Women Farmers in American History

The male’s role on a homestead is stereotypically thought of as the farmer. American history suggests that women farmers have always been common and are at the forefront of the present-day farming revolution.

| August 2015

  • Woman Farming
    Women are claiming a larger place in agriculture through all types of farming.
    Photo by Fotolia/pressmaster
  • Woman-Powered Farm
    Audrey Levatino shares her experience of running a farm with her husband and offers invaluable advice on how to get started in “Woman-Powered Farm.”
    Cover courtesy The Countryman Press

  • Woman Farming
  • Woman-Powered Farm

Women are leading the new farming revolution in America. In Woman-Powered Farm (The Countryman Press, 2015), by Audrey Levatino, see how much of the drive to move back to the land, raise our own food, and connect with our agricultural past is being driven by women. This excerpt, which discusses Native American and American Women's roles in farming and agriculture through American history, is from the section, "A Call to Farm — A Farm History of Women."

Buy this book from the GRIT store: Woman-Powered Farm.

As long as there have been farms and homesteads, there have been women farmers. It’s only natural, when considering the endeavor of farming or even a weekend homestead, to think about the rural women who came before us. What did they grow, why did they farm, and how did they farm? While we want to break new ground (figuratively and literally), we also want a path to follow. For many of us, it is the kitchen garden that lures us into our first taste of country living. We want those fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes and the sugar snap peas that don’t even make it to the kitchen, they’re so sweet and crunchy. We want to pick our own organic baby spinach instead of buying it at the store. And mostly, we want to reap the bounty of our own efforts in a very elemental way—cultivating and caring for our land and nourishing our body and soul. This is both the lure and the reward of country living.

Historically, many women farmed out of pure necessity. Native American women cleared the land, planted the garden, and harvested the crops because men had the jobs of hunting, trading, and going to war. This division of labor dates back thousands of years. The tradition continues to this day, as the second-largest group of women owners and operators of farms and the largest group of minority-owned farms are American Indian or Alaska Native. Ironically, the assignment of primary responsibility for land rights to women in many Native American cultures remains one of the most progressive ideas in rural America today.

Native American women were permitted land ownership before colonists started farming the lands. During the Civil War, it wasn’t uncommon for every husband and brother on a farm to be killed in the war, leaving only women behind. These farms were ultimately taken from the women and given over to other men to oversee. But not before the women had put in so much of the work to keep them running.

Following the Civil War this type of shift came during wartime, as men left to fight for their country, leaving behind on the farm households of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm.

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