Cultivating Victory

Cultivating Victory: The Women's Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement

Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Cultivating Victory
    Book Description:

    During the First and Second World Wars, food shortages reached critical levels in the Allied nations. The situation in England, which relied heavily on imports and faced German naval blockades, was particularly dire. Government campaigns were introduced in both Britain and the United States to recruit individuals to work on rural farms and to raise gardens in urban areas. These recruits were primarily women, who readily volunteered in what came to be known as Women's Land Armies. Stirred by national propaganda campaigns and a sense of adventure, these women, eager to help in any way possible, worked tirelessly to help their nations grow "victory gardens" to win the war against hunger and fascism. In vacant lots, parks, backyards, between row houses, in flowerboxes, and on farms, groups of primarily urban, middle-class women cultivated vegetables along with a sense of personal pride and achievement.InCultivating Victory,Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant presents a compelling study of the sea change brought about in politics, society, and gender roles by these wartime campaigns. As she demonstrates, the seeds of this transformation were sown years before the First World War by women suffragists and international women's organizations. Gowdy-Wygant profiles the foundational organizations and significant individuals in Britain and America, such as Lady Gertrude Denman and Harriet Stanton Blatch, who directed the Women's Land Armies and fought to leverage the wartime efforts of women to eventually win voting rights and garner new positions in the workforce and politics.In her original transnational history, Gowdy-Wygant compares and contrasts the outcomes of war in both nations as seen through changing gender roles and women's ties to labor, agriculture, the home, and the environment. She sheds new light on the cultural legacies left by the Women's Land Armies and their major role in shaping national and personal identities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7857-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Throughout the twentieth century, the seeds of victory were sown on farms, vacant lots, in backyards, rooftops, and window boxes. Intentionally selected, meticulously planted, and carefully harvested, these seeds provided food in times of scarcity and a political ideological focus for warring nations. While allied nations shared agricultural strategies, women across three continents shared common goals of liberation, survival, and adventure. As the U.S. and British governments used propaganda and agricultural programs to cultivate both victory and identity, national and international women’s organizations promoted women’s place and space within the farm labor force and society through waged farm work. Regardless...

  5. Part I. The First World War

    • CHAPTER 1 Ladies of Leisure and Women of Action
      (pp. 15-32)

      Across two continents amid the dawn of a new age of social change, the First World War called women over the top. The war called women to climb out of the parapet of the protective trenches of leisure and over the top into a world of political and social service. Like men on a battlefield, women on two continents fought for cultural and social values, honor, and patriotism. Their duty to both their country and themselves drove their desire to climb out of the trenches and into the battlefield of social change. Their mission was to achieve victory for their...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Land Girls
      (pp. 33-62)

      Mary lees needed to get out of the house. Just shy of her eighteenth birthday, she was one of 23,000 English land girls and the 15,000 American farmerettes who left the familiarity of their homes to aid their countries and seek adventure. For many urban women, getting out of the house and “going out on the land” provided unprecedented opportunities.¹ By migrating from the urban to more rural areas of England and the United States to take the place of male agriculturalists during the First World War, women left their homes seeking adventure, employment, and a chance to gain public...

    • CHAPTER 3 Sowing the Seeds of Victory
      (pp. 63-90)

      Though women for centuries cultivated gardens for both pleasure and subsistence, during the First World War cultivation took on a patriotic meaning for the women of England and the United States. Gardening in wartime transformed cultivation from an aesthetic or culinary practice to a practice symbolic of the gardener’s level of patriotism and support of the nation during a time of crisis. Though many urban women joined the homefront efforts at large-scale cultivation by joining the WLAs of England and America, many more urban women remained at home and supported the home front in the way they were instructed: from...

  6. Part II. The Second World War

      (pp. 93-105)

      The “seeds of reform” planted by international women’s leaders sprouted in the years after the First World War. Though the outcomes varied from the expectations of the reformers, a harvest of new perspectives on women’s roles proceeded in the years following the Treaty of Versailles. In the initial years following the war, women in Great Britain and the United States gained considerable ground in political and social rights as a result of the recognition for wartime service. After both peaceful and aggressive attempts at political and social change, it was the wartime defense work of women, so willingly provided, that...

    • CHAPTER 5 “A Call to Farms”
      (pp. 106-130)

      For joan snelling, life as a British “land girl” during the Second World War brought adventure, romance, and farming experiences she never forgot. Born in London in 1922, Joan learned of the outbreak of war while on holiday with her family in Norfolk. Fearing the air raids expected upon the urban areas of the country, her family split up after hearing the news. While her father returned to London to go back to work, Joan, her mother, her sister-in-law, and a niece stayed in a rented bungalow to wait the war out. Her family expected the war to be over...

      (pp. 131-162)

      “Freedom from want” was not only a powerful political message by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was also an ideology that the people of both England and the United States strove to adopt during the Second World War. After decades of hunger and economic depression, the nations looked to increased and improved food production as an answer to strife and conflict. “Want” and strife drove policy, and after female political activists shifted focus away from political equality and toward collective action to combat hunger and disease, nations turned to women’s roles as nurturers and producers to aid in the crisis....

  7. Part III. Cultivation and Cultural Transcendence

    • CHAPTER 7 The Women’s Land Army, Victory Gardens, and Cultural Transcendence
      (pp. 165-182)

      When the British and American people who served in the Women’s Land Armies (WLAs) or who cultivated victory gardens during the world wars recalled their experiences, they often used words like “change,” “growth,” and “remembrance.”¹ What these words meant to the leaders and to cultivators did not always coincide with what those words meant to the nations they supported. For reformers and leaders of agricultural labor, these words reflected years of personal work to provide political voice for women. For the cultivators of victory, much of the meaning of these words derived from the personal experiences surrounding disbandment and demobilization...

    (pp. 183-188)

    Never is the phrase “actions speak louder than words” more appropriate than when words go unrecognized. From the lens of governmental wartime agencies across the globe during the first half of the twentieth century, women had an image, but no voice. Nations not only used the image of women and cultivation to incite patriotism and promote homefront efforts, but also to tie the cultural image of women to the land to give soldiers a gendered reason to fight for their homeland. In this way, women represented the homeland and were symbolically tied to the land. Land and the cultivation of...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 189-208)
    (pp. 209-220)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 221-230)