Posted on October 22 2015 by Kirsten Adams, Bryn Mawr College Class of 2016
Exploring College Women: Sisters on the Home Front
This photograph caught my attention as I searched for images relating to the war effort on the College Women website as part of my research for my History seminar at Bryn Mawr College, Higher Education for Women: Bryn Mawr and Beyond. I was originally searching for images coming out of World War II, but this one from the First World War interested me greatly. I noticed that one of the tags for the photo was "war," but just looking at the picture, I couldn't quite tell the connection. Curious, I looked further into the Mount Holyoke "farmerettes," and I am fascinated by what I found.
The farmerettes established and ran a "war garden" with many acres of land and a green house on campus, offering their labor to local farmers who faced the depletion of their normal workers, who were fighting on the front lines. A blog post from Mount Holyoke Archives states, "In the spring and summer of 1917 alone, Mount Holyoke “farmerettes” cultivated 14 acres of land, and grew bushels of vegetables that were worth $1,733" (Fan, 2014). They grew enough vegetables to provide the community and local farmers with both fresh vegetables and enough to preserve for consumption in the winter months.
The students who became farmerettes were paid twenty cents an hour and worked between 4 to 6 hours a day. Their contributions did not end with the academic year however, as the women worked in the garden through the summer months living in dormitories (Kelso- Watson, 2003).
Being a farmerette and working in the war garden was just one of many ways that Mt. Holyoke women gave their time and labor for the war. When we think about the ways women contributed to the war, we traditionally think about domestic and industrial efforts, with the end results going abroad to the men on the front lines. It was so fascinating to learn about this local physical effort impacting and benefiting South Hadley. The farm was in full operation helping during WWI until 1919 and then was brought back into use during World War II when the next generation of Mt. Holyoke students took it upon themselves to help the war effort in any way they could.
The first photograph inspired primary research on the farmerettes which revealed an incredible wealth of information about the ways Mt. Holyoke's women participated and helped with the war effort at home. I would be interested in further researching how these efforts affected the academics and curriculum, and what roles other Seven Sisters colleges took on during the wars.
-- Kirsten Adams is a senior at Bryn Mawr College double majoring in Anthropology and Education. During the 2015-2016 academic year, she is a Bryn Mawr Banter blogger. During Spring 2015, Bryn Mawr College students in the History Department seminar Higher Education for Women: Bryn Mawr and Beyond explored the College Women beta site. Over the next month, we will publish some of their reflections. To read the previous post in this series, Exploring College Women: Barnard's Greek Games, click here.
Fan, R. (2014). From the Archives: Mount Holyoke Women and the Great War. Mount Holyoke College LITS blog. Available at: http://litsmhc.blogspot.com/2014/08/from-archives-mount-holyoke-women-and.html.
Kelso-Watson, A. (2003). Can you believe these "ladies"! Mount Holyoke Students--the 1918 Farmerettes. Mount Holyoke Historical Atlas. Available at: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hatlas/communityservice/activities/farmerettes.html.