Bryn Mawr Farmerettes in the Woman’s Land Army

Posted January 23rd, 2009 at 5:28 pm.

Journalist Elaine F. Weiss will discuss a little-known facet of the College’s history on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 7:30 p.m. with a lecture in Wyndham’s Ely Room. Titled “Bryn Mawr Farmerettes in the Woman’s Land Army,” the lecture will discuss a movement that recruited thousands of women from cities and college campuses to replace male agricultural workers who served in World War I.

The lecture is drawn from Weiss’ recently published book, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War,which is the first full chronicle of this movement. According to Weiss, scores of Bryn Mawr students served as Land Army “farmerettes,” President M.Carey Thomas was an avid supporter and organizer of the Land Army, and Dean of the College Helen Taft (Manning) not only worked as a farmerette, but wrote articles about it for national magazines and went on a national recruiting tour on its behalf.

From 1917 to 1920 the Woman’s Land Army brought thousands of city workers, society women, artists, business professionals, and college students into rural America. These women wore military-style uniforms, lived in communal camps, and did what was considered “mens’ work”—that is, plowing fields, driving tractors, planting, harvesting, and hauling lumber. The Land Army insisted its “farmerettes” be paid wages equal to male farm laborers and be protected by an eight-hour workday.

The farmerettes were shocking at first and encountered skeptical farmers’ scorn, but as they proved themselves willing and capable, farmers began to rely upon the women workers and became their loudest champions. The Woman’s Land Army was embraced by suffragists as a pioneering role for women in wartime—and as a novel way to advance suffrage legislation and referenda. It also had deep roots in trade unionism, rural reform efforts, and other important political movements of the period

Elaine F. Weiss is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, and on National Public Radio. Her lecture at Bryn Mawr is sponsored by the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center, the Department of History, and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

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