gardening on the homefront: Women’s Land Army of America

July 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

American women were active on every front of the War Garden movement during World War I. Much of the government-sponsored media and propaganda was directed squarely at mothers, teachers, college students, alumnae networks, volunteers, working women, and farm families. Advertisers targeted female consumers with seed catalogs, recipe books, advertisements, etc. As shoppers and preparers of food, women seized the opportunity to reshape the American agricultural industry–and the military budget–with their spending, their gardening, and their food conservation.

At home, women plowed, sowed, and harvested backyard vegetable gardens and canned their produce. At schools, female teachers and principals oversaw children’s gardens and educated American youth about patriotism and conservation. In the community garden and in the factory yard, women and men worked side by side.

Above and beyond the various elective gardening efforts, more than 20,000 women participated in a new national program which supported large-scale agricultural production. The Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) was organized in April 1918 to train and organize women to work in agricultural jobs vacated by men serving in the military. It followed the example of the Woman’s Land Army created by the British government in 1915.

Although the effort met with resistance from conservative farmers and some government officials, there was strong support in the White House. President Woodrow Wilson commended the “active and patriotic young women” of the WLAA, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson famously replaced the White House garden crew with a flock of sheep that grazed on the lawn. The sale of their wool raised $50,000 for the war effort.

Enlistees in the WLAA were paid for their labor at public and private farms throughout the country. A 1919 WLAA handbook called for an 8-to-12-hour work day, six days a week. Participants were required to wear farm gear, which became popularly known as “coveralls,” also known as “womanalls” or “freedomalls.”

Even with the armistice in November 1919, the Women’s Land Army of America remained in service. But as overseas military regiments were demobilized, men returned home to their jobs on the farm. Although the WLAA was dissolved in February 1920, it did much to advance standards for farm laborers and women alike. The program would be revived during World War II.

References: Handbook of standards for the Woman’s Land Army of America (1919).

Margaret Laughlin, “The Woman’s Land Army, 1918-1920” in Social Education 58(2), 1994.

Charles Lathrop Pack, The War Garden Victorious (1919).


Entry filed under: 1, community gardens, Edith Bolling Wilson, food, gardens, War Gardens, wartime gardens, White House, Women's Land Army of America, Woodrow Wilson, World War I. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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