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.
In Maryland, the Women’s Land Army and the Victory Farm Volunteers worked with the Maryland Extension Service in College Park to open Camp Mil-Bur on Gibson Island in Anne Arundel County in 1943. The camp was open for three years and recruited physically fit women as young as 14 to do farm labor for a few months during the harvest season. The women were paid and given temporary housing and provided with meals that were prepared with guidance from a nutrition specialist from the University of Maryland.
In their first year, Camp Mil-Bur workers picked more than 80,000 pounds of beans alone, despite a drought that year dampening the crop. For comparison, the total amount of beans picked from 1943 to 1947 by the entire Emergency Farm Labor Program in Maryland was just over 460,000 pounds.
Campers rose at 6am and ate breakfast at 7. The workday in the fields was 8-5 with an hour break for lunch. Despite the hard physical labor, many campers went swimming daily after work to cool off, under supervision of the swimming instructor, who doubled as the social director. The volunteers played baseball and put on amateur shows during their down time on the weekends, and short outings were arranged in Washington or Baltimore. Some enterprising campers produced a newsletter, The Farmerette, with songs, poems and stories written by campers.
Although often referred to as “girls” in the local news coverage, there was a range of ages in the Camp and the Women’s Land Army. Married women and career women volunteered for the WLA, including school teachers who used the summer break to do farm work for the war effort before going back to the classroom.
Camp Mil-Bur also had a close connection with Maryland 4-H, as the women’s labor program in the Maryland Extension Service was run by Dorothy “Dot” Emerson. Dot was a long-time 4-H member who joined the Maryland Extension 1923. She was instrumental in starting the national 4-H conference in 1927 and was also the first inductee to the Maryland 4-H Hall of Fame, in 1979.
In part three we’ll look at the University of Maryland’s contributions to the war effort and the success of the WLA.