1916 Women’s Farm and Garden Union

1916 newspaper cutting on origins of Women's Land Army
A cutting on the precursor to the Women’s Land Army

The yellowed newspaper cutting flutters down as we are packing up old books.

As if it has a message for me – its headline: Women for the farm.

At the top, in a pencilled scrawl, The Timesand the date: 24.5.16 

The cutting concerns the annual meeting of the Women’s Farm and Garden Union at Chelsea Hospital, London, midway through the First World War (1914 – 1918). 

According to the cutting, the Women’s Farm and Garden Union has a membership of about 500, the majority being women working their own land.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, FD Acland MP, attends. 

His presence is “an outward and visible sign” of the Board of Agriculture’s approval and gratitude for the Women’s Farm and Garden Union work.

A historic moment…

…As I discover from the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University because, the following year, the Women’s Farm and Garden Union is taken over by the Board of Agriculture, and becomes the first Women’s Land Army.

The Women’s Land Army has been rediscovered in recent years. 

Usually, attention is focused on its activities during the Second World War [pic above].

My newspaper cutting points to its role during the First World War.

Acland, a Liberal MP influential in setting up the Forestry Commission, according to his Wikipedia entry, adapts a poem from Macaulay (the British historian and politician, Macaulay?) to describe the farm work of women and men too young or old to serve working the land in the absence of men at war.

The newspaper editor subtitles the piece “an admonition in verse.” Yet Acland is not criticising the women but praising them.

The newspaper quotes the politician’s ditty:

“The harvests of East Anglia
   This year old maids must reap
This year young boys of Cumberland
     Must dip the struggling sheep.
And in the farms of Lunedale
   This year the milk must form
From the white hands of strapping girls
  Whose sires are gone from home.”

Mrs Roland Wilkins also addresses the Women’s Farm and Garden Union:  the work of women, old men and boys are replacing that of some 300,000 men taken from the land for military service.

Mrs Roland Wilkins makes an acerbic (as I read it) comment on how women’s war effort may be better served on the land than “putting sugar in cups of teas  for Tommies.” 

Indeed.

Fast forward to 2018. According to the Food and Agriculture United Nations (FAO), women feed the world.  They produce more than half of all the food grown globally.

In rural areas – home to the majority of the world’s hungry – they grow most of the crops for domestic consumption and are primarily responsible for preparing, storing and processing food. They also handle livestock, gather food, fodder and fuelwood and manage the domestic water supply. In addition, they provide most of the labour for post-harvest activities. Yet women’s work often goes unrecognized, and they lack the leverage necessary to gain access to resources, training and finance. 

A point also made at the photographic exhibition, We Feed The World [image below]. 

Women farmers from Todjedi, Benin. Photo for WFTW by Fabrice Monteiro

Women farmers from Todjedi, Benin. Image: Fabrice Monteiro

A big shout-out to women farmers of the past, the future and everywhere on the planet.

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4 responses to “1916 Women’s Farm and Garden Union

  1. Another great blog!
    The Times, Acland and MacCauley reek of admonitous class/sex divide that still haunts society today.
    A big shout out to all women!

    Like

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