Women hoeing at Arlesey House, 1917 [Z49/495]
Thursday 27th January 1916: With the news that many farm labourers who were supposed to be “starred” as essential labourers have enlisted during the Derby recruitment campaign farmers must prepare for their eventual departure. The Leighton Buzzard Observer is concerned that the recent enthusiasm for the idea of employing women to work on the land is ignoring some of the practical difficulties. While a farmer’s wife or daughter may be used to helping with the milking or looking after poultry, calves and pigs, this is very different from the work of a hired hand who is expected to take on any task. Much farm work in winter would be too hard for ninety-nine women out of a hundred. Whereas it may be possible to find specific tasks for them on large farms, for small farms where labourers need to be able to turn their hand to anything the employment of women is impracticable.
In his column ‘Rusticus’ writes: “I suggested that farmers must make up their minds to obtain and use more female workers. I was not at all surprised to find one and all against it – women were no use, or the work was not at all suitable for them. Those in authority, however, seem determined that women shall be given a trial. I have no doubt that some local employers will be compelled to resort to this form of labour – if they can get them to come, during the present year of grace.” Rather more optimistically he notes that, “There was in Leighton market last Tuesday the first female drover. Many were interested by the manly and competent way in which she brought her charge into market – just to help a neighbour who could not get a boy or man, and was unable to do the work himself.”
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 27th January 1916