Nearly a decade prior to America’s entry into World War I, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women opened its doors. Its beginning was inauspicious. However, it led to one of the most interesting chapters of World War I: women’s quest for suffrage and opportunities to serve during the war via the creation of a Woman’s Land Army of America.

Women were vital to the success of wartime food programs – including the Liberty/Victory Garden effort – because they controlled and managed home food purchases and most food preparation (i.e., the household economy). During World War I, women’s magazines were replete with articles about gardening and food preservation. Women had also long been involved in reform efforts that influenced later wartime gardening work, including civic beautification, school gardens, working with immigrant populations, and tackling issues related to poverty (for example, Hull House).

Women used their work in gardening and horticulture to press for suffrage and fuller participation in the nation’s cultural and political life during World War I.  One expression of this was the Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) – which “enlisted” nearly 20,000 women (many of them urban and suburban college coeds) – to help on the farm front. The “farmerettes” as they were called, provided vital farm labor “over here” as men were mobilized to fighting “over there”.

The Woman’s Land Army would never have come into existence without a previous effort: an obscure horticultural school for women in Philadelphia that served as a catalyst for the creation of the Woman’s Land Army. Humble in its beginning, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women proved to be of national importance in subsequent years.

The founders of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women held this […]