This dissertation offers a history of national gardening programs on the American home front during World War I. Concern about America's food system linked agricultural and gardening to national security. Three programs are considered: The National War Garden Commission (NWGC), the United States School Garden Army (USSGA) and the Woman's Land Army of America (WLAA). A fourth case study serves as a precursor; it discusses the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (Ambler), which provided new educational and employment opportunities for women in agriculture.
The NWGC created the Liberty/Victory Garden program during World War I, which called millions of American's to become "soldiers of the soil." It promoted and understood gardening as a way to accomplish an array of Progressive reform agendas.
"Every boy and every girl ... should be a producer. The growing of plants ... should therefore become an integral part of the school program." With these words, the federal Bureau of Education launched the USSGA, targeting urban youth. An early federal effort to nationalize a curriculum, it represented a departure from policies that focused such efforts on rural youth. By war's end, more than two million youth sewed as "soldiers of the soil."
The WLAA mobilized nearly 20,000 mostly white and college-educated middle class women as agricultural laborers during the war. Their work challenged widely held perceptions about appropriate roles for women.
The programs did not simply seek to increase food production. Proponents saw an opportunity to instill a traditional American "producer" ethic in an urban population increasingly influenced by consumerism, and increasingly removed from its food system.
All demonstrate how Americans mediated competing urban and rural values during a period of transformation. Values attributed to America's rural past were recast and articulated in an urban milieu of gardening.
This dissertation draws upon government publications produced by the wartime gardening programs, including reports, bulletins, gardening guides, curriculum and posters. Newspaper and magazine articles from the period were also used. It contributes to ongoing discussions in a range of disciplines surrounding the history of American cultural life, Progressivism, agriculture, educational policy, women's work and food studies.