Sunday, 28 February 2016

Women’s War Agricultural Committee

Farming scene in winter, c.1910 [Z50/95/78]

Monday 28th February 1916:  The first meeting of the Women’s War Agricultural Committee for Bedfordshire was held at the Shire Hall in Bedford on Saturday. The county has been divided into 14 districts. In each parish a lady is to be appointed as “Head of Village”; she will be responsible for keeping a register of women willing to work on the land. Farmers wishing to apply for women’s labour should do so through the Head of Village. It was made clear that women offering to help in this emergency situation should expect as fair a rate of pay as men, and it was suggested that four pence an hour for casual labour would be considered fair for a woman. It was suggested that it may be possible to get more offers of help from women if it is made clear that offers to work part time are acceptable.

The Leighton Buzzard Observer remains cynical about the prospects of success for these efforts to get more women working on the land. ‘Rusticus’ is doubtful whether girls who can earn 30s or more per week in a munition factory will be prepared to work for the relatively low wages. Last season the largest local employer of women was the Duke of Bedford. Women worked on his farms, on the estate and in the park, and their work was done well; most of them stayed until the bad weather began and enjoyed the work, for which they were paid between one shilling and sixpence and two shillings per day. ‘Rusticus’ has spoken to two women who took up farm work in August 1914 and have stuck to it because they are obliged to do so. At first they found it quite a novelty and there seemed some fun in it. Now they realise that you have to carry on the work day after day from early morning to late at night, and that any relaxation or neglect is likely to lead to things going wrong, and are tired and weary and wish there were men to do man’s work. The life of a farmer’s daughter or wife who must do this work or see a family business collapse “is not all honey”.

Sources: Luton News, 2nd March 1916; Leighton Buzzard Observer, 29th February 1916.

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