gardening on the homefront: United States School Garden Army

August 5, 2008 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

A sister project of the Women’s Land Army of America was the United States School Garden Army (USSGA). This program was created by the federal Bureau of Education in early 1917. According to Charles Lathrop Pack, the army tended two fronts: 1) increasing food production and 2) agricultural education. The longterm goal was to grow “future citizens trained to intelligent application of the principles of thrift, industry, service, patriotism and responsibility.”

The US School Garden Army distributed gardening textbooks to American schools. Principals, teachers, and parents assisted students with creating and tending school gardens and home gardens. Historian Rose Hayden-Smith notes that the USSGA represented a groundbreaking effort to make agricultural education universal and nationwide. The program daringly (listen up, today’s educators!) targeted urban and suburban students, not just children in rural farm communities. The program was very appealing to Progressive reformers who viewed wholesome outdoor activities as an antidote to the unhealthy and unsavory urban environment.

The illustrations for School Garden Army publications are terrific. Artist Maginel Wright Enright (sister of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed a poster which became the symbol of the program. Pied Piper Uncle Sam leads a brigade of children brandishing garden tools as their weapons.

In just 18 months, the United States School Garden Army spent $250,000 to provide more than 50,000 teachers with the curriculum to educate several million children. Although the Board of Education disbanded the USSGA once the war was over, the United States Department of Agriculture continued some of the educational programs it had developed for rural youth during WWI. Efforts like the Cooperative Extension System and 4-H still thrive today.

References: Rose Hayden-Smith, “Soldiers of the Soil: A Historical Review of the United States School Garden Army,” 2006.

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

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Entry filed under: Charles Lathrop Pack, children's gardens, food, gardens, pop culture, school gardens, United States School Garden Army, urban agriculture, War Gardens, wartime gardens. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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