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“Farmerettes” Feed a Nation

Serving the home front in the Women's Land Army

While most people recognize World War II’s iconic Rosie the Riveter, her lesser-known compatriots in the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) provided just as critical a service during the two world wars. Women and schoolgirls like seventeen-year-old Shirley Armstrong (shown here on the cover of Life) worked on farms and in canneries to feed the nation and ensure that crops did not spoil while millions of farm laborers served in other wartime capacities.

The WLAA was initially established during World War I by an array of civic clubs and organizations, with women banding together to do the work of farmhands called to military service or factory jobs. Called “farmerettes,” the women were trained to cultivate and harvest crops used to feed those on the home front and abroad.

This invaluable civil organization was resurrected during World War II, this time under the US Department of Agriculture’s United States Crop Corps, a federal agency tasked with overseeing civilian agricultural efforts. With an estimated 1.5 million at work between 1943 and 1945 performing duties as varied as driving tractors, picking fruit, milking cows, and trucking produce, the WLAA helped fuel the massive war effort. The organization also opened opportunities for many women to work outside the home for the first time and earn a wage.

Just like the millions of Americans who grew their own victory gardens, land army enlistees came from every walk of life, from wives and sisters of servicemen to rural school teachers and urban office workers. Some toiled full-time, while others lent support after work, on weekends, or during summer vacations. Bolstered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and besting skeptics ranging from farmers to Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard, the WLAA played an essential role in sustaining America during World War II. Little wonder, then, that Life chose to honor their contributions with this victorious cover.

—Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist, Collections Management and Education Department, Smithsonian Gardens

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life magazine cover
Cover, Life magazine, September 27, 1943. National Museum of American History.

 

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