Saturday, 26 March 2016

Make work on the Land Fashionable

From the Brecon & Radnor Express, 23rd March 1916.


We notice that the War Agricultural Committees of Breconshire and Radnorshire have had under consideration the question of meeting the shortage of labour on the farms.  Particularly has the question of the employment of women claimed attention, and a scheme, mentioned in our columns some weeks ago, has been adopted.  We hope the movement will be thoroughly encouraged and whole-heartedly supported, for, this and co-operation, appears to us to be the most practicable means so far devised of meeting what is, undoubtedly, a very serious difficulty.

We note in the minds of some members of the committees a dubiety as to the success of the scheme.  This is only to be expected since the conditions of farming in Wales are very different to England.  Labour-saving machinery cannot be used to anything like the extent it is on the lighter soils of the wider plains across the border, whilst the size of the farm staffs—which in Wales are comparatively small—affords greater scope for the employment of women.  As we have previously said, the ordinary Welsh farmer in normal times engages only a small staff—in many cases a man or two, who in almost every instance will be found “skilled” men, and without which no farm of any pretension can very well be carried on.  The call of the Army is hitting farmers generally pretty hard, so far as labour goes, and they would do well to give every support to the scheme now adopted.

This is to enlist as many women as possible to help with farm work.  A Women's Committee, co-operating with the War Agricultural Committee, is appointed, and a canvass will be made in all the villages.  Meetings, to explain the scheme, will be held and addressed by women organisers who are specially versed in farm work.  Whatever prejudices farmers may, or may not have had against women labour must go by the board.  That the farms should be maintained and produce increased is the nation's interest and this after all, let it be remembered, is the first and last consideration at the present time.  Furthermore, a fair wage must be paid, for perhaps it was a shortcoming in this respect that helped to “send out the fashion.”

Farmers move slowly.  Lord Selborne told a deputation last week that they were warned last August that this “pinch” was coming, but they did absolutely nothing to meet it.  They made no efforts, he said, to train women.  They sat still.  According to Mr Bache they are evidently moving in Cardiganshire, for he tells us that he saw scores of women doing the work usually done by men on the farms in that county.  We have no doubt a lot of such work is now being done by farmers' wives and daughters in Breconshire and Radnorshire, but we agree with Mr W. S. Miller that more might be done by women.  Mr Miller thinks that it is largely a matter of “a false sentiment having got into people's heads that there is something degrading in field work.”  Mr Miller is not usually given to unconsidered views, and we may be sure that he has good ground for making the statement.  To what is the “false sentiment” due?  Here is a new subject for controversy in our correspondence column.  This is not the time nor the hour for false sentiment.  We feel sure it is only necessary to remind our women that their help on the land is needed to carry us through to victory to find a response equal to that already found in other branches of our country's business in which women are doing useful and efficient service.  Let work on the land be made the fashion by all means.

[This was a commentary article in the paper.  The overall tone seems to suggest that the problem is that women don't want to work on the land, so it needs to be made 'fashionable'.  The article also mentions some other relevant factors — that women land-workers were not paid a fair wage, that farmers were prejudiced against women workers, that the farmers had done nothing to train women — but the only action proposed is aimed at the women, and not the farmers.]     

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