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Cultivating Victory

The Women's Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement

Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant

Publication Year: 2013

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. In Cultivating 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.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4

Contents

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pp. 5-6

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

The cultivation of this book has been a long and at times arduous process. In recognition of the process, there are many individuals who helped in the planting of ideas, the sowing of the research and writing, and the harvesting of the ...

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Introduction

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pp. 11-12

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 ...

Part I. The First World War

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p. 13-13

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1. Ladies of Leisure and Women of Action

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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, ...

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2. The Land Girls

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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 ...

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3. Sowing the Seeds of Victory

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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 ...

Part II. The Second World War

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p. 91-91

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4. The Aftermath of War: Gender and Agriculture in the Interwar Years

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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 ...

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5. “A Call to Farms”

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pp. 106-130

For Joan Snell ing, 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 ...

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6. Freedom from Want: The Role of the Victory Garden in the Second World War

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pp. 131-161

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 ...

Part III. Cultivation and Cultural Transcendence

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p. 163-163

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7. The Women’s Land Army, Victory Gardens, and Cultural Transcendence

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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 ...

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Epilogue: Garden as Metaphor

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pp. 183-187

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 ...

Notes

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pp. 189-207

Bibliography

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pp. 209-219

Index

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pp. 221-230


E-ISBN-13: 9780822978572
E-ISBN-10: 0822978571
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944256
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944251

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 44 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Women's Land Army (Great Britain) -- History.
  • Women's Land Army (United States) -- History.
  • Victory gardens -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Victory gardens -- United States -- History.
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