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Poster shows Uncle Sam playing a fife, leading a group of children carrying gardening tools and a seed bag.
Join the United States School Garden Army Poster by Maginel Wright Barney, ca 1919

The School Garden Army in the First World War

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This guest post was written by Constance Carter, the previous head of Science Reference who now volunteers here at the Library.

As the seed catalogs replace the Christmas catalogs, our thoughts turn to gardens and gardening. In 2017, gardening occupies an important place in the 100th anniversary of World War I. The Library’s collection of materials on school gardens, the School Garden Army and the gardening programs of World War I are extensive.  In 2005, the Science Reference Section arranged an exhibit of 150 books, pamphlets and magazine articles on school gardens published between the late 1890’s to the mid 1920’s.  This was organized for Chef Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard, who had been unable to find 19th century and early 20th century material on school gardens.  Our colleagues in the Prints and Photographs Division supplemented our display with its colorful collection of World War I posters and prints relating to school gardens and the School Garden Army.

The First World War gave a real boost to the School Garden Movement, which began in this country as a way of developing courses about nature, providing a taste of the country to inner city children, and motivating youth to work together.  School gardens flourished as an integral part of the war effort and were an important source of local food.  Adopting the motto, “A garden for every child, every child in a garden,” the School Garden Army was created by the U.S. Bureau of Education, with funding from the War Department and the blessing of President Wilson.  It was comprised of boys and girls, ages 9 through 15.  Each participant pledged to “consecrate my head, heart, hand and health through food production and food conservation to help the World War and world peace.”

Poster shows Uncle Sam playing a fife, leading a group of children carrying gardening tools and a seed bag.
Join the United States School Garden Army Poster by Maginel Wright Barney, ca 1919

The Army’s logo consisted of Uncle Sam as the Pied Piper being followed by children carrying a hoe, rake, shovel, and trowel, and by a smaller child sowing seed.

The logo graced the covers of the School Garden Army’s many instruction manuals, which are available in the Library’s collections and still extremely useful.  The guides provide suggestions on preparing the soil, sowing seed, caring for the plants and harvesting the crops.  In addition, they give directions for building cold frames, garden benches, and row markers.  Michigan State University Library has digitized the manuals and included the Library of Congress School Garden webcast on its website at

As Hugh Findlay recorded in his article, The School Garden Army 6,000,000 Strong (Independent, v. 94, May 4, 1918: 211), “America expects every child to enlist in the National Army of Producers.”  The message from President Woodrow included by Findlay noted

“…every boy and girl who really sees what the home garden may mean will, I am sure, enter into the purpose with high spirits … the movement to establish gardens … and to have children work in them is just as real and patriotic an effort as the building of ships or the firing of cannon.”

Poster showing a girl plowing.
Join the United States school garden army – enlist now poster by Edward Penfield, 1918.

The School Garden Army felt and operated like a military unit. Many manuals included the number of members in a company, the requirements for enlistment, the maximum number of soldiers in a company, the number of officers and their insignias, and the like.  Children were reminded that a good gardener kept his/her tools clean and in top-notch condition just like a good soldier.  They were also given instructions on how to avoid strains and sprains while weeding, as well as being mindful of stepping on the seedlings.

We salute these young citizen soldiers who raised most of the food for their local communities during World War I.  One hundred years later, the school garden is once again becoming a vehicle for teaching students about the wonder of nature and the diversity of living things, as well as fostering an appreciation for the environment and better nutrition and health.

To read more about the School Garden Army and WWI gardens find Rose Hayden-Smith’s Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I; Rae Katherine Eighmey’s Food Will Win the War: Minnesota Crops, Cooks, and Conservation during World War I; and Laura J. Lawson’s City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America in the collections of the Library of Congress or your local library.

Comments (5)

  1. God created the earth with all kinds of plants on the dry land and in the sea, the air and water. From ancient days for life man, animals, and those in the sea consume the plants health and nutrition as long as the air are not polluted. Therefore, life are, air, water, plants, hence biology was created to learn more about life. This is the 21st Century and 100 years is a long way with changing times and we need more modern science and technology to be in time with life. The earth consists of billions of chemicals in man, animals, air, water, which exist, e.g is there’s no air all dies or water plants also die. The good are chemistry, mathematics, physics, and biology. Life is agriculture, industry and commerce.

  2. I should have added The War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack, 1857-1937. While the Library’s 1919 copy is missing, a facsimile has been purchased with the LC call number SB83.P3 2009. Its Appendix contains two pamphlets: War Gardening and Home Canning and Drying. This edition will be displayed at the Main Reading Room open house on Feb. 20, 2017.

  3. In 1919, the soldiers of the USGS got a little badge to wear when they joined. It measures 1.5 by .5 inches and was made of painted brass with a raised design of a crossed rake and hoe with the date 1919 on it. It had two slots on the ends that a red white and blue striped ribbon went through. One was to use safety pins to attach the ribbon to their clothes in order to display the badge.

  4. My son studying 8th standard
    To interest to join our acodamy

    Please kindly message to me information

  5. A badge was produced by The Whitehead & Hoag Company. ‘UNCLE JEFF’S CHILDRENS ARMY’ in text and an image of a child with a garden implement, in the background a British Union flag . Back Style: Metal unlocking brooch pin. Shape: Circular. Size: 23 mm or ½ inch approx. Paper label insert in the back ‘The Whitehead & Hoag Company. Newark. New Jersey. Various patent dates’. I could have sent a picture but you don’t allow for that. Silly Librarians…

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