Wilkins publishes ‘Sisters of the Soil’
About young women who worked farms during World War II
PARKERSBURG — West Virginia University’s Extension Service recruited more than 400 young women to work on the farm front in the Lake Erie region of Ohio and the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland during the summers of 1943-45.
These volunteers during World War II came from Morgantown, Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Grafton and Beckley, from 18 counties where mining, railroading, chemical and steel industries were the principal occupations.
Parkersburg native Patti Wilkins has written a book, “Sisters of the Soil: West Virginia Land Girls on the World War II Farm Front,” about the contributions these young women, “West Virginia Land Girls,” made during World War II.
When it was apparent farmers would need outside help in caring for and harvesting their crops during the war, high school and college students and teachers from West Virginia were recruited for the summers of 1943-45. The volunteers joined the “army that doesn’t wear uniforms and carries no weapons.”
When the school term was over, the Extension Service at West Virginia University called the “army” into active duty to save important war crops, Wilkins said.
These young women from West Virginia, “soldiers of the soil,” were placed on farms in Ohio and Maryland through the Extension Service’s Farm Labor Program.
The farmers proclaimed the project successful and said the Land Girls had “made a definite contribution to food production during the war years,” Wilkins writes.
The young women returned home, finished their schooling, married, had children, and many entered the workforce. They placed the photos and memories away in old trunks, as did their British, Canadian and Australian sisters. They carried on, Wilkins said.
The Land Girls were not decorated with medals and were almost forgotten, Wilkins said, but they once had been described as “a mighty force, marching across Ohio in the food production battle.”
“Sisters of the Soil” is a collection of short stories about the Women’s Land Army movement and personal recollections of a handful of women — “sisters of the soil” — who sowed the seeds of victory during World War II, Wilkins said.
Wilkins, a 1966 graduate of Parkersburg High School, is now retired after 40 years in the medical imaging field and lives in north Georgia.
Wilkins’ first published writing “Farmerettes in the Field: The Women’s Land Army at Media Farm” was in the Summer 2015 issue of Goldenseal Magazine. It was a story about Women’s Land Army America volunteers on a farm in Charles Town, W.Va., during the summers of 1917-20 (during World War I).
Wilkins’ mother, Elizabeth (Owens) Higgins; aunt, Mary Nell (Owens) Godbey; and their cousin, Irene (Smith) Reeder, served as Land Girls during World War II. Wilkins’ grandmother Marie Tyson Owens was a cook at a WLA camp in Ohio. Two other volunteers from Parkersburg were Rose Carol (McAtee) Birkhimer and her best friend Jerldine Helen (Boggs) Leasure, Wilkins said.
“Sisters of the Soil” is expected to be available by mid-March at the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library and branches at Williamstown, Waverly and south Parkersburg; the Vienna Public Library; and the libraries at Ohio Valley University and WVU at Parkersburg. There will be no retail sales of the book.
Wilkins said she is working on sending books to Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Gilmer, Wood, Wirt, Roane and Calhoun counties and hopes to eventually place her book in all 55 counties in West Virginia.
The book is a nonprofit historical record planned as a gift to the living Land Girls and surviving family members, Wilkins said. “It was a project from my heart and a celebration of the heritage of the women who worked on the home front during times of war,” she wrote in an email.
Wilkins knows of at least six volunteers from Wood and Wirt counties who worked as Land Girls during the summer of 1944. She never found a master list of volunteer names after years of research, she said.
The book was printed by McClain Printing Company of Parsons, W.Va.
“We are not retailing the book anywhere, but I am promoting the book to share little-known stories of patriotic work by women from West Virginia. I hope when folks hear about the book they will visit and support their local libraries to check out ‘Sisters of the Soil: West Virginia Land Girls on the World War II Farm Front,'” Wilkins said.