“San Diego Gets First Sight of Farmerette”

That was the headline of an article on page 2 of the San Diego Evening Tribune of August 20, 1918.

“Enter the farmerette!” began the article. “She isn’t new, in some sections of California, but her appearance here yesterday was the signal for many questions about the branch of the service to which she belongs.”

“Farmerettes” were the nickname for members of the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLA). The WLA was established in 1917 in the wake of America’s entrance into the First World War one hundred years ago. It was one of a number of public and private efforts to promote food production and conservation during the war

The WLA was established “by a consortium of women’s organizations—including gardening clubs, suffrage societies, women’s colleges, civic groups and the YWCA,” according to a 2009 article written by Elaine Weiss for Smithsonian Magazine.

From 1917 to 1919, the WLA trained and sent more than 20,000 city and town women to rural America.

Here’s an undated photo from the Library of Congress archives of a California WLA member driving a tractor:

The farmerettes referred to in the August 1918 Tribune article had “hiked down from the farmerette camp at Elsinore” on “a four-day furlough from their government work, which consists of planting tomatoes, tending the ground and plants, harvesting the crop….and canning the product for the consumption of the United States soldiers and sailors….”

The visitors clearly made an impression. A few weeks later, on September 16, one of the Tribune’s social columns included this item: “Miss Hulda VanWagenen, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. D. B. VanWagenen, has gone north to join the woman’s land army. Miss VanWagenen left with a group of workers from Los Angeles today for Saticoy, Ventura County, to pick plums.”

Ten days later, another Tribune article noted “A number of local girls and women have joined the woman’s land army.”

“Like Rosie the Riveter a generation later,” wrote Weiss in Smithsonian, “the Land Army farmerette became a wartime icon.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, Smithsonian Magazine, and Legacies, magazine of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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