Legends – We Can Do It

Posted: February 10, 2021

While the men were defending our nation in the two World Wars, the women were left to take care of everything at home from the kids to crops in the fields. The labor shortage caused concern about the success of the planting and harvest seasons, so the women “stepped up to the plate.”

World War II showed us that no task was too hard for a woman such as bagging seed corn for DeKalb Ag. (Photo courtesy of DeKalb Area agricultural Heritage Association)

Never before had women had such a strong presence in the care of our nation. They waged their own war in the “battle of food production.” Girls and women who wanted to help out in the war effort became part of the planting, detasseling, and harvesting crews where they performed an important job. 

The First World War saw women in dresses in the fields working hard in the heat and dirt to complete the farm work in addition to their regular household duties. 

In World War II DeKalb area research fields were hand planted by the “girls” as the locals became very familiar with seeing women in the field. Women worked the bagging line, bagging and sewing 1,260 bushels in eight hours, impressing the men with their effort. Other helpers came from migrant workers from Mexico and Jamaica as well as “city folks” wanting to help the war effort. Schools opened their gymnasiums to house the workers who were so far away from home. 

Edith Shull Willey drives the Farmall tractor as her husband Warren Willey is shown on a binder threshing oats in DeKalb County, circa 1944.

The war years brought together a mixture of people with a single goal in mind; take care of our food supply and provide for our nation. The women’s rallying cry became “We Can Do It” and they more than proved they could.

Information provided by Sue Breese