Maryland Women and the “Call To Farms” During WWII (Part 3)

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.

short course

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.

girls with baskets

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.

Maryland Women and the “Call To Farms” During WWII (Part 2)

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.

camp milbur cover

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.

daily news photo dorm

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.

Farmerette white_Page_1

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.

Maryland Women and the “Call To Farms” During WWII (Part 1)

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.

We’ve all heard of Rosie the Riveter, the WACS and the WAVES, but fewer people have heard of the Women’s Land Army and its role in the United States’ efforts to win the Second World War.

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.

daily news article photo fieldsConcerned 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.

Magazine Cover PostcardThe 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.