevator. . . . I managed to put through without mishap. . . . When the last ear had tumbled out of the wagon I was so relieved. . . . As I swung the empty wagon alongside of the picker . . . the farmer shouted, “Have any trouble?” “Not a bit,” I lied, “It was easy.” And, so it went, load after load, day after day, until I have now hauled over 10,000 bushels of corn. Tired? Of course, I get tired, but so does that boy in the foxhole. That boy, whose place I’m trying so hard to fill.
Yet the Women’s Land Army was much larger than an organization that recruited 1.5 million nonfarm women for wartime farm jobs. Characterized in State Extension reports as “the keystone in the arch of workers built by the Emergency Farm Labor Program in Michigan” and “a mighty force, marching across Ohio in the food production battle,” the Women’s Land Army was, in actuality, a movement which touched the lives of women and men throughout the United States.
Legions of American women from a variety of voluntary associations contributed to the success of the WLA by organizing recruitment campaigns as well as by working on farms. Home demonstration agents, faced with much of the responsibility for mobilizing the WLA at the state and local levels, accepted this momentous challenge and put the lessons they learned from their work to good use during the postwar years. From the many “unsung heroines of the food front” to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, American women helped to ensure that the nation’s wartime food production goals were met.
Grateful farmers across the nation now recognized that women were capable of performing “practically any type of work to be done on the farm.” A midwestern farmer who had relied upon the help of WLA recruits spoke for many Americans when he said: “I will say that they were eminently successful and helped me get the job done. . . . They drove tractors for me on side rake, pick-up baler, rotary hoe and trucks to pick up hay in the field. . . . The boys in the armed forces should know the remarkable work done by these women and farmer’s wives.”
Women from towns and cities gained a new appreciation of the meaning of farm work and “the dignity of farm labor.” One urban recruit who worked on a dairy farm during the war fittingly commented, “A bottle of milk will never be just a bottle of milk to me again.” At the same time, the WLA provided recognition and visibility to the wartime contributions of the many farm women who planted Victory Gardens, drove tractors, tended livestock, and cultivated the fields while continuing to perform their regular chores.
In her last Women’s Land Army Newsletter, written on December 10, 1945, Florence Hall concluded that her work with the WLA had been “an enriching experience.” Throughout the life of the WLA, Hall’s colleagues and co-workers had been eager to provide testimonials about the value of wartime work on farms. In the spring of 1945, one recruit poignantly summarized the meaning of the WLA experience: “No matter how heavy the hay we pitched, how our backs ached from weeding, or how stubborn the team we were driving, we always had the secret joy that we were helping the war effort.”
At the end of the Second World War, there was little question but that the women of the United States had successfully come “to the rescue of the crops.” Looking back at her WLA experiences from the perspective of nearly fifty years, Mary Ross recalled the remarks of her father, a North Carolina farmer who had depended upon Land Army recruits: “Men may have fought to defend the land but women toiled it. Women saved our heritage.”
- The letters of Mabel Opal Miller are part of our archive of more than thirty thousand letters written by U.S. women during World War II. A seventy-reel microfilm edition, The World War II Letters of United States Women, to be published by Scholarly Resources, is in preparation. A selection of the letters of Mabel Opal Miller appears in Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front (1991), pp. 209–212.
- “To the Rescue of the Crops,” Independent Woman (May 1944): 130–131, 154–155. Standard histories of the U.S. home front, as well as women and World War II, provide only cursory, if any, attention to the important contributions of American women to the agricultural war effort.
- Samuel I. Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1938–1950), vol. 12, The Tide Turns, 1943, pp. 34–37. Because Roosevelt was attending the Casablanca Conference, James F. Byrnes read the speech.
- Records Concerning the Farm Labor Program, General and Other Correspondence and Related Records, 1943–1948, box 8, “Publicity,” Records of the Extension Service, Record Group 33, National Archives, Washington, DC (hereinafter, records in the National Archives will be cited as RG ___, NA). See especially the folder/kit, “A Plan for Recruiting Local Emergency Farm Workers, in 1944.” A good selection of government posters on the importance of agriculture to the war effort is located in the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives. Important OWI films on this topic include Youth Farm Volunteers (194?), Food and Magic (1945), Wartime Nutrition (1945), Farmer at War (1945), Food for Fighters (1945), The Gardens of Victory (1943), and Henry Browne, Farmer . We would like to thank Sharon Seager, acting director of women and gender studies at Ball State University, Muncie, IN, for arranging for us to view the extensive OWI film collection at Ball State University.
- Late in 1942, Roosevelt created the War Manpower Commission, headed up by Paul V. McNutt, to assess the nation’s labor needs and to allocate labor sources.
- For biographical material on Wallace, see two works by Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier: Henry A. Wallace of Iowa: The Agrarian Years, 1910–1940 (1968) and Prophet in Politics: Henry A. Wallace and the War Years, 1940–1965 (1971). Information on Wickard may be found in Dean Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal (1961).
- The best discussion of these struggles for power is Bruce Catton, The War Lords of Washington (1948). Contemporary comments on this topic include Drew Pearson, “White House Yielding—FSA Losing Out,” Washington Times Herald, Mar. 21, 1943; “Editorial—The Farm Bloc and You,” PM, Apr. 14, 1943; and Agnes E. Meyer, “Oregon Proud of Its Own Farm Labor Plan,” Washington Post, Mar. 21, 1943. Meyer began her article by asking, “Will anything make the Washington war lords realize what their quarrels, their indecision and their arbitrary behavior are doing to this country?”
- The “ever normal granary” was a set of ideas, popularized in the early twentieth century, whereby farm prices, crop management, and the needs of the populace would be maintained and controlled by a central federal agency.
- Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer, pp. 271–383, discusses these events from the point of view of the department. Works that shed useful light on this subject include Wayne D. Rasmussen, A History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, 1943–1947, Agriculture Monograph No. 13 (1951); Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration (1968); Christiana McFadyen Campbell, The Farm Bureau and the New Deal: A Study of Making of National Farm Policy, 1933–1940 (1962); Grant McConnell, The Decline of Agrarian Democracy (1953); and Donald Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers: The New Deal Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley (1975).
- Rasmussen, A History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, pp. 20–21; Historical Statistics of the United States (1975), p. 457; and USDA, Extension Service, Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, 1943–1944–1945 , p. 14.
- Mary Cunningham Baur, “The Farm Homemaker Faces War,” Journal of Home Economics (October 1942): 518–522, wrote that “the farm homemaker is not only a wife and mother; she is a business partner of her husband as well. Her job extends from giving small fry cod-liver oil to warming pigs in blankets, from leading county nutrition councils to following Congressional action in Washington” (p. 518). See also the comments of farm wives in Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, pp. 2–3.
- Rasmussen, History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, pp. 96, 99, 101–103, 106–135, 199–288. Canada and Newfoundland also supplied substantial numbers of woods workers to the United States from 1943 to 1946. See David C. Smith, A History of Papermaking in the United States, 1690–1968 (1971), pp. 490–506. Also useful is Bryon Fairchild and Jonathan Grossman, The Army and Industrial Manpower (1959), pp. 189–196.
- “Women Prove Helpful in Meeting Nation’s Food Crisis,” Labor Information Bulletin 11 (March 1944): 3–4; Women as Workers, A Statistical Guide, U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 253 (1953), p. 15; and Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, , . This publication, as well as other Extension Service publications, estimated that the WLA placed two million women in farm jobs during 1943, 1944, and 1945. However, state extension statistics for these three years actually total 1.5 million. Statistics for 1944 and 1945 appear on a chart on page . For information on the number of women recruited in 1943, see USDA, Extension Service, Women Farm Workers: The 1943 Story of the Women’s Land Army of the U.S. Crop Corps (1943), p. . Many of the state annual reports of the Farm Labor Program provide useful information on the large numbers of women who worked in agriculture but were not recruited or placed on farms by state extension services. For example, the 1943 Alabama Annual Report stated that many Alabama women who deserved recognition for their WLA work were not included in the state’s official statistics because they were “unable to attend the [annual Home Demonstration Club] meeting because of the urgency of work on the farms at that time.” p. 14. See also 1943 Colorado Annual Report, p. 62; 1943 Illinois Annual Report, p. 72; 1943 Utah Annual Report, p. 11; 1944 Montana Annual Report, p. 2; and 1945 Florida Annual Report, p. 5, Annual Narrative and Statistical Reports of Extension and Other Workers Under the Farm Labor Program, 1943–1947, boxes 1, 3, 10, 16, 23, RG 33, NA; USDA, Extension Service, The Women’s Land Army Works for Victory (1945), p. .
- New York Times, May 24, 1940. On the Woman’s Land Army of World War I, see Cynthia Beeman, “Farmerettes—The Woman’s Land Army of America during World War I,” paper presented to the Rural/Farm Women in Historical Perspective Symposium of the Agricultural History Society, University of California, Davis, June 27, 1992; Margo McBane, “The Role of Women in Determining the California Farm Labor Structure: A Case Study of the Women’s Land Army of America during World War I” (Master’s thesis, University of California, Davis, 1983); and Penny Martelet, “The Woman’s Land Army, World War I,” in Mabel E. Deutrich and Virginia C. Purdy, eds., Clio Was A Woman: Studies in the History of American Women (1980), pp. 136–146.
- New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 25, 1941. For information on Eleanor Roosevelt and her work with the Office of Civilian Defense, see Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (1971), pp. 637–653. On the Women’s Land Army in England during World War II, see Mollie Panter-Downes, “A Reporter At Large: Patricia’s Guernseys,” The New Yorker (Aug. 7, 1943): 36–45; V. Sackville-West, The Women’s Land Army (1944); and W. E. Shewell-Cooper, Land Girl: A Handbook for the Women’s Land Army (1942).
- Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife (April 1942): 15; Esther M. Colvin, “Another Women’s Land Army?” Independent Woman (April 1942): 102–104, 126; “Farmers,” Time (Apr. 27, 1942): 16; and Carroll P. Streeter, “Can Town and City Women Help?” Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife (July 1942): 32–33, 43.
- Dawn Dyer to Jack Sage, July 1 and Aug. 14, 1942. Mardell [Smith] to Jack Sage, Sept. 12, 1942. These letters are part of our archive, The World War II Letters of United States Women. On the importance of victory gardens during World War II, see H. W. Hochbaum, “Still Keep ‘Em Growing,” House and Garden (January 1944): 13, 60.
- Grover B. Hill, “The Farm Woman’s Part in War,” an address before the National Home Demonstration Council, Kansas City, MO, Oct. 30, 1942; Florence L. Hall, “Farm Women in Wartime,” June 1942, Lecture for Slidefilm No. 629, USDA—Extension Service, Box A-1617, Publications of the U.S. Government, RG 287, NA; and Hall, Farm Women on the Home Front. Annual Report of Home Demonstration Work, July 1, 1941–June 30, 1942, Extension Circular 390, October 1942. In July 1942, M. L. Wilson, director of extension work, appointed a special committee to examine the effect of the war on the lives of farm women. See National Summary of Inquiry into Changes in the Work of Farm Women and Girls Caused by War Labor Shortages, Extension Service Circular 395, November 1942. USDA—Extension Service, Boxes A-1617, A-380, A-1590, RG 287, NA. On this same subject, see Claude R. Wickard, “Farm Women Are War Workers,” a National Farm and Home Hour radio talk, June 5, 1942. A copy of this address is located in the files of the Agricultural and Rural History Section, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, Washington, DC.
- The Maryland courses are described in the New York Times, Feb. 10, 1942. Annual Report, Maine Extension Bulletin No. 317 (November 1943), pp. 11–13. The work of the women in the northeastern states is summarized in Frances W. Valentine, Successful Practices in the Employment of Nonfarm Women on Farms in the Northeastern States, U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 199 (1943), p. 4. On West Coast recruitment and training efforts, see Women’s Emergency Farm Service on the Pacific Coast in 1943, U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 204 (1945), pp. 3–7. For additional accounts of 1942 recruitment efforts of women for agricultural work, see the Mar. 20, May 3, June 21, Oct. 28, and Nov. 19, 1942, issues of the New York Times. See also “Sighted Goals—Met Same,” and “People,” Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife (September 1942): 13, 16; “Women Workers Help in Harvesting Crops,” Labor Information Bulletin 9 (October 1942): 4–5; and Evelyn Steele, Wartime Opportunities for Women (1943), pp. 160–162.
- Charlotte Goodwin of Bennington, VT, “Letter to the Editor,” New York Times, Oct. 24, 1942; Nancy McLennan, “Women’s Farm Unit Gains Backing Here,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 1942.
- “War Time Harvest,” Independent Woman (September 1942): 270. Articles in the popular press that discussed the contributions of women to the 1942 harvest include “Our Land Army Is Different,” Saturday Evening Post, July 25, 1942, p. 25; Toni Taylor, “Women on the Home Front,” McCall’s (May 1942): 64–65; and “They Give the Farmer a Hand,” Woman’s Home Companion (May 1943): 74–75.
- Roosevelt raised the issue of farm labor with Wickard on September 11–13 and October 13, 1942. Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer, 310–315. Wickard’s remarks were reprinted in Education for Victory, Mar. 1, 1943, 5.
- M. L. Wilson to Professional Staff, Dec. 28, 1942; Divisional History, box 7, RG 33, NA; and Rasmussen, History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, pp. 137–138.
- A detailed account of the early history of the farm labor program can be found in A Chronicle of the Administrative and Organizational Problems Connected with The Establishment and Operation of the Emergency Farm Labor Program (1947), especially pp. 7–15. Memorandums, workshop reports, and correspondence relating to this period of the Farm Labor Program are located in Divisional History, box 7, RG 33, NA. M. C. Wilson, “Feminine Land Army,” New York Times, Feb. 28, 1943.
- “Suggested Procedure to be Followed in the Development of a Women’s Land Army Program for the Use of Nonfarm Women on Farms for Wartime Food Production,” March 1943; Extension Service Memorandum No. A-115, Mar. 20, 1943, both in Divisional History, box 7, RG 33, NA.
- Florence L. Hall, a native of Port Austin, MI, graduated from Michigan State Agricultural College in 1909 and taught high school mathematics in East Lansing for several years. In 1917 she was appointed home demonstration agent in Allegheny County, PA. Rising through the ranks of the Extension Service, in 1928 she was appointed senior home economist, with responsibility for the twelve northeastern states. Hall remained in this position until her 1943 WLA appointment. For biographical information about Hall, see Maxine Block, ed., Current Biography (1944), pp. 270–272.
- USDA press releases, Apr. 10, 12, 1943, ERS; Washington Post, Apr. 13, 14, 17, 1943; New York Times, Apr. 13, 1943; and Washington Evening Star, Apr. 13, 1943.
- The legislation, Public Law 45, was passed on April 29, 1943. In addition to establishing the WLA, the law provided for the importation of foreign labor and for the establishment of additional emergency agencies as well as sundry other matters that emerged from the USDA reorganization. A discussion of the debate which ensued over this legislation appears in Rasmussen, History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, chap. 3, and Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer, chaps. 16 and 17. Between April 21 and May 1, 1943, the Extension Service sponsored four regional conferences on the farm labor problem. The conferences, held in New York City, Chicago, Memphis, and Salt Lake City, included workshops on the Women’s Land Army. Divisional History, box 7, RG 33, NA.
- Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 10. The 1943 studies Valentine conducted were Successful Practices in the Employment of Nonfarm Women on Farms in the Northeastern States, 1943, Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 199 (1944), and Women’s Emergency Farm Service on the Pacific Coast in 1943, Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 204 (1943). Valentine prepared the 1944 study Women and Wartime Farm Work: A Study of Eight Midwestern States for the Women’s Land Army of the Farm Labor Program, Extension Service of the USDA. See also Guides for Wartime Use of Women on Farms, Women’s Bureau Special Bulletin No. 8 (1942). For information on the assignment of Frances Valentine to conduct studies of the WLA, see the May 20, 1943, Women’s Bureau memorandum written by Bertha M. Nienburg; for a discussion of the Women’s Bureau concern for the welfare of wage-earning farm women, see “Women’s Bureau Farm Program,” a statement by Jennie Mohr at the Farm Safety Section, National Safety Council, Chicago, IL, Oct. 5, 1943, all in Women Workers in World War II, 1940–1945, box 200, Division of Research, Women’s Bureau, Records of the Women’s Bureau, RG 86, NA.
- Washington Daily News, May 11, 1943; New York Times, May 11, 13, 1943.
- OWI press release, Mar. 23, 1943; box 200, RG 86, NA; USDA, Extension Service, Women’s Land Army of the U.S. Crop Corps Needs Workers (1943); New York Times, May 26, 1943. In 1944 Miller’s department store in Salem, OR, helped to promote the work of the WLA with a window display. 1944 Oregon Annual Report, p. 63a, Narrative Reports, box 18, RG 33, NA; and Elizabeth Spence, “Vacation Down on the Farm,” Independent Woman (April 1943): 110.
- Hartford Courant, Feb. 15, 26, Mar. 16, 26, 1943. These courses were offered under the auspices of the Ratcliffe Hicks School. University of Connecticut Bulletin, 1942–1943 (February 1942): 100–104, 198–202. Jamie Eves kindly provided these sources for us.
- Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, pp. 7, 9.
- USDA, “Women’s Land Army Changes Proposed,” Oct. 2, 1943, ERS.
- 1943 Annual Nebraska Report, p. 22–23, and 1945 Mississippi Annual Report, p. 61, Narrative Reports, boxes 6, 26, RG 33, NA. Many of the state annual reports of the Farm Labor Program included commentary on the important contributions that farm women made to the agricultural war effort. See also Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 2.
- Women Farm Workers, pp. , , 5. For additional information on the work of the WLA in the northeast and West Coast during 1943, see Valentine, Successful Practices in the Employment of Nonfarm Women and Women’s Emergency Farm Service on the Pacific Coast.
- For example, see the September 27, 1943, cover of Life magazine. Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, includes photographs of more than sixty magazine covers that featured the work of the WLA. Articles on the WLA’s work in 1943 include Spence, “Vacation Down on the Farm”; Lucy Greenbaum, “At The Front With Our Land Army,” New York Times Magazine, July 4, 1943, pp. 12–13, 23; and Florence Hall, “They’re Getting in the Crops,” Independent Woman (July 1943): 194–196, 216. Transcripts of radio broadcasts are occasionally included in the state annual reports of the Farm Labor Program. See, for example, “Interviewing A Land Army Girl” (aired Aug. 29, 1944, on WPRO) and “1944 Rhode Island Annual Report,” Exhibit A, Narrative, Box 19, RG33, NA.
- Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 11; USDA press release, “Women’s Land Army Advisory Group Meeting,” Sept. 29, 1943, ERS. In 1944 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs published a pamphlet, The Women’s Land Army of the United States Crop Corps, that described ways that club members could help with the wartime food effort.
- Valentine, Successful Practices in the Employment of Nonfarm Women, pp. 41–42.
- New York Times, Dec. 7, 1943.
- Women’s Land Army newsletters, Sept. 27, 1943–Dec. 10, 1945, ERS. The newsletters, ranging in length from one to four pages, were not numbered. Twenty-eight newsletters are located at ERS.
- Women’s Land Army Newsletter, Dec. 17, 1943. The conferences were held in St. Louis, Denver, Berkeley, and Richmond. Information about the conferences and the report of the St. Louis WLA workshop are located in Divisional History, box 7, RG 33, NA.
- For a very good summary of the work of home demonstration agents with the WLA, see Florence L. Hall, “Observations Made During the Farm Labor Program Which Have a Bearing on Home Demonstration Work and Other Extension Programs,” Dec. 4, 1945, ERS.
- For example, see 1943 Illinois Annual Report, p. 76, 1943 Nebraska Annual Report, p. 23, 1943 New Hampshire Annual Report, p. 1, and 1943 New Mexico Annual Report, p. 32, Narrative Reports, boxes 3, 6, 7, RG 33, NA.
- For example, see 1943 Illinois Annual Report, p. 75, 1943 Iowa Annual Report, p. 9, 1943 Ohio Annual Report, p. 41, and 1943 South Dakota Annual Report, p. 15; Narrative Reports, boxes 3, 7, 9, RG 33, NA. Also useful is Caron Smith, “The Women’s Land Army During World War II,” Kansas History 14 (Summer 1991): 82–88, and Katherine K. Jellison, “`Tractorettes’ Go to War: Midwestern Farm Women and World War II,” The Newberry Papers in Family and Community History, Paper 91-1.
- On the need for additional child care facilities, see 1943 Oregon Annual Report, p. 119, and 1943 Washington Annual Report, pp. 16–17, Narrative Reports, boxes 8, 10, RG 33, NA. For information on training programs for nonfarm women, see 1943 Florida Annual Report, p. 5, 1943 Iowa Annual Report, p. 8, 1943 Michigan Annual Report, p. 8, 1943 Montana Annual Report, p. 12, and 1943 Oregon Annual Report, p. 120, Narrative Reports, boxes 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, RG 33, NA.
- Extension workers in South Carolina reported that there “was much antagonism to the very suggestion” of using white women as farm workers. A year later, the 1944 Kentucky Annual Report stated that “it is not in keeping with the southern tradition to think of [white] women as replacing [N]egroes.” 1943 South Carolina Annual Report, p. 1, and 1944 Kentucky Annual Report, p. 1, Narrative Reports, boxes 8, 14, RG 33, NA.
- 1943 South Carolina Annual Report, pp. 1–2, Narrative Reports, box 8, RG 33, NA. In Virginia, black women from Norfolk who were recruited for farm work were “not considered a part of the Women’s Land Army.” 1943 Virginia Annual Report, p. 17, box 10, ibid.
- Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, General Correspondence, box 2, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
- Bolivar Commercial, Apr. 23, 1943. Quoted in Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, eds., Dear Boys: World War II Letters from a Woman Back Home (1991), p. 90. For information on the agricultural work of Winnie Anderson, see the Bolivar Commercial, July 3, 1942. For additional information on the contributions of black women and men to the agricultural war effort, see the OWI/USDA film Henry Browne, Farmer .
- News articles on these conferences appeared in the New York Times, Feb. 17, 19 (Wilson’s speech), 21 (Memphis conference), 23 (Chicago conference) and 28, 1944 (Denver conference). “800,00 Women Farm Workers Needed This Year,” Labor Information Bulletin 2 (March 1944): 5.
- New York Times, May 1, 1944; Bess Furman, “Land Army Seeks 800,000 Women,” New York Times, May 17, 1944.
- For examples of WLA posters and pamphlets, see the illustrations in Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program. In addition to the many articles on the WLA that appeared in the New York Times during the spring and summer of 1944, see “To the Rescue of the Crops;” “Women’s Land Army,” Nation’s Business (May 1944): 48; “To the Land—Ladies, House and Garden (April 1944): 66; and Florence L. Hall, “Yes, Town Women Can Help,” Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife (August 1944): 33. Three other relevant articles are “Need for Women in Agriculture,” Monthly Labor Review (June 1944): 1248; “Women Prove Helpful in Meeting Nation’s Food Crisis,” Labor Information Bulletin (March 1944): 3–4; and “800,000 Women Farm Workers Needed This Year,” Labor Information Bulletin (March 1944): 5.
- USDA, Extension Service, The Women’s Land Army of the U.S. Crop Corps 1944 (1944), p. 8.
- 1944 South Carolina Annual Report, p. 2, Narrative Reports, box 19, RG 33, NA.
- Women’s Land Army Newsletter, Oct. 12, 1944, p. 3. 1944 Colorado Annual Report, p. 136, Narrative Reports, box 12, RG 33, NA. Other examples from 1944 include 1944 Michigan Annual Report, p. 13. 1944 Ohio Annual Report, p. 17, 1944 South Carolina Annual Report, p. 16, and 1944 Virginia Annual Report, p. 6, Narrative Reports, boxes 15, 17, 19, 20, RG 33, NA.
- Women Farm Workers, p. , and The Women’s Land Army Works for Victory, p. . Women’s Land Army Newsletter, Apr. 4, 1944, p. 1. 1944 Maine Annual Report, pp. 171–172, includes information on tractor training and driving (Narrative Reports, box 14, RG 33, NA).
- On the need for wartime day-care centers, see Litoff and Smith, Since You Went Away, pp. 152–159.
- New York Times, Aug. 23, Sept. 6, 1944. 1945 New York Annual Report, p. 1, Narrative Reports, box 27, RG 33, NA; and Valentine, Women and Wartime Farm Work, p. 15.
- Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, pp. 4, . On the recruitment of Smith College women for agricultural work, see 1944 Massachusetts Annual Report, pp. 12–13. The account of the Sweetbriar College women saving the apple crop appears in 1944 Virginia Annual Report, p. 4. A discussion of the “Housewives’ Special” is included in 1944 Oregon Annual Report, pp. 64–65. Narrative, boxes 14, 18, 20, RG 33, NA. Summary information about the work of the WLA during the 1944 crop year, including an interview with Florence Hall, was published in the New York Times, Oct. 13, 1945.
- The conferences were held in Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Chicago, Atlanta, and Springfield. A report on these conferences was included in the Women’s Land Army Newsletter,Jan. 17, 1945. Florence Hall, “The Nation’s Crops Need You,” Independent Woman (July 1945): 187.
- 1945 New York Annual Report, pp. 1–2, Narrative Reports, box 27, RG 33, NA; New York Times, Feb. 7, 1945; and Hall, “The Nation’s Crops Need You,” p. 187.
- The phrase “call to farms” appeared on WLA posters. See, for example, the illustrations in Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program. Also relevant is USDA, Extension Service, A Call to Farms for Women of America (March 1945). 1945 Oregon Annual Report, p. 59, and 1945 Georgia Annual Report, p. 15, NarrativeReports, boxes 23, 29, RG 33, NA; Hall, “The Nation’s Crops Need You,” p. 187; and Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, pp. 15, .
- Women Farm Workers, p. 8; 1944 South Carolina Annual Report, p. 7, Narrative Reports, box 19, RG 33, NA. See also the interview with WLA worker Edna F. Dickey of Gorham, ME, located at the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, University of Maine, Orono, ME.
- This 1944 winning essay was reprinted in Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 12.
- A. B. Love and H. P. Gaston, Michigan’s Emergency Farm Labor, 1943–1947: A Report on How Michigan’s Wartime Labor Shortage Was Met, Extension Bulletin No. 288 (1947), p. 16. T. L. Wheeler, Ohio’s Farm Labor Problem in 1944 (1945), p. 7. For commentary on the WLA as a movement, see Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 1. The 1943 Kansas Annual Report stated that “the accomplishments of the Women’s Land Army program will not be measured in 1943 by the number of women enrolled in the organization, but by the general change of attitude in the state toward women and their place in agriculture during the war labor shortage.” (p. 10). See also 1943 Kentucky Annual Report, p. 7, and 1944 Mississippi Annual Report, p. 19, Narrative Reports, boxes 4, 15, RG 33, NA.
- Of special relevance is Hall, “Observations Made During the Farm Labor Program.”
- 1945 Georgia Annual Report, p. 15, Narrative Reports, box 23, RG 33, NA; Agricultural Extension Service, Iowa: Farm Labor Program. A Report of the Emergency Farm Labor Project of the Agricultural Extension Service, 1943–1947 , p. 11; Correspondence, box 9, RG 33, NA; and Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. 6.
- 1945 Colorado Annual Report, p. 37, Narrative Reports, box 22, RG 33, NA; Women’s Land Army, Extension Farm Labor Program, p. .
- Women’s Land Army Newsletter, Dec. 10, 1945; The Women’s Land Army Works For Victory, p. 6.
- Marie Dawson, “Pitching In On the Home Front,” Countryside (Winter 1990): 86. The Emergency Farm Labor Program continued through 1947. Although the Women’s Land Army was discontinued in December 1945, the Extension Service recruited an additional 800,000 women for farm work during 1946 and 1947. Rasmussen, A History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, 1943–1947, pp. 149–150. Two USDA reports on the use of women as farm workers during 1946 and 1947 are Irene Fagin, “Women—A Continuing Source of Farm Labor,” presented to the Regional Farm Labor Conference of the Extension Service, Salt Lake City, UT, Jan. 17, 1947, and Ruth J. Peck, ” Women—A Continuing Source of Farm Labor,” presented to the Regional Farm Labor Conference of the Extension Service, Chicago, IL, Jan. 22, 1947. Copies of these papers are located at ERS. Low farm wages, the decline of the rural population, the lure of better-paying and more prestigious jobs in urban areas, and the increased mechanization of farming militated against the employment of nonfarm women in farm jobs in the years after 1947.
Originally published by Prologue 25:4 (Winter 1993), the United States National Archives and Records Administration, to the public domain.