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June 22, 1917

At the instigation of New York Commissioner of Education John H. Finley, a dozen students, led by Alice Campbell ’17, remained at Vassar after Commencement to form the Vassar Farm Unit, replacing the men usually working on the Vassar farm. They chopped wood, milked cows, ploughed fields and hoed the rows. Nicknamed “farmerettes,” the students worked 45-hour weeks at 17 1/2 cents per hour doing all the farm work except the cleaning of the stables. They paid for their board out of their earnings.

“There they are in the fields, brown, strong and busy. In neat uniforms of middy-blouse, bloomers, and wide-brimmed straw hats, they march to the potato patch, or strawberry patch…and set resolutely to work with hoe and fingers.”

The Poughkeepsie Eagle

Because of its novelty, the Vassar Farm Unit was invited to present a “live exhibit” at the first Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, a ten-state agricultural fair held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, October 12-20, 1917. Five students were excused from classes for ten days to demonstrate their farming skills before some 138,000 visitors. Noting the group’s “demonstrations” at the exposition, The Miscellany News, on October 20, quoted a notice from “a Springfield Paper”: “11:30 A. M. Harrowing exhibition by Vassar Farm Unit.”

In the summer of 1918, more than 200 students stayed to milk and mow, plant and weed and run the farm machinery. Milking was, explained one farmhand, “just like learning the play to piano.”

Marion Bacon, Life at Vassar

The Years