Kitchen Gardens, School Gardens, & Women’s Land Armies: Tracing the Roots of Boston’s Victory Garden Movement

Robin S. Ostenfeld

Environmental History

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Dr. Alesia Maltz November 20, 2011 Victory gardens or wartime gardens have developed a reputation within our nation’s history. The movement is often associated with sayings such as, “Sow the Seeds of Victory!” and propaganda posters featuring bucolic images of healthy looking women donned in red, white, and blue, proudly showing off their colorful vegetable bounties. Writings about war gardens feed off of these relics, often characterizing victory gardening as an isolated, brief movement enacted by the U.S. government. But was it war hysteria and patriotism that sparked the victory garden movement? In this paper, I argue that the real success of victory gardening should be attributed to the network of garden models created by kitchen gardeners, school gardeners, and women’s land armies prior to World War I. It was these models that helped prime the pump for the passion, creative thinking, and networking that war gardening required. These small-scale vegetable gardeners were not merely tinkering around in the garden as they are often portrayed but rather were motivated to encourage large-scale societal change through their agricultural work. In my research, I focused on studying the local movement in Boston. This enabled me to take advantage of a city with extensive philanthropic networks and

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active women’s organizations. The Massachusetts Horticulture Society was particularly helpful in providing archival transcripts that supplemented my study. This paper also explores conflicting evidence that suggests proposals from associations representing women and children gardeners to the U.S. government were met with resistance and often agitation. The determined actions of women and children in these expanding armies were eventually able to force the U.S. government to recognize them for their viable solution to the wartime food crisis. Regardless, they deserve further recognition for their creative and substantial food contributions. It is surprising that small vegetable gardens in American cities would be center stage to a discussion which features conflicting views about class, gender, and the legitimacy of the hard work achieved by two disenfranchised groups: women and children. Kitchen garden & Allotment Gardening Before 1890 To get a clear picture of how small vegetable gardens evolved, it is important to begin with a discussion on kitchen gardens. The idea of keeping a vegetable and herb garden just beyond the kitchen door originated in Europe. Eventually the frivolities of Old World and English gardens were scaled down and growing self-sustaining food became the kitchen garden’s primary purpose. Historian David Tucker points out this distinction, “Kitchen gardeners are

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traditional practical people, stressing the importance of utility rather than beauty.”1 With food scarcity and famine quickly becoming prominent issues in Europe, kitchen gardening was emerging as a potential welfare solution for families who were struggling to put food on the table. The aristocratic pleasures of gardening were quickly replaced by the peasantry’s dependence on a productive garden. Such leisurely gardens were like that of Thomas Jefferson, one of the first politicians to publically promote the idea of patriotic gardening. The well-tended “Enlightenment Garden” at his Monticello Estate consisted of some vegetables, but mostly exotics he had collected from all over the world. A philosopher by trade, Jefferson’s writings during the 1750s provide evidence of the rewarding effects of spending time in nature through gardening, “The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”2 By the mid-1800s, a more community-focused form of kitchen gardening called kleingärtens was emerging in Germany. Dr. Moritz Schreber, a physician concerned with urban children’s welfare during the industrial revolution, had thought of developing community vegetable gardens as a healthy activity for children and families to engage in with the added value of increasing the family’s
1

David M. Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America: a history (Iowa State University Press, 1993), vii. 2 Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson, 1st ed. (University Of Chicago Press, 1993), 10.

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food supply. Similar allotments came into practice in England, but were nothing compared to the garden associations of eastern Germany with their elaborately built and supported public vegetable gardens with running water and electricity.3 Internationally, the success of kleingärtens spread to other European countries and could have impacted Victory gardeners’ spirited competition with the Germans. Public opinion of small-scale vegetable gardening was shifting throughout the 19th century. People were motivated to save money on food therefore were starting small kitchen gardens. This stands in stark contrast to Jeffersonian gardening for pleasure. Another shift was occurring in urban environments themselves. People flocked to cities in search of factory jobs and cities began running out of space, leaving no room for farms within city limits. Social historian Laura Lawson discusses the new distinctions between rural and urban environments, “Ideas about city and country were in flux, the urban gardener represented a merging of the best of both that might inform and inspire a changing American identity.”4 Although signs of agriculture in cities were disappearing, yet kitchen gardens or small-scale vegetable gardening had the potential to persist in both rural and urban environments.

3

Ardine Nelson, Portfolio, Ardine Nelson Personal Website, 2011, http://www.ardinenelson.com/Portfolio.cfm?nK=11066. 4 {Citation}

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The Food Situation in Boston5 During the height of industrialization, Boston was in a delicate place. Millions of Americans had flocked to the city in search of factory jobs, leaving the city congested and its resources stretched. The 19th century saw a surge in urban death rates and nearly half of children dying during infancy as the harsh realities of cholera and air pollution took their toll on urban populations.6 In 1894, serious economic depression was inevitable when 491 banks failed and one third of American railroads went bankrupt.7 The impact of these two events drove up the cost of food. Depressions followed from 1907 to 1908, and 1914 to 1915.8 This chain of economic events sent “waves of unemployment across the nation, leaving armies of young native and immigrant laborers stranded in cities without work”9 and without food, a potential breeding ground for grassroots, socially driven movements. Outside of Boston, but in no way isolated from its economies, New England farms began replacing large-scale crops with pastureland, refocusing their efforts
5

Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety, The food situation: a call to action (Massachusetts. Committee on Public Safety, 1917), 1. 6 Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America, viii. 7 Sam Bass Warner, To Dwell Is To Garden: A History Of Boston’s Community Gardens, 1st ed. (Northeastern, 1987). 8 Laura J. Lawson, City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2005), 17. 9 Lawson, City Bountiful, 17.

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on producing expensive proteins such as beef, milk, and eggs. The railroad expansion of the 1850s gave families the opportunity to purchase produce from places like California, rather than grow food at home. The kitchen gardens, tended by women and children, shrank in size and sometimes disappeared entirely. Fortunately, kitchen gardens were saved from extinction but packaged differently in cities as vacant lot or community gardens, becoming a viable solution to the dismal food situation in Boston and other cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Urban sprawl had left little space for large-scale food production within city limits, making railroads the missing link between agricultural communities and urban consumers. However, Americans soon discovered just how dependent railroads were on the success of banks, and when banks failed, so did the railroad. Without transportation there was little keeping these economies intact. Thus the small supply of produce that arrived in cities was usually priced too high for most urban dwellers. Urban populations needed an affordable food source, and vacant lot gardening was one of the first proposed solutions. In 1894, Hazen S. Pingree, the mayor of the city of Detroit, thought of planting potatoes in vacant areas of Detroit to increase their food supply. Pingree hired a retired U.S. Army officer to supervise 430 acres of Pingree’s Potato Patches. That spring, 945 families started

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gardens consisting of potatoes, beans, turnips, and other vegetables. A total of 14,000 bushels of potatoes were harvested in a single summer.10 The success of Pingree’s potato patch initiative spread to other cities such as Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Dayton, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York, Omaha, Providence, Reading (PA), Seattle, Springfield (MA), and Toledo.11 The potato patches led to short term successes that were largely dependent on the variable support received in different cities. Boston’s School Garden Movement During the 1890s, the education system of Boston was also facing its fair share of social reforms. The progressivism movement, spearheaded by reformers such as John Dewey and Maria Montessori, began infusing new ideas about the role of schools. Propositions were made to connect, rather than isolate children from what happens at school and the dynamic society in which they reside. The school gardening movement came from this emerging set of ideas. However, there were divergent opinions about the purpose of the children’s gardening experience. Some considered school gardens aligned with the nature study movement, which was concurrently happening, and saw this as an opportunity to learn practical skills of agriculture that would help children get in touch with and understand the land
10 11

Warner, To Dwell Is To Garden, 13. Ibid., 13–14.

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that provides for them. Others felt that children’s gardening held the potential to build character and responsibility involved in tending a garden, potentially disciplining juveniles that were seen as unruly. 12 As early as 1888, Massachusetts Horticulture Society began fostering the school and children’s garden movement in New England by creating a special committee called the “Window Gardening Project Committee,” later expanding to become the Committee on School Gardens and Children’s Gardens.13 In 1890, the Society commissioned Henry Lincoln Clapp to travel to Europe to study school gardens. Austria-Hungary had started its own school garden movement in 1869, fueled by a law instituting gardens to be connected with all schools. There is conflicting evidence as to how many school gardens actually existed in Europe during the late 1800s. This may be due to the fact that children’s home gardens were classified by some as school gardens; “the term ‘school’ beginning to take on a broader, progressive meaning that defined ‘schools’ as any setting where youth learned through working.”14 According to Clapp, by 1900, Austria-Hungary had 18,000 school gardens, Sweden had 4,670, and without exact statistics aside from
12

Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, “‘A Better Crop of Boys and Girls’: The School Gardening Movement, 1890-1920,” History of Education Quarterly 48, no. 1 (February 2008): 62. 13 Henry George Wendler, “History of the Exhibition of Products of the Children’s Gardens” (Massachusetts Horticulture Society, 1936), 1, History of Massachusetts Horticulture Society. 14 Rose Hayden-Smith, Kitchen Gardeners, A global community cultivating change, Rose Hayden-Smith’s Blog, February 4, 2011, 3, http://kitchengardeners.org/blogs/rose-haydensmith/brief-history-school-gardens.

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participation, school gardens existed in France, Switzerland, Russia, and impressively mobilized Germany, where a large central school garden supplied plants to a network of schools.15 Clapp returned to the United States seeing a bed of opportunity for school gardens to take root, frustrated that “so much is done in Europe and so little in this country.”16 He went back to his work at the George Putnam School in Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston adjacent to Jamaica Plains. There, he started a wildflower garden for children to observe rather than use, perhaps acting in accordance with the expectations of his philanthropic endorsers.17 Until 1900, school gardens were mainly flower gardens. To promote children interacting more deeply with the garden, Clapp gained access to a vacant lot adjacent to the school. The children at Putnam transformed the space, clearing the land, tilling the soil, planting, fertilizing and eventually harvesting vegetables.18 This school garden was the first of its kind in the United States. The success of the experience fueled Henry Clapp to publicize his work with the children. He knew that the capability of children to

do the work required of a vegetable garden would be questioned, anticipating that
15

Henry Clapp, Report of the Committee on School Gardens and Children’s Herbariums (m, 1900), 453–454, Massachusetts Horticulture Society Transcripts. 16 Ibid., 253. 17 Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, “‘A Better Crop of Boys and Girls’: The School Gardening Movement, 1890-1920,” History of Education Quarterly 48, no. 1 (February 2008): 63. 18 Ibid., 64.

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the school gardening movement would face what historian Sally Kohlstedt remarks is a similar “complex mix of pedagogical, practical, aesthetic, and even moral baggage as the nature study movement.”19 Information about Henry Clapp as an individual is limited, but his legacy largely remains in transcripts from when he was chairman of the School Garden Committee as well as authoring promotional educational articles focused on using gardens to help children understand plant development and the pleasures of working with nature.20 His writings indicate that he was an educator and reformer first, and a gardener second. Clapp’s keen observations of how boys and girls responded differently to school gardening is revealed in this article: “No system of indoor gymnastics could have done so much for the health and strength and enthusiastic pleasure of the children in such short a time as did the work. The boys had ample opportunity to show their skill, strength, and helpfulness, and even the girls, after two hours’ tussle with refractory sods, seemed in no way weary or discouraged.”21

19

Fanny Grimscom Parsons, a leader of the New York City gardening movement, outlined elaborate plans to one of the nature study leaders, Liberty Hyde Bailey, October 26, 1905, Bailey Papers, Cornell University Archives, Ithaca, New York (hereafter CUA), quoted in Ibid., 66. 20 Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 63. 21 Sarah Orne Jewett, ed., The New England magazine, vol. XXVI (Boston: New England Magazine Co., 1902), 418, http://books.google.com/books/download/The_New_England_magazine.pdf

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To Clapp, the gardens were an opportunity for urban children to benefit from this small taste of country life. Clapp also expressed societal concerns for New England’s changing economies and its subsequent effects on youth. He writes: “Something should be done in rural schools, at least, to prevent young people from such districts from making city life and workshops the goal of their ambition. The pleasures and advantages of country life should receive adequate consideration, and some of the detractions from city life might be considered with profit. More should be done to create respect for labor and discover the pleasures in it. The importance of agriculture to the prosperity of our nation should be better understood and appreciated by teachers as well as scholars. There is no industry more important.”22 Clapp also shows signs of criticism toward the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s involvement in the school garden movement. In his 1903 report to Massachusetts Horticulture, he subtly mocks how children react to receiving seeds from the Department of Agriculture stating: “The seeds were from a celebrated place, Washington, the Capital of the United States. Each package had a stamp of high authority, --U.S.
22

Ibid., XXVI:427.

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Department of Agriculture. If on this account the seeds were imagined to possess exceptional value, interest in them was increased.”23 Clapp doesn’t go into details in his 1903 transcript. However, the Department of Agriculture must have gotten word of the movement and felt the need to become involved in some way. At this point in history, urban community and backyard gardens were considered beyond the interest of the Department of Agriculture who normally supported rural farmers.24 Giving seeds to the children was the American government’s way of convincing youth of their support, although many government officials didn’t believe in the children’s work, as indicated by additional evidence provided during the victory garden movement. Even today, the US government is portrayed as having the utmost support of the school garden movement. In a recent presentation given at the Library of Congress in 2010, a historian for the US government shares this quote from Dick Crosby, 1902 member Department of Agriculture saying, “The influences (of school gardens) extends beyond the school grounds to homes. Children start home gardens, begin to adorn backyards, porches, and windows; the parents become
23

Henry Lincoln Clapp, Report of the Committee on School Gardens and Children’s Herbariums (Massachusetts Horticulture Society, 1903), 241, Massachusetts Horticulture Society Transcripts. 24 Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America, 130.

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interested, and the influence goes on and on.” 25 The reality is though, that until 1915, the credit of the movement largely goes to Boston’s 19th century robust civic and philanthropic work, much of which was conducted by urban women.26 Supporters of the nature-study movement folded school gardening into its promotions, allowing the message behind school gardens to spread across the country. At the time, most notable were the DeWitt Garden in New York City, the Cook County Normal School at the University of Chicago, and the National Cash Register Company Garden in Cleveland, Ohio. Although not technically a school garden, the company would become the first of many businesses devoting land on its property to employees who wanted to start family vegetable gardens later during the victory garden movement. This was largely a welfare effort by the company to help struggling families gain access to inexpensive produce. By 1905, Boston was the forerunner of the movement with its sixteen working school gardens27 and its 235 ‘vacation gardens’ initiated by the Massachusetts Civil League in collaboration with the Women’s Auxiliary of America Park and Outdoor Association and the Boston Park Commission.28
25

Constance Carter, “Transcript of School Gardens with Constance Carter” (presented at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., July 20, 2010), 2, http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/journey/schoolgardens-transcript.html. 26 Hayden-Smith, 3. 27 Hayden-Smith, 3. 28 Brian R. Trelstad, The little machines in their gardens: a history of school gardens in America, 1890-1925 (Harvard University, 1991), 22., Quoted in Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of

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Summer school gardening became an important extension of school gardens, enabling children to remain invested in their gardens during the rapid growing season. Many educators like Jenny Merrill of New York saw how many inner city children were more attached to the school system due to the success of summer gardening programs now in Chicago, St. Louis, Worcester, and New York.29 In Worcester’s island district which was home to twenty-two different nationalities, children turned a vacant “dead cat dump” into a “garden city”. It became this microcosm of society with students serving as mayor, a police force, and commissioners of gardens, tools, and water. The Worcester school supervisor reported a reduction in juvenile crime and improved health.30 By the end of the 19th century, a new fiscal aspect of the school gardening movement was taking shape. School children began selling their products at the end of their growing season, being encouraged by their teachers to calculate their profits.31 This effort by the teachers hints at the possible cost savings and earnings for low-income families who kept gardens. Educators working with children in school gardens also urged children to draw a picture of their school garden with a
Boys and Girls,” 76. 29 Merrill, “Children’s Gardens” Proceedings and Addresses (National Education Association, 1898), 598, Quoted in Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 75. 30 R.J. Floody, “Worcester Garden City Plant; or The Good Citizen Factory.” Nature-Study Review 8 (April 1912): 145-50. Quoted in Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 76. 31 31 Ibid., 76. Quoted in Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 78.

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letter to their parents outlining agricultural methods that would encourage the start of a garden at the children’s homes.32 The efforts to involve families in the movement proved successful in Boston. By 1906, the annual exhibition at Massachusetts Horticulture Society had eleven school garden entries and 259 home garden entries. The United States Garden Army In 1917, school gardeners would be fueled by yet another reason to garden, patriotism. The momentum of war caused school and home gardening to spread by leaps and bounds.33 P.P. Claxton, the Education Commissioner also crossed the Department of Agriculture when he started the School Garden Army. He aimed to enroll six million children ages 9-16 and produce a quarter of a million dollars worth of vegetables.34 The government provided less than requested amounts of funding, possibly due to writing off the program as a silly pipedream, rather than a potential food contribution. The Secretary of Agriculture, Clarence Owsley commented on the program stating, “They receive a tin button and that, of course, appeals to their childish fancy, but so far as gardening is concerned, they are really doing nothing without proper instruction.”35
32 33

Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 76. Wendler, “History of the Exhibition of Products of the Children’s Gardens,” 2. 34 Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America: a history, 128. 35 Clarence Owsley to the secretary, October 10, 1918, Secretary’s Incoming Correspondence – Gardens 1918, Department of Agriculture, National Archives, Washington, D.C., quoted in Ibid.,

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In 1915, Congress established the division of School and Home Gardening within the US Bureau of Education.36 Woodrow Wilson gave his support with $200,000 to help fund the agricultural education saying “every boy and girl … would like to feel that they are in fact fighting in France by joining the home garden army.” The women and children establishing gardens and growing food “are just as real and patriotic an effort, as building ships or firing of cannon!”37 By 1917, 355,715 children and their families kept home gardens in 488 cities (assuming the word city is being loosely defined by its author) and 29,308 children kept school gardens in 278 cities.38 Patriotic food production became school gardeners’ new focus as the numbers of gardeners on a national level surged into the millions. The war elevated the social status of urban gardeners and subsequently school gardeners, “Formally thought of as poor people (or unruly juveniles) in want of food and instruction, they suddenly became full-fledged patriotic citizens.”39 The Women’s Land Army
129. 36 David A. Ward, “Future of School Gardens,” The Journal of the National Education Association (March 1927): 72. 37 The Fall Manual of the United States School Garden Army (n.d.), 5. The motto was “A Garden for Every Child. Every Child in a Garden.” Quoted in Kohlstedt, “A Better Crop of Boys and Girls,” 87. 38 Ward, “Future of School Gardens,” 72. 39 Warner, To Dwell Is To Garden, 17.

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As schools mobilized their troops of gardeners, equally organized were Farmerettes across America and Britain. Stemming from the women’s suffrage movement and its numerous committees, the Women’s Land Army saw an opportunity to rally during war times. As one women stated, “When men go awarring, women go to work!”40 The American WLA was centrally stationed in Bedford, New York where an agricultural training camp was based. The organization’s primary goal was to train women farmers throughout New England to do agricultural work while farmers were at war. At first, many people were uncomfortable with the idea of women farming, but women’s determination could not be suppressed. Despite their growing numbers, the U.S. government was not interested in providing monetary support to the Women’s Land Army. The government reported that there wasn’t a shortage of labor and that the remaining men could easily complete their farm work if they increased their workweek to six days.41 Yet the WLA continued to expand and gain public support, and would soon need to solicit the government for additional funding. WLA leaders hoped that
40

William L. O’Neill, Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America. (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969) p.191, as quoted in David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 286, as quoted in Elaine F. Weiss, Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War, First Edition. (Potomac Books Inc., 2008), 63. 41 Ibid., 90.

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Assistant Secretary Carl Vrooman’s positive report about his visit to the Bedford camp would arise the interests of his superiors in Washington and help the women gain funding.42 However, when two WLA leaders, Delia West Marble and Anna Gillman Hill first lobbied the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., “they were treated to the royal runaround … being bounced from one bureaucrat’s office to another.”43 If the Women’s Land Army wasn’t able to gain government support through straightforward approaches, the educated leaders of the group would exhaust their connections to get recognized. WLA’s big break came when Helen Taft, daughter of former president Howard Taft, took a sabbatical from her role as the dean of Bryn Mawr College and spent a summer working for the WLA. She produced a memoir of her experiences on the farm. This passage explains her motives behind becoming a Farmerette during war times: “The first impulse was to learn nursing and go to France; but for a good many of us that was impossible. Then we began to hear of the shortage of laborers on the farms and of the great need of increasing the supply of food … I don’t think that I deserve much credit for choosing farming as my form
42

“Statement Regarding Camp Organized by Ms. Camilla Short, near Mt. Kisco,” Correspondence of the Secretary of Agriculture, RG 16, National Archives, quoted in Ibid., 73– 4. 43 Ibid., 73.

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of patriotic service; but one has the satisfaction of knowing that there is no form of work which is more needed.”44 Helen Taft’s account of her experiences on the farm brought the WLA’s mission into the public eye when it was published in the Ladies Home Journal in May of 1918. Its middle and upper class female readers were entranced by Taft’s article. The Journal’s editor, Edward William Bok took note and followed with full-page pictorial spreads featuring the Farmerettes at the training camps.45 When the USDA was asked by the Journal to comment on the WLA, they were stuck, the Journal being far too influential among American women to refuse the request. Therefore in May 1918, Dudley Harmond of the USDA wrote an article entitled, “Is the Woman Needed on the Farm? What the United States Government Has to Say About Farm Work for Women This Summer.” This was his unfortunate message: “Women’s eagerness to serve in this war has frequently outrun the Government’s ability to place her in the fields of service of her own choosing. Washington has nipped in the bud many a prospective romantic career by its chilling consideration of the facts of a given situation. It has told many an enthusiastic aspirant: “No, not yet. Later
44

Helen Taft, “The Six Weeks I Spent on a Farm,” Ladies Home Journal, May 1918. Quoted in Ibid., 85. 45 Ibid., 86.

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perhaps, but not now; the needs of the situation do not warrant our sanctioning the service you propose to render in the way you propose to render it.”46 Particularly upset over the preposterousness of women doing farm work was Clarence Ousley of the USDA. Unaware of the USDA’s firm stance on the WLA, the Committee on Public Information, the same committee Wilson commissioned to produce the propaganda associated with victory gardens, enraged Ousley when they had prepared a script for a newsreel entitled, “Women’s Work on the Land.” Fortunately he could only edit the document, doing his best to reduce the level of certainty that WLA was a significant movement with far too much momentum to be curbed by the U.S. government. Helen Fraser would continue that trend, taking WLA’s message across the Northeast to high school auditoriums, church basements, and college lecture halls.47 The public fell in love with the visions of enthusiastic women and children working on the farm. It was a feel good message that Americans needed during these discouraging economic times. Massachusetts Women’s Land Armies tended to thrive around the prominent rural women’s university communities like Smith, Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, and
46

Dudley Harmon, “Is the Woman Needed on the Farm? What the United States Government has to Say About Farm Work for Women This Summer,” Ladies Home Journal, May 1918. Quoted in Ibid., 87. 47 Ibid., 100.

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Wheaton. In 1918, there were thirteen official WLA units in Massachusetts located in Pittsfield, Barre, Ipswitch, Alford, South Natick, Hamilton, Hubbardston, Marshfield, as well as Osterville and Beverly on Cape Cod.48 Nationally, the movement spread as far west as Washington and Oregon and as far south as Georgia, despite continuous challenging and cold messages from the U.S. government. After a publically exhausting year for WLA, Theodore Roosevelt kindly accepted an invitation to speak at a WLA conference in Albany during August of 1918. Roosevelt, with his background in conservation and his wife’s involvement in women’s suffrage seemed the perfect choice to politically represent the women. Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s son died that summer causing him to cancel all appearances for the remainder of the year. This was a huge loss for the Women’s Land Army who appealed to Wilson to take his spot. The day of the conference, Mrs. Margaretta Neale arrived to report on behalf of the U.S. government, “The Girl with the Hoe has been officially endorsed as a great help to farmer and a credit to her country… The need of women for war service on the farms is a vital one and must be met. The farmerettes have rendered splendid service and the farmers are beginning to appreciate their value.”49 This memo was followed by a letter from
48 49

Ibid., 165. “US Praises Farmerettes,” unidentified New York City newspaper clipping, August 19, 1918, Edith Diehl Files, Southeast Museum, quoted in Ibid., 225–6.

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the wife one of Wilson’s colleagues from Princeton, Mrs. Edward Davis, a WLA state organizer. She pointed out to the president, “We need the authority from you to enlist the women… A good word from our Commander in Chief recommending that women work outdoors would do a world of good.”50 Wilson felt pressured to find a place for the WLA in the government but the Department of Agriculture was not interested, so WLA shortly resided under the Department of Labor before the war ended. Converging Movements- Victory Gardening Yet another organization focused on growing and providing food for soldiers at war emerged in 1917 called the National Emergency War Garden Committee. Charles Lathrop Pack had the wealth and connections with government officials that the leaders of the school garden movement and Women’s Land Army lacked. The origins of his privately funded organization stemmed from a trip Pack had made to Europe to witness first hand, the dire, famine situations of wartime. However, some claim that starting the privately held organization was Pack’s attempt to obtain more power and prestige. In Pack’s publication, “The War Garden Victorious” the authenticity of his interests is supported by his sophisticated articulation of the economics of food and his charming praise for the
50

Mrs. Edward P. Davis to President Wilson, September 5, 1918, Records of the Secretary of Agriculture, National Archives, quoted in Ibid., 226.

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fruitful efforts of war gardeners. Pack saw that “ordinarily the food supply system was as nicely adjusted as the parts of a watch…Only by sending their (European) ships back and forth from (American) markets, like shuttles in a loom could food be transported rapidly enough to keep this great population from starvation.”51 Although Pack had friends in high places, the Department of Agriculture “resented being elbowed aside by Charles Lathrop Pack’s National War Garden Commission.”52 Despite this Wilson promoted all war gardens-- school, women, backyard, and vacant-lot. Most influential seems to have been Wilson’s commissioning of the Committee on Public Information to organize a series of propagandist posters to accompany the Victory Garden movement. To Wilson, “Everyone who creates or cultivates a garden helps, to solve the problem of the feeding of the nations; and every housewife who practices strict economy puts herself in the ranks of those who serve the Nation.”53 Wilson never contradicted his support of war gardens like other government officials, however the likelihood of him and Pack crossing similar philanthropic paths is high. In Boston alone, there were three thousand victory gardeners in 1918.54 On a national level there were an estimated 5 million gardeners who produced
51 52

Charles Lathrop Pack, The war garden victorious (J.P. Lippincott Company, 1919), 3–4. Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America: a history, 124. 53 Woodrow Wilson, The Public Paper of Woodrow Wilson, vol. 1, ed. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1927), 22-27 quoted in Ibid., 124. 54 Warner, To Dwell Is To Garden, 17.

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$520,000,000 worth of food, thereby allowing a significant surplus to be shipped abroad.55 Though, Sam Bass Warner claims Pack’s approach to war gardening was unsustainable: “Top-down civic campaign that was commonplace in his era and continues today in the form of United Fund campaigns and many city-wide charitable drives. He did not conceive of giving the gardeners themselves any voice, or of seeking out their interests. Thus the movement didn’t last once the war ended and many former victory gardens went back to their former use. 56 By the end of 1918, practically every women and child had a war garden. What remains unclear is whether that garden existed prior to the war as a kitchen garden or school garden. Historian David Tucker states that at first glance the national government seems to have led public opinion about victory gardens, but “rather it was Americans themselves who initiated victory gardening and then pressured the government to become the cheerleader for their patriotic efforts.”57 This is a crucial distinction for it was the American public who steered the evolution of kitchen gardens, vacant-lot gardens, and school gardens in cities.
55

Charles Lathrop Pack, Victory Gardens Feed the Hungry (Washington, 1919), 6-7 quoted in Ibid, 17. 56 Pack, War Gardens, 16-19, 80, quoted in Ibid., 18. 57 Tucker, Kitchen gardening in America: a history, 121.

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Subsequently, earning the achievement of producing tremendous amounts of food during war times. They were savvy, hardworking women and children, and should be given due credit for their intense determination to work, despite the inconsistent support of the U.S. government.

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