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 addition to running Camp Mil-Bur, the University of Maryland also offered “short courses” – four-week classes in farming basics such as raising chickens – to teach women who had not been raised in a rural environment how to handle farm duties. UMD was the first university to contribute in this fashion, and a number of other colleges followed suit.
The Maryland Extension Service in College Park, which ran the Emergency Farm Labor program for the state, published a report in 1948, “Farm Labor in Wartime,” detailing their success in the war effort: Maryland produced 40% more food than average and did it with 30% less labor. That success would not have been possible without the contributions of women. Nationally, more than 1.5 million non-farm women would work for the Women’s Land Army during the course of the war.
The WLA shut down at the end of 1945, as did Camp Mil-Bur, but the Emergency Farm Labor program continued for two more years, as the military was still in the process of demobilizing, and the immediate aftermath of war in Europe left millions of people without enough food. Eventually, as with Rosie the Riveter, the Farmerettes went back to their old lives.
But the image of the farmer as the man tending his fields alone is changing. In April of 2013, the Department of Agriculture released a study of women farmers which showed that nearly 1 million women are now farm operators and that women account for 30% of American farmers. The number of women farmers in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1982 as local food movements and other environmental issues have drawn more and more women into farming in the United States. Globally the UN estimates that women produce more than 50% of our food. The Farmerettes were, perhaps, merely ahead of their time.