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News: This Month In GCA History

 

May 31, 2018

The June 1917 annual business meeting of the GCA marked a turning point in the young and growing organization. The GCA decided to put normal business aside and as described by the first GCA President, Mrs. Elizabeth Price Martin, “The clubs were called into the service of their country. The focus would be farming and the production of food.”

Facing the real threat of food shortages, Mrs. Martin directed a new national emphasis on harnessing the skills and abilities of women throughout the country to grow food needed at home and abroad. She headed to Washington, D.C., representing the GCA at the first meeting of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. At her recommendation, the Women’s Land Army was launched, modeled on a similar successful initiative begun in England just before the war.

The land army, which included membership from many organizations in addition to the GCA, was a critically important part of the wartime effort. “Farmerettes” rose in number, as women set aside their prewar commitments and became farmers. Most of this patriotic effort centered upon vegetable gardening. Additionally, women drove tractors and grain combines, raised livestock, and filled silos with corn and grain following agricultural guides from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Labor.

Clubs turned to the national organization for influence and support on a range of issues. When suppliers sometimes sent inferior seeds to the ladies working in the fields, Mrs. Martin, wielding the influence of the GCA, took those issues to her friends in the Labor Department. The government quickly responded by contacting the seed companies, warning them that in accordance with federal wartime policy, they could be held responsible for “faulty products.”

The work of the Women’s Land Army was the most nationally visible contribution of the GCA to the defense effort in World War I. Mrs. Martin’s leadership in this time of national crisis set the direction for the GCA’s future role in national affairs.

 

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