Oregon’s Emergency Farm Labor Service

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Given the power of our information sharing yesterday (think Obama and the White House lawn), we continue the WWII farm service theme. Today, however, our focus shifts to the images of Mrs. Dorothy Burleson, who was a Walla Walla nurse at the Athena and Milton-Freewater farm labor camps. In these pictures, she is treating a patients in her trailer “Clicnic,” a dispensary at the Athena camp.

For those who haven’t read the last two Women’s History Month posts, between 1940 and 1943 the number of farm workers in the United States noticeably decreased — the armed forces manpower requirements and competition with higher paying jobs in the defense industries were the cause. Of course, at the same time, farmers were asked to increase production to support the war effort. By 1943, the nation’s food supply was in jeopardy.

So, on April 29, 1943, the 78th U.S. Congress approved “Public Law 45, the Farm Labor Supply Appropriation Act,” to “assist farmers in producing vital food by making labor available at the time and place it was most needed.” Each states’ agricultural extension services held responsibility for their emergency labor programs; their primary duty was coordinating and overseeing labor recruitment, training, and placement of workers.

In Oregon, the Emergency Farm Labor Service was established by the Oregon State College Extension Service. Between 1943 and 1947, there were over 900,000 workers placed on the state’s farms, thousands of trained workers of all ages, and nine farm labor camps. The farm laborers in our state were a diverse bunch, including urban youth and women, soldiers, white collar professionals, displaced Japanese-Americans, returning war veterans, workers from other states, German prisoners-of-war, and migrant workers from Mexico and Jamaica.

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