Thursday, 18 February 2016

Appeal to Women to Work on the Land

From the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 15th February 1916.




The Government has decided to take steps to emphasise the appeal for women to work on the land by organising a recruiting campaign on popular lines.  According to the "Daily News and Leader" it is proposed that an armlet shall be issued to women who are willing to undertake farm work, and that they shall be entitled to wear a special uniform.  Every village in the country will be canvassed by members of women's committees appointed for each county, and all those who volunteer will be registered and given an armlet.  The uniform, which consists of coat and skirt, stout boots and gaiters, will be issued at a low wholesale price as soon as the agricultural recruits are called up.

It is hoped that the appeal will succeed in raising a sufficiently large number of women to take the place temporarily of the men who have enlisted.  Already over 250,000 men have been withdrawn from agriculture, and it is anticipated that a further 100,000 will be called up under the Derby scheme.  In a few months, therefore, practically only the starred men—the shepherds, the ploughmen, and others whose skill and experience make them indispensable—will remain.  If the agriculture of the country is to be carried on without any lessening of production, it is essential that an army of at least 400,000 women should be mobilised.

Already the country has raised an army, say of 4,000,000 men, for the front.  It has organised another army, still rapidly growing, of 250,000 women for munition factories.  There now remains the problem of mobilising yet a third army of 400,000 women for the land.

It is proposed to appeal to the woman on purely patriotic grounds.  It is to be put to her that she can play a considerable part in helping to win the war by doing work which will not only help to increase the nation's food supply, but will also tend to reduce the necessity for imports, and so release ships for other vital needs.

It is admitted that the work is not attractive.  No woman can be expected to enjoy milking cows at four on a winter's morning, or spreading manure, or cleaning a pigsty.  It is frankly admitted, indeed, that much of the most necessary work is hard and unpleasant, and by no means extravagantly paid.  That is why the appeal is made exclusively to the patriotism of the women.

There is no question, as in the Army itself, of any really adequate reward.  The Board of Agriculture will insist that there shall be no sweated labour and that a fair rate of wages based on the earnings of the men who have enlisted shall be paid, but the women who work on the land will seldom be able to earn as much as those in munition factories.  About £l a week may be taken as the maximum.  The hours, however, are not, on the whole, so long, and in many cases it will probably be possible for women who cannot work every day, or for only a few hours, to make their own arrangements with the farmer.

The work women can most successfully tackle has been found to be:—
Butter and cheese making.
Feeding stock.
Rearing calves.
Hoeing and weeding.
Manure spreading.
Potato planting and picking.
Fruit picking.
Attending to pigs, poultry, etc. 
A number of women are also capable of ploughing.  Recently the first prizes in two open ploughing competitions were won by women, but for the majority the work is perhaps too heavy.

There has been considerable difficulty in persuading farmers of the possibilities of the scheme, but already several of the more enterprising have shown what can be done.  One Oxfordshire farmer reports that for some months all his cows have been milked by women with excellent results and that although it is necessary to start milking at 4 a.m. the women have never been late, and have cheerfully turned up on the coldest winter morning.  Already too, good progress has been made in some districts with the house-to-house canvass.  One of the most encouraging results is reported from Norfolk, where, in 80 parishes which have been canvassed, some 2,000 women registered themselves as willing to work on the land.

Although the wife or sister of the agricultural labourer is specially appealed to, because she is on the spot and therefore involves no housing problem, it is expected that there will be plenty of scope for women of the educated class, who can take rooms in the village or country town and are prepared to do hard and more or less unpleasant work.  An organisation likely to be very useful in supplying such labour is the Woman's National Land Service Corps, led by Mrs. Rowland Wilkins, which undertakes to train women for agricultural work.

Just now the farmer has no very pressing need of help, but in a few weeks there will be an urgent demand for women’s labour on the land.  It is hoped that the new recruiting campaign will result in a great response, and that the women of the country will be as proud of their armlets as are the Derby yolunteers.

[So the Government was proposing to recruit a large number of women for unpleasant, physically hard work, not well-paid, and for farmers who in many cases were hostile to the idea of women farm workers.  And it was hoping that the armlet and a special uniform (which would have to be paid for by the recruit) would be a sufficient inducement. In fact, I think that the Government had got it wrong, and there were a lot of women who found the idea of farm work appealing.]

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