Sodus Fruit Farm Farmerettes of World War 1 and 2

The photo is labelled “In line for eats at the camp. Photo by Alvah H. Pulver, Sodus NY. Sodus Fruit Farm.” Photo courtesy of Dick Ransley.

 

A generation before Rosie the Riveter, there were strong patriotic women coming to the aid of their country during a World War. Locally, they were the Sodus Fruit Farm Farmerettes…..

 

1917 – 1929

From 1917 to 1919, the Woman’s Land Army of America brought more than 20,000 city and town women to rural America to take over  farm work after men were called to war. These women would continue their services even after World War 1 ended and were used again during World War 2.

Most of these women had never before worked on a farm, but they were soon plowing fields, driving tractors, planting and harvesting. The Land Army’s “farmerettes” were paid wages equal to male farm laborers and were protected by an eight-hour workday. For many, the farmerettes were shocking at first–wearing pants!–but farmers began to rely upon the women workers. It was a time of change in society. As is always the case, some would find  change disconcerting, even threatening. The July 26, 1918 Sodus Record reported it this way:

 “Sodus has a bunch of  farmerettes camped out near there to help gather

the sour cherry crop, automobile manufacturers are sending their cars

across three states driven by women alone, women are soon to do the voting,

and it won’t be long at this rate before a man will be a curiosity.”

Inspired by the women of Great Britain, organized as the Land Lassies, the Woman’s Land Army of America was established by a consortium of women’s organizations–including gardening clubs, suffrage societies, women’s colleges, civic groups, and the YWCA. It is important to note that this was a civilian organization but the farmerettes were doing their patriotic duty during World War 1. Locally the farmerettes continued on until the Great Depression started in late 1929 and started again in the early years of World War 2.

From 1917 until 1929, approximately 50 farmerettes were employed by the Sodus Fruit Farm to help pick sweet and sour cherries each summer for about 4 weeks mostly in July. Based on newspaper articles of the time, it appears Thomas G. MacDill who was the Manager of the Sodus Fruit Farm was instrumental in obtaining the services of the farmerettes.

Thomas MacDill and the Farmerettes pose for the camera. The photo is labelled ” Woman’s Land Army Unit on Sodus Fruit Farm showing Manager Thomas MacDill. Photo by Alvah H. Pulver Sodus , NY 1917″. Photo courtesy of Dick Ransley

 

Bill DeHond (102) is one of the few Town of Sodus Residents old enough to remember the World War 1 farmerettes. He remembers them as 19 or 20 year olds who were from Rochester. Many had never worked on a farm before and viewed the four weeks or so at Sodus as doing not only their patriotic duty but also as a vacation and a way to earn money. The farmerettes stayed at a house on the lake at the northern end of the Sodus Fruit Farm. He remembers as a teenager that at the end of their “tour of duty”, the Village of Sodus would host a Street Dance for them on Main Street and they would dance between the trolley rails. The band would play from the bandstand in front of the Snider Hotel.

The street dances seemed to have been done most years for the farmerettes after their “tour of duty” (end of cherry picking season).  In 1923, the street dance was organized by Perry Messinger, Jr. who owned Heleuva Good Cheese as noted in the August 3, 1923 Sodus Record:

August 3, 1923

 A street dance for the farmerettes in town has been planned by the Sodus merchants,

under the leadership of Perry Messinger, Jr. It will be held next Wednesday evening,

if weather permits and present plans carry.

 

Other articles in the Sodus Record tell how the farmerettes also enjoyed performances at the New Opera House. Click on the link below and read about it in the  left hand column. Use the + and – keys to zoom in and out:

Opera House Record, Page1, 1923-08-03 (5)

 


The farmerettes arrive in Sodus for another cherry picking season. Note the luggage strapped on the hood of the car. Photo courtesy of Dick Ransley.

 

In 1918, The Rural New-Yorker (Volume 77, Page 1039) wrote a wonderful article boasting that the Sodus Fruit Farm was one of the largest (if not the largest) uses of the farmerettes in the state. It gives a detailed account of what their life was like here:

https://books.google.com/books?id=M6ZGAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1039&lpg=PA1039&dq=Rochester+Women%27s+Land+Army&source=bl&ots=3mqWi7MJqt&sig=ACfU3U04OVk1bjlaWXwtTM7meXFKRW7XKw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiGvI6M5LPoAhVCGM0KHfRXCEkQ6AEwFnoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Rochester%20Women’s%20Land%20Army&f=false

 

1942

In 1939, Thomas MacDill resigns as Sodus Fruit Farm Manager and Mark Buckman takes over. In 1942, the U.S. is in another World War and the Sodus Fruit Farm is once more facing a manpower shortage. Once more the farmerettes rise and do their patriotic chore as noted in the July 23, 1942 edition of the Sodus Record:

 

We pick up the story from a March 2, 2020 interview with Sandi Hamilton interviewing Bill Bishop who is the Chairman of the Board for the Sodus Cold Storage. Click the play arrow below to listen to this 3 minute segment:

 


The farmerettes in their tents near the lakeshore on the northern end of the Sodus Fruit Farm. Photo courtesy of Dick Ransley

Bill Mckee owns one of the few remaining cabins used by the farmerettes. Photo courtesy of Bill McKee (2020)

 

Like many patriotic groups, the Woman’s Land Army had their own patriotic songs. One of them was “Back to the Land”. Click the play arrow below to hear it. I have included the lyrics below:

 

If you would like to learn more about the farmerettes and the Woman’s Land Army, I recommend this excellent 57 minute presentation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCqR01DJCD4&t=135s

Thank you farmerettes for your service!

 

This information is compiled by Bruce Farrington March 2020