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Feathers, Furs and Lace: The Price of Fashion in 1912 by Dale P. Talley

 

Feathers, Furs and Lace: The Price of Fashion in 1912

By Dale Paige Talley

I help create costumes and exhibits. We dress characters in period correct attire so they can help people interpret specific historical eras and events.  The goal is to make learning fun. Recently I was looking for an idea for a program about Edwardian fashion and thought that since the anniversary of the maiden voyage of RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic is upcoming on April 15, I could use it as a vehicle.  Of course the Titanic ended in tragedy and the world still mourns the loss of more than 1500 souls in the icy waters of the Atlantic.  But the story of the ill-fated ship lives on in our hearts and minds.

There is so much material about the loss of the ship and the fashions of the era, it is not easy to think of something new to discuss.   Sixty seconds on the internet will yield more photographs of dresses, corsets, tea gowns, plumed hats and the always funny hobble skirt than one can digest.

Suddenly, the image of Rose arriving at the dock in one of the early scenes of James Cameron’s 1997 movie Titanic appeared in my consciousness. At first we see only the top of her hat as she extends a gloved hand to be helped out of her limousine.  It takes a few seconds before she can raise the brim (it is a big hat,). Finally we see her face looking at the huge ship she is about to board.  She has a sophisticated air of “ho-hum” in her gaze.  The scene has always reminded me of ugly-duckling turned swan, Charlotte Vale in Irving Rapper’s 1942 film, Now Voyager. In a pivotal scene, Charlotte has been transformed from a dowdy spinster into a model of sleek fashion.  She is going on the first real adventure of her life.  As she steps aboard a luxury liner, the camera focuses on the top of her wide-brimmed hat.  Slowly, she looks up to reveal the new Charlotte eager for the journey to begin.   It makes me smile.

In Titanic, the docks are teaming.  As Rose’s party emerges from chauffeur-driven limousines, the camera pans over carts piled with steamer trunks, hand baggage and even a safe for precious jewelry, indispensable documents and cash.  The irony of the safe is not lost on us.  We know what happens.

Today, most of us traveling say from London to New York are minimalists.  We don’t want to pay extra baggage fees or wait too long at the baggage claim at the other end.  We have elevated taking as little as possible in small suitcases to an art.  We fold washable, crush-proof, wrinkle-free, quick-dry garments into small bags that can be dragged on their little wheels behind us through the throngs at international airports.  At the boarding gate we line up under covered ramps and quietly move forward to our assigned seats. 

First class passengers might have champagne, leather seats and a little more leg room, but all passengers are belted into their seats and hurtled at 35,000 feet above the surface of the earth continent to continent. It takes about eight hours. To pass the time, we thumb through magazines, do crossword puzzles, watch movies, sleep or tell secrets to people we have never met knowing we will never see them again.   In the main, the process of travel is something to be endured, not relished. With minor differences, most airlines are the same and there is a quality of cattle car to them all.

But a century ago, during the golden age of travel, the only way to cross the ocean was by steamship,  For the glitterati, first class travel was a social event of high style. Historian Andrew Wilson wrote, “Passengers were stratified by class—the third class at the bottom of the ship, the second in the middle, the first at the top—and, for the most part, did not mix with one another. In those massive liners, first, second or third class passengers had completely different experiences.”1

 Of course Rose DeWitt Bukater is a fictional character but aboard The White Star Line’s 883 foot Titanic, the real-life first class businessmen, politicians, military brass, sports icons and silent film stars were among those who bought the pricey tickets. Colonel John Jacob Astor embarked with his pregnant wife Madeleine.  They were returning from their extended honeymoon in Egypt.  Benjamin Guggenheim was traveling with his mistress, French singer Leontine Pauline Aubart. She traveled incognito to avoid scandal.  Fashion designer Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon (whose designer label was Lucile) had first class accommodations, as did film actress Dorothy Gibson. 

Accustomed to life in the grand hotels of Europe, and luxury liners like The Mauritania and Lusitania, the uber-rich must have been curious to compare the new Titanic, They knew how to entertain themselves and would have ample time to discuss the comparison over Formal dinners signaled by on-deck bugler that could have as many as  twelve courses and last four or five hours.  The dinners must have been relaxing after a full day of strolling on covered decks, lounging in deck chairs, or having lunch or tea in any of a number of restaurants and cafes. After dinner they could relax a little more.  Ladies could retire to the reading room for bridge.  For the gentlemen it would be cigars and brandy in the smoking room. 

What did they wear for all those dinners, lunches and teas?  What did it cost to own the diaphanous gowns that seemed to float in a spangled ether of their own? How expensive were the aigrettes mounted in diamond tiaras, or chinchilla coats and silver fox stoles that kept delicate shoulders warm? What about the intricate lace waists and tea dresses?  How much did an extravagantly plumed hat really cost (and why didn’t Rose DeWitt Bukater have any other huge hat)?

The most expensive accommodations on the ship were the two exclusive parlor suites with two bedrooms, bathroom, sitting room and fifty-foot private deck. It is well known that one of the suites had been booked by J. P. Morgan who had to back out just before the ship sailed.  A wealthy Philadelphia divorcee, Charlotte Cardeza, purchased the second suite for the equivalent of $62,591 according to Money Magazine’s calculations.2

Mrs. Cardeza famously boarded the ship with three other people and a staggering amount of trunks, suitcases and crates.  Who was she and why was she on the Titanic?

Image 1. Charlotte Cardeza circa 1900, Courtesy Thomas Jefferson University Archives

 

Image 2.  Charlotte Cardeza and her son, Thomas aboard their 282 foot steamer-yacht, Eleanor. Courtesy Thomas Jefferson University Archives

 

Image 3.  Charlotte Cardeza game hunting on safari in Africa, 1911.  Courtesy Thomas Jefferson University Archives

Charlotte Wardle Drake Martinez-Cardeza was no ordinary traveler.  She was also no ordinary woman. Not only was she a member of the Philadelphia elite, she was a fashionista, art buyer, globe-trotting yachtswoman and big-game hunter. She inherited her fortune from her father, a textile manufacturer who invented a method of making denim that was sold to the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Though she owned the princely estate known as Montebello in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she spent most of her time aboard her 232-foot steamer-yacht, Eleanor, with its crew of 39.  In 1912, her usual entourage included 36 year-old Thomas, his manservant, Gustave J. Lesueur, and her ladies’ maid, Annie Moore Ward.  They cruised to the most exotic ports around the world.

In early 1912, mother and son completed an extended trip to Europe and Africa that included a safari. In April, they decided to return home.  They elected to book the brand spanking new Titanic. Perhaps because it was her birthday.  Charlotte turned 58 the day they boarded Titanic at Cherbourg after a final shopping spree in Paris.

The U. S. National Archives has on file a list of the contents of Mrs. Cardeza’s trunks that were loaded onto the Titanic.  The document is fascinating in detail. It is sixteen pages long and single spaced.  Many pieces of clothing are detailed by designer, material, color, cost and in many cases where purchased.  The document was submitted to the Oceanic Navigation Steamship Company in support of her claim for losses when the Titanic sank.  The total value of the clothing in today’s dollars is estimated to be $1,775,000. The jewelry at more than $2,561,000. It could be that the document overvalues her wardrobe, but it is nonetheless a gold mine for fashion historians.

 

Image 4. Louis Vuitton trunk.  Louis Vuitton made history with his sturdy, elegant trunks that were said to be airtight in 1854.  Rather than being fined as traditional trunks, his were flat- bottomed and stackable

Among the most popular designers of the day were Redfern, Worth, Paquin, Doucet, Callot-Soeurs, and Poiret. Upstart Coco Chanel had not yet hit her stride, though she opened her first salon in 1909. Judging by her inventory, Mrs. Cardeza preferred tradition to cutting edge style. She had several designer garments by Redfern, Worth and Callot-Soeurs. There was a single rose-colored-gown in one of the trunks made by Lucile, but, what would she need to be perfectly decked out amongst the “A” list social crowd for this trip?

A partial summary shows that she needed at least 31 dresses; 39 blouses; 21 nightgowns (all pink, but one); 13 petticoats; 22 Pairs of shoes; 75 pairs of gloves; 12 suits; 11 hats; 58 individual feathers and 45 pairs of stockings. There were ivory combs, false hair, ribbons (one which was described as a ‘hobble’), several pairs of  fur-topped slippers and a scarf edged in maribou (stork feathers). She also required an entire trunk full of furs, muffs and stoles.

Image 5.  Redfern salon. Established at Cowes in the Isle of Wight in 1855.  Redfern became tailor  to the Queen of England, Empress of Russia, Princess of Wales and the royal courts of Germany, Portugal, Denmark and Greece, among others.

 

Image 6.   Callot-Soeurs dress 1912          

There were unwritten but strict rules about dress for women of the leisure class. A single day could require at least three wardrobe changes.  Each transformation had a specific purpose and exacting standards for that purpose.  It took five and a half days to make the 2890 mile journey across the Atlantic.  First class women never wore the same outfit twice during a crossing. They never dressed in formal attire the first and last evenings.  No self-respecting first class lady would think of traveling without a ladies maid to organize, track and layout each wardrobe change with its requisite accessories. Brushing and twisting hair into the appropriate style required assistance. Cleaning, pressing, mending, packing and repacking was not on the agenda for “Madam” who was busy seeing and being seen. Mrs. Cardeza had the efficient Annie Moore Ward traveling with her.  It was presumably Ward who prepared the inventory.

During the first quarter of 1912, Vogue magazine revealed the important fashion trends of the season.  The byword would be “revival”.   Louis XIV touches such as heavy brocade and fine laces would appear on gowns, dresses, jabots, fans, umbrellas, and, well, everything. There would also be a resurrection of columnar Egyptian style dresses in contrasting colors such as green and black.   Other important materials in style would be silk chiffon and fine embroidery. Mrs. Cardeza’s inventory showed at least six brocade dresses in her Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Mendel and Innovation trunks.  Of course we do not have images of Mrs. Cardeza’s clothing but we can find examples by the well-known couturiers of the time. Of the more than thirty dresses listed, two stand out as being both the most expensive and fashion forward.   The first a cream silk chiffon dress designed by Redfern that cost $500.00 (or about $12,300).  The second is from  Worth that cost $900.00 then or $22,000 today.  (As an aside, the dress was not as expensive as the bonbonniere purchased in Paris at the end of her trip for $1,000!  It must have been some candy dish.)

Aside from its delicate beauty, lace has had an influence on, history, politics, fashion, culture, and world economies over the millennia. It has always been a status symbol since men (not women) began to wear it centuries ago.  Louis XIV strained the French treasury purchasing lace from Italy until he pirated some lace-makers and brought them to France to make a better domestic product. If the inventory is an indicator, Mrs. Cardeza favored bobbin laces like Valenciennes, Mechlin, and Point de Paris.  She does not say whether her laces are antique pieces or even handmade. There seem to be few items of clothing or accessory that are made of, or, trimmed with lace,  and there are evening coats, fur coats, handkerchiefs, petticoats, gowns, wrappers, dressing sacques, pillow slips, and bureau scarves all in varying types of lace. There are few garments that make me weak in the knees but a 1912 tea gown can take my breath away.

Image 7 . Embroidered lace tea gown, c. 1912 White cotton net, elbow L sleeves, narrow silhouette, heavily embroidered, needle lace bodice insertions, hem & side gores of handmade tape lace, F & B floating panels, crochet ball button trim, net lining, B 34″, W 26″, L 60″. Ohio State University 

She does say that of her seven umbrellas and parasols, which she called “gamps” (see sidebar) four were made of Milanese, Brussels and appliqué lace and were purchased from Redfern.  The combined purchase price of these four gamps was  $650 ($15,892 today).

 

Image 8. Lace gamp      

Gamp, Brussels lace, circa 1910.  The term is derived from the name of a character in a Dickens novel.  Sarah Gamp was an umbrella-wielding, gin soaked mid-wife who was nonetheless charming.  She so endeared herself to readers of Martin Chuzzlewit, in which she had a prominent role, that fans began to refer to their umbrellas as gamps.  The term is still used today.

Image  9.  Mother of pearl and lace fan.  Cardeza was in Hungary in 1912.  Perhaps she purchased the fan she mentions in her inventory there. This is a Hungarian fan of the period.

 

Image 9a.  Handkerchief   Cardeza has several dozen lace handkerchiefs in the drawers of her trunks. Pictured is an example of point de Paris lace that she mentioned in her list

   

Of the more than 35 waists (blouses) in her trunks, many were made of the en mode chiffon or linen and were adorned with embroidery and/or Irish, filet and Venetian lace. The term waist could mean not just a blouse to pair with a skirt, but an over blouse to be worn over a delicate gown. Mrs. Cardeza paid as much as $450 for one waist designed by Redfern. By contrast, the Sears catalog for 1912 shows a black, embroidered silk chiffon waist for $4.50 (about $110.00 today).

Image 10.  Furs catalog from Brussels-based Pygmalion.  1912.

Inventory of Furs

Chinchilla coat ($6,000) New York

White baby lamb coat ($1,400) Russia

Chinchilla stole ($1,400 Austria

Ermine coat ($1400) New York

Mink stole and muff ($800) Russia

Near seal coat (800) Germany

Moleskin ($400) Paris

Silver fox stole (New York)

Ermine stole & muff ($180) Germany

Squirrel ($200)

Since the early 1600s, fur has been economically and socially important.  Today, demand for fur has diminished considerably but until recent history, fur was a status symbol. Mrs. Cardeza packed or purchased along the way, at least twelve fur garments including coats, stoles and muffs.  It would be interesting to know which furriers designed these pieces, but she only mentions where they were purchased.  Perhaps her furs came from the likes of Drecoll, who designed fashions for the imperial family of Austria.   The Brussels-based Pygmalion also provides an idea of the styles of the day.  (To modern sensibilities, it is a bit macabre that the catalog seems to ask the the animals to advertise their own coats.) The insurance claim asserted that Mrs. Cardeza spent, $262,226 (in 2018 dollars) to stay fashionably toasty.

Fur fashion catalogue 1912

Image 11. Fur designed by Austrian couturier, Drecoll who was designer to the imperial family of Austria.

Accessories make the outfit of course, and although Mrs. Cardeza did not seem to have any shoes that cost more than $10, it did appear she had a glove fetish.  For this trip, she had more than 75 pairs of kid leather, silk and suede gloves. There were almost an equal number of long and short ones.  Apparently, unless they were asleep, in the bath, drinking or eating, ladies’ hands were gloved. It has been said that a lady never put on or removed her gloves in public.  The rule makes clear why dinner was always after the opera. The most elegant opera gloves—over the elbow—could take a stretcher, a lot of glove powder, a ladies’ maid and as long as twenty minutes to inch all the way up.  It would have been inelegant to try it in public. I can imagine ladies swanning into the ladies lounge of the Savoy Hotel (where there was a fainting couch) to have the uniformed ladies’ maid help them off with their gloves.  When dinner was over there would be a trip back to the ladies lounge and more glove wrangling before farewells and the return trip home.

Image 12 . Glove powder container, a holdover from the Victorian era.  Treenware.


Image 13. Kidskin opera gloves

Image 14. Glove stretcher.  Birmingham sterling 1912

Today, we certainly see elegant hats at Ascot, the Kentucky Derby and English weddings. And always on Queen Elizabeth.  She seems to be keeping up the notion that no respectable woman is seen outside her home without a hat.   In 1912, hats were huge both in dimension and in importance as an accessory.  Generally made of velvet, felt or straw, hats were adorned not only with tails and crest feathers of exotic birds but sometimes with their entire stuffed bodies.

Image 15. Egret feathers adorn hat in 1912.  Note the shimmering fabric of her dress that seems to have a life of its own.

 

Image 16.  Egret showing its most desirable hat trimming…its mating plummage.

Image 17. “Mary Stuart” aigrette in gold, silver, diamonds and pearls designed by Joseph Chaumet, circa 1910. Collection Chaumet Paris

By 1905; wearing feathers as personal adornment came under widespread criticism.  Concerted efforts by newspapers like The New York Times, satirical magazine Puck, and the newly formed Audubon Society waged a public relations campaign that ultimately saved egrets, birds of paradise and other species from certain extinction. It was in the nick of time. According to the Times, “1911 saw just four feather trading firms sell approximately 223,490 bird corpses in London alone.” They charged the fashion industry with engaging in “murderous millinery.” I thought about Rose’s hat. Perhaps Titanic costume designer,  Deborah Scott, left the feathers off to make her supportive of the cause.   Perhaps I am just making that up but it pleases me to think that she did.

 

Image 18. Satirical magazine Puck (published from 1871 until 1918) mocks  milliners as retrievers for women are really behind the practice called “murderous millinery”.

Charlotte Cardeza did not seem to be enlightened on this issue.  She packed three aigrette feathers, one black, one white and one light blue. Together they cost $380.00 or more than the cost of a pound of gold. (At that time, gold traded at around $20.00 per ounce)  She listed two pink “Elephant’s Breath Paradise” feathers for $125.00 and another without color description for $80.00.  An additional pink paradise feather was $75.00.  It is not clear if that is the price for an entire bird or just the tail feathers.  

The entire Cardeza inventory deserves study and would take more digital ink to adequately illuminate than there are ones and zeroes to spend here.  I did not mention the contents of the three crates.  I also did not cover the jewelry she deposited with the Titanic purser that would be worth $2,561,000 today.  Of course if it was actually found 12,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic, it would be worth considerably more as a artifact of the catastrophic event.     

Mrs. Cardeza did not receive the full value of her insurance claim.  It probably made little financial difference to her.  She could easily replace the items she lost.    She died in 1939 leaving an estate of at least $52 million or the equivalent of almost  $1,000,000,000 in today’s dollars.

Image 19.  Charlotte Cardeza and Annie Moore Ward (undated).

Finally, Charlotte Cardeza did not pack a bathing suit for a journey on a ship with a heated pool.  Or did she?  Maybe the mysteriously named “one-piece albatross” was actually a swimming costume.

NOTES

1.Wilson, Andrew, Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived, narrated by Bill Wallis, Audible 2018 Audiobook

 

2.Daugherty, Greg, “Here’s What the Most Expensive Ticket on the Titanic Would Have Bought You” Money Magazine, online, April 14, 2016, accessed March 3, 2018

 

Dale Paige Talley is an author, historian and partner in Engaging History Productions, Inc.  The  non-profit coalition of historians, authors, actors, costume and set designers create custom events that bring history to life.   Clients are typically museums, foundations and historical societies in and around Richmond, Virginia.

Contact: engagingfour@gmail.com

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World War One Farmerettes: Working the Land and Feeding the World

 

Between 1917 and 1919 roughly 20,000 women served in the Women’s Land Army of America. Known as “Farmerettes,” these mostly young ladies came from all backgrounds and regions of the United States.  They helped keep food on the tables of everyday Americans throughout the Great War. 1

 

A Bit of Background…

It’s 1915, and, imagine, if you will, a chilly July afternoon in London, where throngs of women are marching, demanding “their right to serve” their country during the war. 2

Although Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette leader, is at the head of the crowds, the event was put together by the British Government. David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, organized this rally because he knew that Britain was going to need help on the home front during this “War to End All Wars.” 3

Emmeline Parker, British Suffragette
Member of British Woman’s Land Army

 

An ocean away, the United States was not completely isolated from the growing storm in Europe.  By 1916, America was sending food to France. And, many citizens foresaw the rising conflict overseas, and anticipated that the United States would become involved.  The National Security League was one of the organizations that arose before our entry into World War 1 and was focused on defending America. 

Miss Grace Parker, who had joined America’s National Security League, went to England to visit with members of the Women’s Land Army of Great Britain, which, ultimately became a model for America’s Women’s Land Army of the United States. 4

Upon her return, she addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism, an event that was held in New York in January 25-27,1917. 5

Her speech, entitled,“Woman Power of the Nation,” was lauded by the more 3000 businesspeople, Senators, Governors, Mayors, Generals and others who attended the Congress, inspiring them onto action. One of the outcomes of this event was the formation of The National League for Women’s Service, a group designed to galvanize this  “Woman Power.” 6

Their mission was:

“To coordinate and standardize the work of women of America along lines of constructive patriotism; to develop the resources, to promote the efficiency of women in meeting their every-day responsibility to home, to state, to nation and to humanity; to provide organized, trained groups in every community prepared to cooperate with the Red Cross and other agencies in dealing with any calamity-fire, flood, famine, economic disorder, etc., and in time of war, to supplement the work of the Red Cross, the Army and Navy, and to deal with the questions of “Woman’s Work and Woman’s Welfare.” 7

Their organization’s slogan was “for God, for Country, for Home.”8

On January 31, 1917 the German Government announced that, on February 1, 1917, it would no longer restrict their submarines from firing on any ship (merchant ships from neutral countries, passenger ships, etc.) that sailed in the war zone around Britain, France and in the Mediterranean Sea. On February 3, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany.  True to their promise, the high command gave orders for the submarines to attack, and before April 6, 1917, they had sunk 9 American ships, and caused the U.S. to lose another due explosion by underwater mines.  9

All this began less than two weeks after Grace Parker addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism about harnessing the “Woman Power of the Nation.”

The sinking of the ships was the final straw. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of War on Germany.  The motion was passed

by the Senate on April 4, 1917 and by the House on April 6, 1917.

The United States officially entered World War 1 with its’ Declaration of War on April 6, 1917. 10

The newly formed National League for Women’s Service marshaled forces and got busy.  Working in conjunction with the Red Cross, they developed

“…thirteen national divisions, as follows: Social and Welfare, Home Economics, Agricultural, Industrial, Medical and Nursing, Motor Driving, General Service, Health, Civics, Signalling, Map-reading, Wireless and Telegraphy, and Camping. Definite work under these thirteen national divisions … developed through state and local organizations, the working unit being a detachment of not less than ten nor over thirty under the direction of a detachment commander.”11

So, it began, that American women began to take up the work of their men who were off at war, performing the duties of: dockworkers, bricklayers, coalminers, munitions workers, nurses, teachers, wireless operators, ambulance drivers, drivers, railroad conductors, farmerettes and other jobs as needed.

Food production had become a critical issue. In late February, 1917, Bread Riots broke out in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Shortages developed because the United States had been sending food to France since 1916. Subsequently, prices on staples had risen astronomically making it difficult for people to buy the basics. Agricultural support was deemed a priority at all levels of government. 12

Enter the Women’s Land Army of America (WLA). “Farmerettes,” as they became known, hailed from all over the United States, came from all walks of life and many, many of them had no experience with farming. But, they were anxious to “Do Their Bit,” and enthusiastic about their mission. Although the members of the WLA were of all ages, many were young and excited about the adventures that awaited them as they took their turn at farm life. Many were students who attended institutions such as Barnard College, Bryn Mawr, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Goucher, Vassar, Mount Holyoke and others throughout the United States. The Northeast, Midwest, West and some  Southern states embraced the WLAA. Camps where the women were housed and received much-needed training, included New York, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New Jersey,Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and California.  13

They found out that farming was a tough business. Graduation from the Libertyville farm in Illinois was thusly described in a Chicago Tribune article:

“There was no organdy and lace, no pink ribbons and rosebuds about the graduation dresses of the girl farmers who met in the leafy grove on the farm of the Woman’s Land Army yesterday. The graduates wore overalls instead, garments which had obviously seen hard service.  A bright kerchief worn about the neck or the head, a feather placed Indian fashion in the hair–these were the only signs of ‘dressing up.’ They realized they were there as pioneers in a new work for women.” 14

Armed with knowledge and training, they were ready with rakes, hoes, trowels and shovels, in hand. The only problem was that the farmers didn’t necessarily trust them. Despite the great need for food production, in many cases it took enormous amounts of persuasion on the part of the WLA Camp Directors, local media, local politicians and business leaders to convince farmers to hire this new and very dedicated work force. 15

In an address in September 17, 1918 at the Illinois Training Farm for Land Army Women,  Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden, explained to farmers:

“My old friend, the Conservative Farmer: I know that many of you think that these girls will not do on the farm. I welcome these young women into our ranks…These young women who shall help us to raise the food to feed their brothers on the battle front… And by helping us to raise the food we need, will become comrades of these heroic boys in the trenches of battle fronts of Europe.

“I hope that this movement begun here in a simple, modest but very effective manner, may communicate itself to other portions of this State and other States so that if need be we will match the irresistible army of our heroic men on the battlefront with an equally strong and equally patriotic army of women in the field and in the dairies of our land.” 16

At Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (RMWC), in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dr. Meta Glass, a young Professor of Latin, directed the school’s group of Farmerettes. Dr. Glass, herself, an alumna of RMWC, took her charges to farms around the Virginia Piedmont where they could work the land and help with harvests. 17

 

Likewise, Farmerettes brought in crops of peaches, apples, potatoes, tobacco, beans, corn and every fruit and vegetable conceivable. They plowed, raked, hoed, dug, built fences and coops, herded cattle, sheep and goats. They milked cows, tended pigs and chickens — in short, they did every sort of farm work available.

But, what did the ladies think? Here are some of descriptions:

  

Here are some thoughts from Helen Kennedy Stevens, a senior at Barnard College, who served at the Bedford Camp,

“…apple picking in an old orchard, where we had to use forty-foot ladders. Coming down a forty-foot ladder with a full basket of apples is a circus stunt, I can tell you.  Then there was cutting and loading corn for the silo, and potato digging was also a husky harvesting job. The corn cutting was picturesque, but the corn rash we got was not.  Preparation for a day in corn was chiefly putting old stockings on our arms.” 18

Letter from a farmerette in a Staten Island, N.Y Land Army unit, 1918:

This isn’t like any other camp for man, woman, or child. It is at times the jolliest, 

but always the most strenuous, ever. Rise 5:30; tumble downstairs in the dark for a hose pipe shower; overalls on. breakfast with a cafeteria rush; bed-making; grab a lunch; jump into the Ford with ten to twenty others whom a natty little chaufferette delivers at several farms within a radius of six miles by 7:30; hoe, weed, plant or gather and carry bushels of luscious tomatoes, until the noon whistle blows; lunch under the trees with perhaps a few minutes nap in the long grass; then farm work with the farmer till the long Ford comes with our driver in Fifth Avenue togs to take us home again. Can you beat it, the Woman’s Land Army Plattsburg Camp?

At home there is a rush for the porcelain tubs and hot baths, a rush for the laundry tubs to put underclothes and overalls to soak. Dinner at 6, dishes washed, lunches for the next day packed, and assignments made of next day’s work. A spin down to the beach for a salt-water swim, a coolish ride home with the girls hanging on anywhere the Ford offers a foothold and singing lustily. 19

Or

Memoir of Margurite Wilkinson: My Experince as a Farmerette

 

Chop,chop,chop went our hoes. Down the long field in the hot sun we trudged slowly, hilling up those sprawling plants. Sally could very nearly do two rows while I was doing one, but she cheered me along kindly and tactfully, telling me that I was doing very well indeed for a new girl and that it would be a lot easier when I had grown accustomed to it. Bertha did not work much faster than I, but she was steadier and did not have to stop for breath so often.

Chop,chop,chop. Birds were singing in the trees that bordered the field, Bumble bees buzzed along on their way to neighboring patches of wild flowers. But after a while I was only conscious of the fact that my back, my right wrist, and my left elbow ached like mad.

We went to the house for a pail of water. We took long draughts of it, left the pail under a big tree to keep cool and went back to work. We were painfully conscious of profuse perspiration. They have another word for perspiration on the farms which is more vulgar, vigorous and appropriate. Big drops of moisture were running down our foreheads into our eyes, down our necks into our clothing, down our legs into our mute, protective boots. But for the rest of the morning we kept an honest pace, stopping occasionally for a drink when our progress down the rows took us near the big tree and the tin pail. And at last came noon and the chance to rest.”

In those hours of the afternoon the heat was at its worst. The air seemed to be vivid with it and quivered about our faces. We felt it rising from the soil against the stiff, leather soles of our boots. We were aching, and dripping wet. Little shivers ran up and down our spines occasionally. But we did not stop. We just thought of the boys in the trenches who have much more to bear. Sometimes we spoke of them.

“You see, it is a course in many things besides agriculture, and the camp is a democracy, and cosmopolitan at that. Across the furrows at her weeding, a little Russian tells of her recent voyage to America. Further in among the celery beds a French girl and an Irish girl exchange consolation for the lover and the husband who recently started ‘over there’. College girls, important in their senior years, and women weary of degrees and world travel, wisdom or teaching, come here and take the kink out of tired nerves by straining their flabby muscles a bit. There are violinists in the camp, and singers, too, that the world will yet hear from. ..The war is not talked about thought it lies deep in the hearts of the sweethearts and sisters who are trying to do their bit to increase the country’s food supply.” 20

From the Spring of 1917 through the Fall of 1919, these women saved the day by raising crops in America. These crops fed the U.S. and contributed heavily to foodstuffs for Europe.  They certainly “did their bit” and did it very well!  We would have been hard-pressed to feed ourselves without them. As the “Great War” ended and the men came home, the WLA gradually packed up its’ shovels and rakes and turned the soil for a last time. The WLA was absorbed into the Department of Labor, but, for all intents and purposes it ceased to exist.  21  It was, however, revived during World War II, but that is another story for another day.

Elaine Weiss, Smithsonian.com, “Before Rosie the Riveter, Farmerettes Went to Work,” May 28, 2009

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 3

Ibid, pp. 4

Ibid, pp. 17

Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV. http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

Ibid

Ibid

Ibid

9.Rodney Carlisle, “The Attacks on U. S. Shipping that Precipitated American Entry into World War I”

10.First World War.com Primary Documents -…Declaration of War with Germany, 2 April, 1917 m/source/usawardeclaration.htm

11. Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV.  http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

12.World War I — United States Food Administration U.S. Food Administration http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cou/us/food/w1cus-usfa.html

Wikipedia, Woman’s Land Army of America, World War I,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman%27s_Land_Army_of_America

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 159

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 160 – 161

  17. Richmond Times-Dispatch,1918 June 2

Randolph-Macon

[Special to The Times-Dispatch.]

Lynchburg, VA., June 1.             ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/)

18. Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 83

FARMERETTES – Looking for Mabel Normand. www.freewebs.com

Ibid 

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 269

Between 1917 and 1919 roughly 20,000 women served in the Women’s Land Army of America. Known as “Farmerettes,” these mostly young ladies came from all backgrounds and regions of the United States.  They helped keep food on the tables of everyday Americans throughout the Great War. 1

A Bit of Background…

It’s 1915, and, imagine, if you will, a chilly July afternoon in London, where throngs of women are marching, demanding “their right to serve” their country during the war. 2

Although Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette leader, is at the head of the crowds, the event was put together by the British Government. David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, organized this rally because he knew that Britain was going to need help on the home front during this “War to End All Wars.” 3

An ocean away, the United States was not completely isolated from the growing storm in Europe.  By 1916, America was sending food to France. And, many citizens foresaw the rising conflict overseas, and anticipated that the United States would become involved.  The National Security League was one of the organizations that arose before our entry into World War 1 and was focused on defending America. 

Miss Grace Parker, who had joined America’s National Security League, went to England to visit with members of the Women’s Land Army of Great Britain, which, ultimately became a model for America’s Women’s Land Army of the United States. 4

Upon her return, she addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism, an event that was held in New York in January 25-27,1917. 5

Her speech, entitled,“Woman Power of the Nation,” was lauded by the more 3000 businesspeople, Senators, Governors, Mayors, Generals and others who attended the Congress, inspiring them onto action. One of the outcomes of this event was the formation of The National League for Women’s Service, a group designed to galvanize this  “Woman Power.” 6

Their mission was:

“To coordinate and standardize the work of women of America along lines of constructive patriotism; to develop the resources, to promote the efficiency of women in meeting their every-day responsibility to home, to state, to nation and to humanity; to provide organized, trained groups in every community prepared to cooperate with the Red Cross and other agencies in dealing with any calamity-fire, flood, famine, economic disorder, etc., and in time of war, to supplement the work of the Red Cross, the Army and Navy, and to deal with the questions of “Woman’s Work and Woman’s Welfare.” 7

Their organization’s slogan was “for God, for Country, for Home.”8

On January 31, 1917 the German Government announced that, on February 1, 1917, it would no longer restrict their submarines from firing on any ship (merchant ships from neutral countries, passenger ships, etc.) that sailed in the war zone around Britain, France and in the Mediterranean Sea. On February 3, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany.  True to their promise, the high command gave orders for the submarines to attack, and before April 6, 1917, they had sunk 9 American ships, and caused the U.S. to lose another due explosion by underwater mines.  9

All this began less than two weeks after Grace Parker addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism about harnessing the “Woman Power of the Nation.”

The sinking of the ships was the final straw. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of War on Germany.  The motion was passed

by the Senate on April 4, 1917 and by the House on April 6, 1917.

The United States officially entered World War 1 with its’ Declaration of War on April 6, 1917. 10

The newly formed National League for Women’s Service marshaled forces and got busy.  Working in conjunction with the Red Cross, they developed

“…thirteen national divisions, as follows: Social and Welfare, Home Economics, Agricultural, Industrial, Medical and Nursing, Motor Driving, General Service, Health, Civics, Signalling, Map-reading, Wireless and Telegraphy, and Camping. Definite work under these thirteen national divisions … developed through state and local organizations, the working unit being a detachment of not less than ten nor over thirty under the direction of a detachment commander.”11

So, it began, that American women began to take up the work of their men who were off at war, performing the duties of: dockworkers, bricklayers, coalminers, munitions workers, nurses, teachers, wireless operators, ambulance drivers, drivers, railroad conductors, farmerettes and other jobs as needed.

Food production had become a critical issue. In late February, 1917, Bread Riots broke out in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Shortages developed because the United States had been sending food to France since 1916. Subsequently, prices on staples had risen astronomically making it difficult for people to buy the basics. Agricultural support was deemed a priority at all levels of government. 12

Enter the Women’s Land Army of America (WLA). “Farmerettes,” as they became known, hailed from all over the United States, came from all walks of life and many, many of them had no experience with farming. But, they were anxious to “Do Their Bit,” and enthusiastic about their mission. Although the members of the WLA were of all ages, many were young and excited about the adventures that awaited them as they took their turn at farm life. Many were students who attended institutions such as Barnard College, Bryn Mawr, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Goucher, Vassar, Mount Holyoke and others throughout the United States. The Northeast, Midwest, West and some  Southern states embraced the WLAA. Camps where the women were housed and received much-needed training, included New York, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New Jersey,Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and California.  13

They found out that farming was a tough business. Graduation from the Libertyville farm in Illinois was thusly described in a Chicago Tribune article:

“There was no organdy and lace, no pink ribbons and rosebuds about the graduation dresses of the girl farmers who met in the leafy grove on the farm of the Woman’s Land Army yesterday. The graduates wore overalls instead, garments which had obviously seen hard service.  A bright kerchief worn about the neck or the head, a feather placed Indian fashion in the hair–these were the only signs of ‘dressing up.’ They realized they were there as pioneers in a new work for women.” 14

Armed with knowledge and training, they were ready with rakes, hoes, trowels and shovels, in hand. The only problem was that the farmers didn’t necessarily trust them. Despite the great need for food production, in many cases it took enormous amounts of persuasion on the part of the WLA Camp Directors, local media, local politicians and business leaders to convince farmers to hire this new and very dedicated work force. 15

In an address in September 17, 1918 at the Illinois Training Farm for Land Army Women,  Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden, explained to farmers:

“My old friend, the Conservative Farmer: I know that many of you think that these girls will not do on the farm. I welcome these young women into our ranks…These young women who shall help us to raise the food to feed their brothers on the battle front… And by helping us to raise the food we need, will become comrades of these heroic boys in the trenches of battle fronts of Europe.

“I hope that this movement begun here in a simple, modest but very effective manner, may communicate itself to other portions of this State and other States so that if need be we will match the irresistible army of our heroic men on the battlefront with an equally strong and equally patriotic army of women in the field and in the dairies of our land.” 16

At Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (RMWC), in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dr. Meta Glass, a young Professor of Latin, directed the school’s group of Farmerettes. Dr. Glass, herself, an alumna of RMWC, took her charges to farms around the Virginia Piedmont where they could work the land and help with harvests. 17

Likewise, Farmerettes brought in crops of peaches, apples, potatoes, tobacco, beans, corn and every fruit and vegetable conceivable. They plowed, raked, hoed, dug, built fences and coops, herded cattle, sheep and goats. They milked cows, tended pigs and chickens — in short, they did every sort of farm work available.

But, what did the ladies think? Here are some of descriptions:

Here are some thoughts from Helen Kennedy Stevens, a senior at Barnard College, who served at the Bedford Camp,

“…apple picking in an old orchard, where we had to use forty-foot ladders. Coming down a forty-foot ladder with a full basket of apples is a circus stunt, I can tell you.  Then there was cutting and loading corn for the silo, and potato digging was also a husky harvesting job. The corn cutting was picturesque, but the corn rash we got was not.  Preparation for a day in corn was chiefly putting old stockings on our arms.” 18

Letter from a farmerette in a Staten Island, N.Y Land Army unit, 1918:

This isn’t like any other camp for man, woman, or child. It is at times the jolliest, 

but always the most strenuous, ever. Rise 5:30; tumble downstairs in the dark for a hose pipe shower; overalls on. breakfast with a cafeteria rush; bed-making; grab a lunch; jump into the Ford with ten to twenty others whom a natty little chaufferette delivers at several farms within a radius of six miles by 7:30; hoe, weed, plant or gather and carry bushels of luscious tomatoes, until the noon whistle blows; lunch under the trees with perhaps a few minutes nap in the long grass; then farm work with the farmer till the long Ford comes with our driver in Fifth Avenue togs to take us home again. Can you beat it, the Woman’s Land Army Plattsburg Camp?

At home there is a rush for the porcelain tubs and hot baths, a rush for the laundry tubs to put underclothes and overalls to soak. Dinner at 6, dishes washed, lunches for the next day packed, and assignments made of next day’s work. A spin down to the beach for a salt-water swim, a coolish ride home with the girls hanging on anywhere the Ford offers a foothold and singing lustily. 19

Or

Memoir of Margurite Wilkinson: My Experince as a Farmerette

 

Chop,chop,chop went our hoes. Down the long field in the hot sun we trudged slowly, hilling up those sprawling plants. Sally could very nearly do two rows while I was doing one, but she cheered me along kindly and tactfully, telling me that I was doing very well indeed for a new girl and that it would be a lot easier when I had grown accustomed to it. Bertha did not work much faster than I, but she was steadier and did not have to stop for breath so often.

Chop,chop,chop. Birds were singing in the trees that bordered the field, Bumble bees buzzed along on their way to neighboring patches of wild flowers. But after a while I was only conscious of the fact that my back, my right wrist, and my left elbow ached like mad.

We went to the house for a pail of water. We took long draughts of it, left the pail under a big tree to keep cool and went back to work. We were painfully conscious of profuse perspiration. They have another word for perspiration on the farms which is more vulgar, vigorous and appropriate. Big drops of moisture were running down our foreheads into our eyes, down our necks into our clothing, down our legs into our mute, protective boots. But for the rest of the morning we kept an honest pace, stopping occasionally for a drink when our progress down the rows took us near the big tree and the tin pail. And at last came noon and the chance to rest.”

In those hours of the afternoon the heat was at its worst. The air seemed to be vivid with it and quivered about our faces. We felt it rising from the soil against the stiff, leather soles of our boots. We were aching, and dripping wet. Little shivers ran up and down our spines occasionally. But we did not stop. We just thought of the boys in the trenches who have much more to bear. Sometimes we spoke of them.

“You see, it is a course in many things besides agriculture, and the camp is a democracy, and cosmopolitan at that. Across the furrows at her weeding, a little Russian tells of her recent voyage to America. Further in among the celery beds a French girl and an Irish girl exchange consolation for the lover and the husband who recently started ‘over there’. College girls, important in their senior years, and women weary of degrees and world travel, wisdom or teaching, come here and take the kink out of tired nerves by straining their flabby muscles a bit. There are violinists in the camp, and singers, too, that the world will yet hear from. ..The war is not talked about thought it lies deep in the hearts of the sweethearts and sisters who are trying to do their bit to increase the country’s food supply.” 20

From the Spring of 1917 through the Fall of 1919, these women saved the day by raising crops in America. These crops fed the U.S. and contributed heavily to foodstuffs for Europe.  They certainly “did their bit” and did it very well!  We would have been hard-pressed to feed ourselves without them. As the “Great War” ended and the men came home, the WLA gradually packed up its’ shovels and rakes and turned the soil for a last time. The WLA was absorbed into the Department of Labor, but, for all intents and purposes it ceased to exist.  21  It was, however, revived during World War II, but that is another story for another day.

Elaine Weiss, Smithsonian.com, “Before Rosie the Riveter, Farmerettes Went to Work,” May 28, 2009

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 3

Ibid, pp. 4

Ibid, pp. 17

Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV. http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

Ibid

Ibid

Ibid

9.Rodney Carlisle, “The Attacks on U. S. Shipping that Precipitated American Entry into World War I”

10.First World War.com Primary Documents -…Declaration of War with Germany, 2 April, 1917 m/source/usawardeclaration.htm

11. Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV.  http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

12.World War I — United States Food Administration U.S. Food Administration http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cou/us/food/w1cus-usfa.html

Wikipedia, Woman’s Land Army of America, World War I,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman%27s_Land_Army_of_America

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 159

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 160 – 161

  17. Richmond Times-Dispatch,1918 June 2

Randolph-Macon

[Special to The Times-Dispatch.]

Lynchburg, VA., June 1.             ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/)

18. Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 83

FARMERETTES – Looking for Mabel Normand. www.freewebs.com

Ibid 

Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 269

 

 

Between 1917 and 1919 roughly 20,000 women served in the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLA). Known as “Farmerettes,” these mostly young ladies came from all backgrounds and regions of the United States.  They helped keep food on the tables of everyday Americans throughout the Great War. 1

 

A Bit of Background…

It’s 1915, and, imagine, if you will, a chilly July afternoon in London, where throngs of women are marching, demanding “their right to serve” their country during the war. 2

Although Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette leader, is at the head of the crowds, the event was put together by the British Government. David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, organized this rally because he knew that Britain was going to need help on the home front during this “War to End All Wars.” 3

Emmeline Pankhurst, Famous British Suffragette

An ocean away, the United States was not completely isolated from the growing storm in Europe.  By 1916, America was sending food to France. And, many citizens foresaw the rising conflict overseas, and anticipated that the United States would become involved.  The National Security League was one of the organizations that arose before our entry into World War 1 and was focused on defending America. 

Miss Grace Parker, who had joined America’s National Security League, went to England to visit with members of the Women’s Land Army of Great Britain, which, ultimately became a model for America’s Women’s Land Army of the United States. 4

 

Upon her return, she addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism, an event that was held in New York in January 25-27,1917. 5

Her speech, entitled,“Woman Power of the Nation,” was lauded by the more 3000 businesspeople, Senators, Governors, Mayors, Generals and others who attended the Congress, inspiring them onto action. One of the outcomes of this event was the formation of The National League for Women’s Service, a group designed to galvanize this  “Woman Power.” 6

Their mission was:

“To coordinate and standardize the work of women of America along lines of constructive patriotism; to develop the resources, to promote the efficiency of women in meeting their every-day responsibility to home, to state, to nation and to humanity; to provide organized, trained groups in every community prepared to cooperate with the Red Cross and other agencies in dealing with any calamity-fire, flood, famine, economic disorder, etc., and in time of war, to supplement the work of the Red Cross, the Army and Navy, and to deal with the questions of “Woman’s Work and Woman’s Welfare.” 7

Their organization’s slogan was “for God, for Country, for Home.”8

On January 31, 1917 the German Government announced that, on February 1, 1917, it would no longer restrict their submarines from firing on any ship (merchant ships from neutral countries, passenger ships, etc.) that sailed in the war zone around Britain, France and in the Mediterranean Sea. On February 3, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany.  True to their promise, the high command gave orders for the submarines to attack, and before April 6, 1917, they had sunk 9 American ships, and caused the U.S. to lose another due explosion by underwater mines.  9

All this began less than two weeks after Grace Parker addressed the Congress of Constructive Patriotism about harnessing the “Woman Power of the Nation.”

The sinking of the ships was the final straw. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of War on Germany.  The motion was passed by the Senate on April 4, 1917 and by the House on April 6, 1917.

 The United States officially entered World War 1 with its’ Declaration of War on April 6, 1917. 10

The newly formed National League for Women’s Service marshaled forces and got busy.  Working in conjunction with the Red Cross, they developed

“…thirteen national divisions, as follows: Social and Welfare, Home Economics, Agricultural, Industrial, Medical and Nursing, Motor Driving, General Service, Health, Civics, Signalling, Map-reading, Wireless and Telegraphy, and Camping. Definite work under these thirteen national divisions … developed through state and local organizations, the working unit being a detachment of not less than ten nor over thirty under the direction of a detachment commander.”11

   

So, it began, that American women began to take up the work of their men who were off at war, performing the duties of: dockworkers, bricklayers, coalminers, munitions workers, nurses, teachers, wireless operators, ambulance drivers, drivers, railroad conductors, farmerettes and other jobs as needed.

Food production had become a critical issue. In late February, 1917, Bread Riots broke out in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Shortages developed because the United States had been sending food to France since 1916. Subsequently, prices on staples had risen astronomically making it difficult for people to buy the basics. Agricultural support was deemed a priority at all levels of government. 12

 

Enter the Women’s Land Army of America (WLA). “Farmerettes,” as they became known, hailed from all over the United States, came from all walks of life and many, many of them had no experience with farming. But, they were anxious to “Do Their Bit,” and enthusiastic about their mission. Although the members of the WLA were of all ages, many were young and excited about the adventures that awaited them as they took their turn at farm life. Many were students who attended institutions such as Barnard College, Bryn Mawr, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Goucher, Vassar, Mount Holyoke and others throughout the United States. The Northeast, Midwest, West and some  Southern states embraced the WLAA. Camps where the women were housed and received much-needed training, included New York, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New Jersey,Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and California.  13

         

They found out that farming was a tough business. Graduation from the Libertyville farm in Illinois was thusly described in a Chicago Tribune article:

“There was no organdy and lace, no pink ribbons and rosebuds about the graduation dresses of the girl farmers who met in the leafy grove on the farm of the Woman’s Land Army yesterday. The graduates wore overalls instead, garments which had obviously seen hard service.  A bright kerchief worn about the neck or the head, a feather placed Indian fashion in the hair–these were the only signs of ‘dressing up.’ They realized they were there as pioneers in a new work for women.” 14

Armed with knowledge and training, they were ready with rakes, hoes, trowels and shovels, in hand. The only problem was that the farmers didn’t necessarily trust them. Despite the great need for food production, in many cases it took enormous amounts of persuasion on the part of the WLA Camp Directors, local media, local politicians and business leaders to convince farmers to hire this new and very dedicated work force. 15

 

In an address in September 17, 1918 at the Illinois Training Farm for Land Army Women,  Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden, explained to farmers:

“My old friend, the Conservative Farmer: I know that many of you think that these girls will not do on the farm. I welcome these young women into our ranks…These young women who shall help us to raise the food to feed their brothers on the battle front… And by helping us to raise the food we need, will become comrades of these heroic boys in the trenches of battle fronts of Europe.

“I hope that this movement begun here in a simple, modest but very effective manner, may communicate itself to other portions of this State and other States so that if need be we will match the irresistible army of our heroic men on the battlefront with an equally strong and equally patriotic army of women in the field and in the dairies of our land.” 16

 

At Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (RMWC), in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dr. Meta Glass, a young Professor of Latin, directed the school’s group of Farmerettes. Dr. Glass, herself, an alumna of RMWC, took her charges to farms around the Virginia Piedmont where they could work the land and help with harvests. 17

 

Likewise, Farmerettes brought in crops of peaches, apples, potatoes, tobacco, beans, corn and every fruit and vegetable conceivable. They plowed, raked, hoed, dug, built fences and coops, herded cattle, sheep and goats. They milked cows, tended pigs and chickens — in short, they did every sort of farm work available.

But, what did the ladies think? Here are some of descriptions:

 

Here are some thoughts from Helen Kennedy Stevens, a senior at Barnard College, who served at the Bedford Camp,

“…apple picking in an old orchard, where we had to use forty-foot ladders. Coming down a forty-foot ladder with a full basket of apples is a circus stunt, I can tell you.  Then there was cutting and loading corn for the silo, and potato digging was also a husky harvesting job. The corn cutting was picturesque, but the corn rash we got was not.  Preparation for a day in corn was chiefly putting old stockings on our arms.” 18

Letter from a farmerette in a Staten Island, N.Y Land Army unit, 1918:

This isn’t like any other camp for man, woman, or child. It is at times the jolliest, 

but always the most strenuous, ever. Rise 5:30; tumble downstairs in the dark for a hose pipe shower; overalls on. breakfast with a cafeteria rush; bed-making; grab a lunch; jump into the Ford with ten to twenty others whom a natty little chaufferette delivers at several farms within a radius of six miles by 7:30; hoe, weed, plant or gather and carry bushels of luscious tomatoes, until the noon whistle blows; lunch under the trees with perhaps a few minutes nap in the long grass; then farm work with the farmer till the long Ford comes with our driver in Fifth Avenue togs to take us home again. Can you beat it, the Woman’s Land Army Plattsburg Camp?

At home there is a rush for the porcelain tubs and hot baths, a rush for the laundry tubs to put underclothes and overalls to soak. Dinner at 6, dishes washed, lunches for the next day packed, and assignments made of next day’s work. A spin down to the beach for a salt-water swim, a coolish ride home with the girls hanging on anywhere the Ford offers a foothold and singing lustily. 19

Or

Memoir of Margurite Wilkinson: My Experince as a Farmerette

 

Chop,chop,chop went our hoes. Down the long field in the hot sun we trudged slowly, hilling up those sprawling plants. Sally could very nearly do two rows while I was doing one, but she cheered me along kindly and tactfully, telling me that I was doing very well indeed for a new girl and that it would be a lot easier when I had grown accustomed to it. Bertha did not work much faster than I, but she was steadier and did not have to stop for breath so often.

Chop,chop,chop. Birds were singing in the trees that bordered the field, Bumble bees buzzed along on their way to neighboring patches of wild flowers. But after a while I was only conscious of the fact that my back, my right wrist, and my left elbow ached like mad.

We went to the house for a pail of water. We took long draughts of it, left the pail under a big tree to keep cool and went back to work. We were painfully conscious of profuse perspiration. They have another word for perspiration on the farms which is more vulgar, vigorous and appropriate. Big drops of moisture were running down our foreheads into our eyes, down our necks into our clothing, down our legs into our mute, protective boots. But for the rest of the morning we kept an honest pace, stopping occasionally for a drink when our progress down the rows took us near the big tree and the tin pail. And at last came noon and the chance to rest.”

In those hours of the afternoon the heat was at its worst. The air seemed to be vivid with it and quivered about our faces. We felt it rising from the soil against the stiff, leather soles of our boots. We were aching, and dripping wet. Little shivers ran up and down our spines occasionally. But we did not stop. We just thought of the boys in the trenches who have much more to bear. Sometimes we spoke of them.

“You see, it is a course in many things besides agriculture, and the camp is a democracy, and cosmopolitan at that. Across the furrows at her weeding, a little Russian tells of her recent voyage to America. Further in among the celery beds a French girl and an Irish girl exchange consolation for the lover and the husband who recently started ‘over there’. College girls, important in their senior years, and women weary of degrees and world travel, wisdom or teaching, come here and take the kink out of tired nerves by straining their flabby muscles a bit. There are violinists in the camp, and singers, too, that the world will yet hear from. ..The war is not talked about thought it lies deep in the hearts of the sweethearts and sisters who are trying to do their bit to increase the country’s food supply.” 20

From the Spring of 1917 through the Fall of 1919, these women saved the day by raising crops in America. These crops fed the U.S. and contributed heavily to foodstuffs for Europe.  They certainly “did their bit” and did it very well!  We would have been hard-pressed to feed ourselves without them. As the “Great War” ended and the men came home, the WLA gradually packed up its’ shovels and rakes and turned the soil for a last time. The WLA was absorbed into the Department of Labor, but, for all intents and purposes it ceased to exist.  21  It was, however, revived during World War II, but that is another story for another day.

1.Elaine Weiss, Smithsonian.com, “Before Rosie the Riveter, Farmerettes Went to Work,” May 28, 2009

2.Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 3

3.Ibid, pp. 4

4.Ibid, pp. 17

5.Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV. http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

6.Ibid

7.Ibid

8.Ibid

9.Rodney Carlisle, “The Attacks on U. S. Shipping that Precipitated American Entry into World War I”

10.First World War.com Primary Documents -…Declaration of War with Germany, 2 April, 1917 m/source/usawardeclaration.htm

11. Ida Clyde Clarke. American Women and the World War. Chapter XIV.  http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Clarke/Clarke14.htm

12.World War I — United States Food Administration U.S. Food Administration http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cou/us/food/w1cus-usfa.html

13.Wikipedia, Woman’s Land Army of America, World War I,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman%27s_Land_Army_of_America

14.Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 159

15.Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War

16.Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 160 – 161

17. Richmond Times-Dispatch,1918 June 2,Randolph-Macon[Special to The Times-Dispatch.]Lynchburg, VA., June 1.             ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/)

18. Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 83

19.FARMERETTES – Looking for Mabel Normand. www.freewebs.com

20.Ibid 

21.Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, pp. 269