WOMEN and their WORK

Women in Agriculture

Mrs. Edith Lang, B.A. February 1 1918
WOMEN and their WORK

Women in Agriculture

Mrs. Edith Lang, B.A. February 1 1918

Women in Agriculture

Mrs. Edith Lang, B.A.

AS far back as the summer of 1915, and even before that, it became evident in Britain that the war was creating an artificial shortage of agricultural labor, and moreover, as men were drafted into the army and navy, and as greater areas of the world’s surface were drawn into the war zone, the need for greater production went side by side with a growing scarcity of workers.

The first idea of the farmers to meet this twofold emergency was to ask that they be allowed to use cheap child labor, and they petitioned parliament to repeal, temporarily, the compulsory education acts. But this the government wisely refused to do, pointing out that, in the first place, cheap child labor is apt to be very expensive, and secondly that it would be false economy at any time to forestall the period at which the vast majority of children leave school ; further there seemed to be no adequate reason why women, who were willing to do so, should not be employed on the land.

Voluntary associations had, even before the war, taken up the question of organizing and training women agriculturists. The Women’s Farm and Garden Union had been in existence since 1890, and had done good work in training girls and women who had the desire and the means to take a prolonged course, but outside of a few itinerant dairy classes, carried on under the auspices of certain enterprising County Councils, no effort had been made to interest the farm daughters in their work. This doei not mean to say that agriculture was an unknown trade for women. Historically we know that the earth was first tilled by women to provide food, other than game, for their families; the very origin of the word “daughter” means a “milkmaid.” And even in modern times, there were women farmers. The British census of 1911 gives the number of women “engaged in agriculture” as 90,128. Of these 20,027 were “farmers or graziers,” 56.856 “assisting in work on farm.” 4,984 “in charge of cattle,” 25 “bailiffs or foremen,” six “shepherds,” and 8,280 “engaged in general farm labor.” Besides these, so to speak, professional farm-women, there has always been a floating population of summer help, such as the hoppers and fruit pickers, who have regarded their time in the fields as the summer outing of the family, and without doubt, the health of many an East End of London home has been greatly improved by the family’s annual migration to camp in the hop fields of Kent.

Besides the societies interested before the war in agriculture and horticulture as a profession or hobby for women, the war itself in its early days produced many enterprises of great interest as experiments. For instance, as soon as the fall of 1914, when the whole organization of industry was thrown out of gear by the unexpected advent of war, thousands and thousands of women and girls were left without employment, many of them without the price of a meal in reserve. It was to help some of these that two trained women from an agricultural college accepted the gift of a piece of land and a house at Radlett in Hertfordshire, and took with them some thirty factory’ girls whom they taught with great success to plough, man-

ure' and trench the land and plant it as an orchard. This is an interesting experiment as it was the first to aim at making women “working gardeners”—in contradistinction to the “lady” gardeners and supervisors who had hitherto been trained at the horticultural colleges. Another noteworthy scheme is being carried out in the beautiful grounds of Girton College, Cambridge. The governors have lent the garden for a school of instruction in Belgian methods of vegetable and fruit growing, with the idea of employing Belgians to teach their valuable methods of intensive cultivation to English women. Monsieur Raymond Goffin, state lecturer in horticulture in Belgium, wounded at the Siege of Antwerp, is in charge of the garden, and his teaching includes the growing of vegetables hitherto unused in England.

BUT as the war progressed, and the possibility of a world famine loomed up, it became necessary for a more active and definite campaign to be launched to increase production, and the British government issued an appeal for half a million women to join the “Land Army.” It appointed a number of educated women as organizers to work in every .county who, through meetings and house to house canvass, should explain the need to the farmers and to the women.

It is of worth to note that any scheme to reach the country people must be taken to them. Many are very busv — others are ignoránt or out of touch with the cities, and do not even see a newspaper regularly. If a campaign must be carried on through literature it is necessary to find one interested woman in each community to be the channel of communication.

In England, the farmers needed to have their prejudices broken down, and the women needed organizing. Some could only give part time, these were listed; others could give all their time if someone could mind their house and children. This was arranged for by older relatives being called in to helD or by organizing community nurseries for the children, and -so on. In every village there were some who could do only the unskilled, casual work, while others could benefit hv a simnle course of training, and others again had the capacity for leadership and could be trained as forewomen and organizers. These were all linked up with the right agencies, which will be mentioned

Besides the local workers, who could be housed in their own houses, there were also women and girls who volunteered from the urban districts. These were organized into squads, and with or without preliminary farm training, were sworn in, given their badge, drilled sufficiently to be able to be moved in large numbers at the word of command, drafted by road or rail to the place where they were needed, billeted in houses, tents or wooden huts, and marched to and from their work by their non-commissioned officers.

Now, although large parts of farm work can be done with little or no training, there are sections of it which are highly skilled and the need for training women, not only to do these things themselves, but also to be able to

teach them to others, caused a great many agencies to apply themselves to this task. Private agricultural colleges, hitherto used only by men, such as the Harper Adams College and others, opened short courses for women, including milking, dairy work, care of stock and poultry, potato planting, etc. Board and lodging were given in the colleges, the women had to provide their own clothes and give an undertaking to engage in farm work at the close of their course.

The University of Leeds, which manages a farm near the city, gave fortnightly courses for women which covered the practical work of milking, cleaning and bedding down of cattle, calf-feeding, getting in loads of roots, straw, etc., for the next day’s use, mixing and grinding of foodstuffs and poultry work of various , kinds. The apprenticeship sounds as if it must of necessity have been “sketchy,” but practically everyone trained is now working on the land as squad supervisor and more and more nre coming on, and being used on the farms as time goes by.

The county councils are working through their ordinary educational channels—the evening classes, etc. They have found that “demonstrations” are more appreciated than lectures proper, and they are asking that some means be organized, by scholarships or by advancing a maintenance and training grant, by which i women whom they find to be keen on farming and have an aptitude for it, may continue their studies in a more thorough fashion.

The Government itself, through its board of agriculture, is giving scholar; ships for monthly courses in milking, calfj rearing, the management of stock and poultry, the growing of crops for fodder and feed, tree-cutting and spraying, etc., and ploughing. It realizes of course, that these courses arc only a beginning, but at least they teach the girls what work on the land means and form a test as to whether they are suitable for further training

One form of training it was supposed that the women could not respond to, and that was for ploughing. To-day practically : all the ploughing in England is being done by women and one feature of all the fall j fairs is a ploughing competition for i women.

Poultry and dairy work have always been considered the woman’s share of the farm, but in England the women are proving that in stock raising and rearing in all its forms their success equals that of the men. It seems as if the instinct of | rearing calves, and of looking after young things generally is a part of the mother instinct of women.

ANOTHER instinct of woman is her capacity for attention to detail, and the saving of by-products. The women on ; the land have demanded and got from the ! Government an automobile truck service, ; calling at the villages at a certain time daily and collecting up the small crops— | the dozen eggs, the single pounds of butter and the small quantities of fruit which otherwise it would not pay to market, but which, in the aggregate, add considerably to the woman’s income ahd to the world’s production. The women in England have demonstrated their willingness and ability to grow and pick fruit and vegetables, to “hitch up” and drive waggons and other farm implements, to cut, reap and pitch hay and grain harvests; to cut chaff, to check and bale the hay for the use of the army; to hoe, to weed,

to clean out stables and to do all the chores of farm work—they have broken down the prejudices of the farmers and responded to their country’s need, and if some few are more physically tired than they ever thought it possible to be, they are tired and happy, and glad, too, of the opportunity to serve their country and to release men who are fit for service nearer the fighting line.

The urgent necessity for increasing the output of milk led the Government to offer special inducements to girls to learn to milk. The farmers are glad to get these girls, and are waiting for them just as soon as they have finished their course. One farmer with a herd of 400 cows has turned it over to the sole care of five of these trained girls and has his name down for two more just as soon as his turn comes round for another choice.

It may be asked what type of girl responds to the call. So far a great variety has volunteered. The farmers prefer the educated women as being more adaptable, but country girls make fine material under good leadership, as also do the London shop and factory girls. As one girl described her squad: “It consists of seamstresses, cooks, nurses, blousemakers, cigarette makers, teddy bear makers and one whose normal avocation was to put eyes in Charlie Chaplins.”

The same girl describes her experiences in the land army in the following terms. “It was a supreme moment when, having been duly ‘sworn in’ of H.M.’s Forces, we were presented with our precious khaki armlets, on which the legend “Land Army” on a white ground, with purple facings is emblazoned. Then, being fully

invested, our guide, philosopher and friend, Miss F., issued ‘marching orders.’ ‘You must be at Victoria Station at 4 p.m., on Monday, May 22, where you will be met as one of a party of 17, going to Sevenoaks; chaff-cutting.’ Arrived at Victoria, we were ‘escorted’ to Sevenoaks, where Company Sergeant-Major C., one of the smartest non-coms, in Kent, put us through our first military evolutions and we soon knew all about ‘right turn, left turn, eyes right, eyes left; one two, one two; advance; retire; quick march; halt!’ Then, ‘First Parade, 6.30 in the morning. DIS-MISS.’ And we swung round—gallant style, left foot forward— to our billets. After an early breakfast we paraded at 6.30. Our company sergeant-major called ‘Fall in.’ We lined up. ‘Stand at ease.’ We did it. ‘Shun!’ Our heels clicked, so did the sergeant’s spurs. ‘Right count.’ We began, in a loud voice, getting louder all along the line—one. two . . . seventeen. Yes, we were all there. ‘Fall out for work.’ Then we ‘skelped,’ seized hold of our implements and right willingly set about the country’s service and demonstrated once again the wonderful adaptability of the British female.

Throughout the world to-day, and in Canada especially, the urgent need is for more food production. The girls have '■ome forward in Ontario to the number of 600 for the fruit picking season, but without doubt, if the matter were well organized and a systematic attempt made to touch the imagination as they have succeeded in doing in England, we could have, not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of our women organized by next spring into a veritable “Land Army.”