Unofficially, they were soldiers!

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We hear a lot about kitchen gardens these days, with calls in the US and UK for the President and Prime Minister to set up their own plots, but how much do we think back to the Victory Gardens or Emergency Farm Labor Service of WWII? While men fought overseas, there was a general call to service at home as well — in this case, support the troops and the war effort by working the land!

Oregon farmers were facing back to back bad crop years in 1941 and 1942, as well as a worker shortage after many Oregon men had left the workforce to fight in World War II. In the spring of 1942, state officials registered nearly 100,000 women who said they wanted to join a different kind of army — to work on Oregon farms. The greatest need was in the Willamette Valley, so the state recruited and trained women at Oregon State College (now OSU) in Corvallis and, from 1943 until 1945, worked with the Women’s Land Army (WLA) to place more than 78,000 women on Oregon farms. (Oregon Encyclopedia Project)

“The WLA was part of a World War II national effort to supply desperately needed laborers to U.S. farms. Locally, the Oregon State College Extension Service established the Emergency Farm Labor Service to place women, children, and Mexican nationals on Oregon farms to thin and harvest crops. The state also paid Japanese American internees and German prisoners-of-war to work as farm laborers.” (Oregon History Project)

Soon after passage of Public Law 45, statewide responsibility for the WLA was given to Mabel Mack, nutrition specialist for the OSC Extension Service. In order to enroll, applicants had to be at least eighteen years old and healthy. The pay wasn’t very good, in Oregon members of the WLA earned between sixty and ninety cents an hour, and the work was hard with women getting seasonal and permanent jobs weeding, harvesting, canning, and operating farm machinery.

“Most women worked on a ‘day haul’ basis, which meant they lived at home and were transported to farms by personal cars, growers’ trucks, or school buses. They hoed, weeded, thinned, and harvested crops of all kinds. Many supervised youth platoons, especially teachers out of school for the summer. A few worked year round, especially on poultry and dairy farms. Others worked in canneries or were leaders for recruiting other women. Nearly 135,000 placements of women were made in Oregon from 1943 through 1947.” (Oregon State Archives)

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