Womens Land Army groupFarmerettes of the Woman's Land Army of America took over farm work when the men were called to wartime service in WWI.

Power parity in produce: Women’s History Month 

By Leslie Halleck
via the Produce Grower web site

March being Women’s History Month and all, I of course find myself thinking about where women stand today in the world of agriculture, and society.

In case you didn’t know, the official theme for Women’s History Month in 2022 is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” This theme is meant to be a tribute to caregivers and frontline pandemic workers. But if you think about it, this is the sort of thing women are typically called upon to do in times of national or global duress … and while we’re at it, every minute of every day of our lives in our own homes and families.

While we clearly still have a long way to go to achieve the kind of power balance that will benefit everyone, I try to stay encouraged by looking over my shoulder now and then at all the women who worked and struggled so hard to pave us a better path to parity today.

It’s always illuminating to discover new stories of significance, as most never make it into our traditional educational history books.

On that note, have you ever heard of the Women’s Land Army (WLA)? Me neither! Given my immersion in the worlds of horticulture, agriculture and women’s empowerment, I’m shocked at myself that these incredibly important and impactful movements somehow slipped by me.

I’m sure some of you out there either remember or have studied these organizations — especially any of you who studied landscape or garden history — but for those of you not aware, I thought I’d shine a little light on these tough and resilient women of agriculture.

When World War I escalated as America entered the fray, the surge of men leaving the home front left a huge void in the farming and agricultural sectors. Who was going to tend to the fields and the livestock?

In Britain, the government was having a tough time filling the gaps, so it was left to the women at home to pick up traditionally male farming and agricultural roles. The Women’s Land Army was formed as a civil organization and recruited close to 23,000 women to feed the country. There were three divisions within the organization: agriculture, forage and timber cutting. Many worked as field workers and milkers, carters, ploughwomen and gardeners for local markets from 1917 through 1921. The WLA was restarted in World War II, with over 200,000 women employed between 1939 and 1950.

America quickly copied the organization during World War I with its own government-sanctioned Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA), putting 20,000 women to work in similar fields such as sowing and harvesting. Not only were women doing the heavy lifting, but they were also managing the workforce. During WWI, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, became the WLAA director. Many of the leaders involved with women working in agricultural areas were also suffragists and believed that doing their patriotic duty in the agricultural sectors would also help the suffrage movement. 

Read the entire article on the Produce Grower web site.

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