America’s entry into World War I in April 1917 posed monumental challenges for the women’s suffrage movement. While the National Woman’s Party refused to support the war and vowed to continue picketing the White House, mainstream suffrage organizations such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association wholeheartedly threw themselves into the war effort, using women’s patriotic service as yet another rationale for the vote.
One initiative that won their endorsement was the Woman’s Land Army of America, a civilian program officially launched in December of 1917 to deploy women as farmers to take the place of men who had gone overseas. The group eventually organized in forty-two states and mobilized more than 20,000 women, finding an especially warm welcome at women’s colleges such as Vassar and Wellesley. In a clear nod to the British term “suffragette,” the women who signed on were quickly dubbed “farmerettes.”
The Woman’s Land Army proved irresistible to the press, fueled in part by public fascination with their uniforms. The official outfit (cost $4.25, with $.25 extra for the straw hat) featured standardized trousers and khaki jackets, embellished with special buttons and belt buckles, all featuring the program’s emblem: a large “V” (for victory) with WLAA (Woman’s Land Army of America) across the top above a sheath of wheat with a sickle on top. As the Woman’s Journal concluded, “Just because a woman farms she doesn’t have to look like a frump.” Like participating in the suffrage campaign, being a farmerette was often a life-changing event. Such wartime contributions helped push the suffrage amendment over the top.