Friday, June 4, 2010

Picking Beans with the Farmerettes

Most are familiar with the “Rosie the Riveters” of World War II. These strong, industrious women are immortalized through a number of familiar photographs and paintings. Yet few are aware that a generation before, thousands of women helped to keep America fed while the young men went to Europe to fight in World War I. As part of the Women’s Land Army, women from a variety of backgrounds and regions took to the fields to plant and harvest crops. Often called the “farmerettes,” these adventurous women helped out on farms across the country. This fascinating article from Smithsonian Magazine offers more information on this nearly forgotten chapter in American history.

Yet what do these young women have to do with the Shakers? While trying to find information about life at the South Family* of the Watervliet Shaker Community, I re-discovered transcripts of journals from the early twentieth century. Sister Anna Goepper kept these particular journals between 1915 and 1922. In the 1918 journal, a series of entries caught my eye.

May 23 – Have rented West Family* for 5 months at $25 per month for agricultural purposes. Lot of college girls coming. Eldress Anna and Lucy got to see about. One of our renters will have to move to a smaller building to make room for the girls.

May 24 – Mary, Lucy and girls go to West Farm all day, cleaning and straightening up.

June 11 – The farmerettes get $15 a month and board. They prove to be good workers.

July 19 – We strung 4 barrels of beans at home. This is our first day this year in beans for canning. Four Farmerettes from Land Army at West Family helped pick, plus Eldress Anna, Mary and Grace.

July 26 – Our folks and farmerettes picked large field of beans last evening. Everybody busy these days.

Evidently the Shakers enjoyed the help of the Farmerettes. We hope that someone eventually finds information on what the Farmerettes thought of living and working on a Shaker farm.
*- The "South Family" and "West Family" don't refer to biological families, but to parts of the Watervliet Shaker Community that could be considered "mini-communities," each with their own dwelling house, workshops and barns. Most Shaker settlements split up into these families for practical reasons- so that each family could specialize in particular industries or products. Also, one can imagine that it would be easier to cook and do laundry for one quarter of the community, rather than the full population. At the Watervliet Shaker Community, there was the Church Family (named so because they maintained the Meeting House), the West Family, the South Family and the North Family. The Shaker Heritage Society is now located at the Church Family.