Date of Graduation

12-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Jeannie Whayne

Committee Member

Elliott West

Second Committee Member

Robert McMath

Keywords

Emergency War Labor Programs, United States Crop Corps, WLA, Women's Land Army, World War II Farm Labor

Abstract

The Women’s Land Army brought together rural and urban sectors of the United States in a climate of national and regional crisis. By the time the country was cast into war, the agricultural sector was already caught in a downward economic spiral that drove away laborers. With demand falling, and farms propped up only by experiments in subsidy and parity, when military and industrial jobs emerged in urban areas, farm laborers became scarce. At the same time the war created jobs for men outside of the agricultural sector, farm prices recovered and demand soared, forcing farmers to look to women for much-needed farm labor. The federal government proved a hesitant partner in the program, preferring to advance labor initiatives that did not challenge existing gendered divisions of labor endorsed by the USDA Extension and Home Demonstration programs. It was only in 1943, under extreme pressure, that Washington created the WLA that workers and farmers had demanded since 1941. Examining the Women’s Land Army of World War II allows us to discern rural, urban, and federal attitudes toward gendered labor by creating an environment that incentivized new relationships between women, farms, and profit-driven farm labor.

Women, both rural and urban, proved eager to participate in farm labor programs, and farmers, aware that labor resources were limited, readily accepted the possibilities of the program and gave women the chance to prove their mettle. This mindset was couched in the reality that most farmers were already aware that at least some women were perfectly competent farm workers. Most farm women, though relegated to monikers of “farm wife” or “farm daughter” performed labor alongside husbands and fathers who received the preferential title “farmer”. The WLA did not break new ground for rural men, but it did change perceptions of women on farms. Under the auspices of patriotic enthusiasm, farm and urban women received social permission to enter the fields openly, and own their personal roles in farm production.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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