Land Ladies: Women and Farming in England, 1900-1945 at the Museum of English Rural Life

By Ben Miller | 24 February 2011
A black and white photo of women in white uniforms tending to a field with rakes
Exhibition: Land Ladies: Women and Farming in England, 1900-1945, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, until April 19 2011

This is a show focused as much on challenging perceptions as it is on the productive work of women in agriculture during the past century.

Often seen as a masculine pursuit, farms across Britain actually owe much to the efforts of tireless female fieldhands. The supposed paucity of Land Ladies outside of the World Wars is unwarranted.

“Women have always been involved in farming in Britain, but until relatively recently historians have tended to ignore or belittle their contributions,” suggests Dr Nicola Verdon, an historian from Sheffield Hallam University who has drawn on the archives, objects, books, and photographs held at the Museum of English Rural Life for this exhibition on a largely unvisited pastoral history.

A black and white photo of women in white aprons and soft caps working on barrel churns inside an agricultural factory
“The MERL collections allow us to explore the range of work that women undertook. I particularly like the image of women workers on the land in the 1930s – it really shows the reality of farming, dirty, unglamorous and very, very hard work.

“People tend to think that women only worked on the land during the two world wars, but this exhibition shows that the work of women during the war was part of a continuous process.”

Domestic butter and cheesemaking appliances, Land Army uniforms, machinery, basketry, transport boxes and banners are among the exhibits.

“We are extremely privileged to have this opportunity to work with Dr Verdon,” says Assistant Curator Dr Ollie Douglas.

“The Museum has important archival and photographic holdings relating to this topic and with Dr Verdon’s help we have been able to unearth a wealth of new information.”

  • Open 9am-5pm Tuesday-Friday (2pm-4.30pm Saturday and Sunday). Admission free (donations welcome).
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