In honor of Women’s History Month, Special Collections and University Archives presents a three-part series on the Women’s Land Army and women farmers during the Second World War and the contributions of the Maryland Extension Service in College Park to the war effort.
With most of the able-bodied men enlisting in the military to fight the Axis powers during World War II, there was a significant labor shortage in the U.S. Women flooded the factories to fill the gaps, but they also went into the fields, answering the “call to farms” to protect the food supply necessary to feed the massive military machine required to fight the Axis powers.
Concerned about feeding the enormous military force that was spread across the globe, in the spring of 1943, Congress put the Extension Service of the Department of Agriculture in charge of ensuring enough labor would be available for harvesting crops in the fall. Every available resource was utilized, including prisoners of war and migrant workers. Most of the efforts were organized through state and local groups, with support from farmer’s organizations and the national press, which published positive coverage of the efforts of women farm workers to help with recruiting.
The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was originally created in 1917 and modeled on a similar organization in the United Kingdom. The “farmerettes” numbered more than 20,000 during the First World War. The organization was revived during WWII after prompting from several organizations, including the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In Part 2 we’ll look specifically at the contributions of Maryland women to the WLA during the war years.