The World's Food Supply and Woman's Obligation, May 3, 1918

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↑Stenographer's report of Hot Springs↓

May 3-- Evening.



Miss Jane Addams,
Hull House,
Chicago, Illinois.

Madame Chairman:

I am sure that ever since this great world war began, now 3-1/2 years ago, every woman in this audience has at times felt much depressed by the thought that famine had come back into the world. The very first summer of the war we heard the destitution in Serbia, and we know that three-quarters of a million of her people died out of a total of three and one-half million, from disease [super-induced] by lack of food and other privations. We know of [Romania], and of that terrible drive through Galicia.

I am sure that when the United States Senate created the Department of Food Administration, and President Wilson appointed Mr. Hoover as Food Administrator there were thousands of women all over the United States who received the news with much gratitude. They were grateful, indeed, to be told what they might do day by day to alleviate the situation. They had that feeling which so often comes to us of the helplessness, that it would at least be removed if they could have some form of expression in regard to this wide-spread famine.

If we divide this hungry world into three groups: 1st, the neutral countries in Europe, Holland, Norway and Sweden; they have had all sorts of privations. We can take the Central Powers, where in spite of the fact that they conquered the wheat fields of other countries, food riots are daily becoming more frequent, and we can take the Allied Powers. I am going to run these over very hastily that we may see the situation at least among some of the countries.

Take France, for instance, her last harvest was but 40% of her pre-war harvest. She has had a million and a half people driven out of the war zone, and these have been superimposed upon her normal population. The French never have large houses, and the lack of food has brought up the Tuberculosis rate at an alarming rate. The normal rate in Paris is twice as high as in New York. They [page 2] have never [equaled] their present figure.

If you take Italy: You know parts of Italy can never support itself. Now they cannot emigrate to any large extent. They too have half a million people driven South by the Austrian drive of 1917, to be fed and sheltered. The disasters that come from [Romania] are so great that the Red Cross people tell us that wounded soldiers starve to death in their hospital beds, because it was impossible to get food to them. It is heart-breaking. The reason for this is their transportation facilities are so broken down and [disorganized] that wheat cannot be sent into the North. She is used to famines, she has had them as late as 1906 and 1911, but never before lost so many people. She herself says eight million have perished since the war began, more than half of them civilians.

I am sure these tales have been burned into your consciousness as they have been burned into the consciousness of every sympathetic man and woman in the United States.

It means that the world's food supply at this moment is so below normal, so much less than the world needs to keep it alive and fit up to that point where it will not lose any vitality and imperil the future of its children, it has reached such a point that unless America can send very much more than she ever sent to Europe before, unless, as Mr. Hoover says, the farmers can produce in a much larger measure, and the women save as they never saved before, we are going to be faced with a wide-spread [malnutrition] among all the people.

What does it mean? We must make the world over after the war, and we must assure them that they will have sufficient stamina which alone they can have if they are fed up to the line of keeping them in normal health and condition.

We ask, what has been done before when there is too little food in the world? We are told there are only two ways: One is to produce more by the application of human energy, muscle and intelligence, and the soil; the other is to divide that [page 3] which has already been produced, not only among the people, but to send it to those who are hungry and need it so sorely.

If we take up the first, which belongs especially to this Conservation Department, it makes an enormous difference the sort of agriculture which is put into the land if we wish to know how to produce more. We might take that thousand acres nearest to Paris. That thousand acres immediately surrounding Paris is said to be cultivated more intelligently and more intensely than any other thousand acres upon the face of the earth, and the soil around Paris is not especially good. Growth of products is [accelerated] by electric light, and it is perfectly amazing what you can do with one electric light.

France has never fed herself even before the war within one-fourth of what she needed. If all of France was cultivated as that thousand acres [it] could feed itself and the population doubled.

The French have taught us a great many wonderful lessons during this war. Let us realize that food always responds best to careful, detailed treatment. We know it does in cooking. One reason these gardens are so good is because they are small and carefully and intensely cultivated. That perhaps is one thing which American women could do to a very much larger extent than we have ever done it before. It takes training, intelligence, devotion, to produce food in that way, but it might result in the intensification of our agricultural methods which would be a very great thing for America. That is what we need in America with all our land.

We have been very much inclined to spread out into garrulous farming. I am sure most of you heard Miss [Fraser] this morning when she told us what the English women have been doing, the sort of thing which they have put their minds and energies to, recovering for use and cultivation millions of acres of hitherto unproductive ground. Women of the leisure class are helping now as never before to feed England.

We have in the United States eight million women who are already in wage-earning [page 4] occupations. Out of that eight million only two million of them are doing agricultural work. They must be doubled and trebled, and it is surprising what the result might be if this unused intelligence on the part of so-called leisure class women were to be applied to the American soil even to the extent in which the English women have entered into it.

One-quarter million men have been drafted from farm work, and we are told it may take about half a million women to do the work which this quarter million men have done before.

There is here then this double proposition: First to produce more food in this world's crisis; second, to so change our habits, so modify our household that we shall all go into the large undertaking of conserving the food which is already found in America.

I am not going to go into that, because that has been presented to you so fully and ably by Dean Arnold and others. One thing we can take up as Club women, and we can say, I am sure, that is this world's crisis there has come to the American women a challenge which it is well for her to heed. She is asked to study the work situation, to find out with the utmost intelligence which she possesses what is needed in the way of food, to apply to it her sympathies that she may visualize the conditions.

Conditions in other parts of Europe are so heart-breaking. Now let us do this first and foremost: Let us find out what the need is in the way of food; let us stretch our sympathies to meet the situation and let us realize that if we do accept this challenge, (there has come to the women of this land a sort of a holy challenge which perhaps has not been made upon women for many centuries), because if we meet it, if we do these two things, understand the situation from its world implication and obligation on one hand, and on the other so modify our domestic arrangements that we will meet it day by day, it will require a great moral adjustment, almost a revolution in the notion of morality held by many women who claim [page 5] that their one and only obligation is mere duty to their family.

If we do meet this obligation, if we do take up this challenge with some sense of gallantry and devotion, how can we help ourselves?

I believe the club woman has a great advantage in this movement. In the first place, as you all know, the women's clubs when they were founded after the World's Fair in Chicago, they gave themselves over to the study at first of rather abstract subjects. It was rather the fashion to make fun of their classes in literature, science, art, and music, and all of the things to which they were so devoted in those early days, but they kept at it, because they had a very sound instinct in the matter. They had an instinct of finding out where they were in the world and getting some background of cultivation, which is enormously unifying, and illumined all their more practical friends which they followed later, and they did go back of that movement a splendid cultivation, something which tied them together into a mutual understanding of the world. Can we not say at this moment, when we are asked to stretch our means as perhaps we have never been asked to stretch them before, when we are asked to sympathetically comprehend the complication which is so mournful, can we not say we can try on this cultivation which we have carefully built up through these many years.

I should like to see if we cannot do it by appealing to one or two of these departments which have been sustained throughout the entire years of the Federation.

We will have to go back of history itself. Before there was any history in almost all the countries of the world there were great myths about the corn mother, the corn daughter, the spirits of the corn. They are found in India. This fostering mother was responsible for the growth of food upon the face of the earth.

These women who are interested in literature know how much of the early poetry, was about these goddesses, there were all sorts of beautiful things hanging about her, and the famine songs which are so touching. There are many of those very beautiful things which have come up addressed to these old goddesses who the [page 6] famine-stricken people hoped would relieve them.

Women who study history should know something about social customs, and would be the first to admit that every wide-spread myth, after investigation by science, has in it an historic side. Thus the corn mother, or the fostering agents responsible for the growth of things in the world had its beginnings because women were the first agriculturists in the world. They were the only agriculturalists for hundreds and hundreds of years. All of the things produced were done by these toiling women, the men went out fishing and hunting and brought in the results of the chase, but if the women wanted to give the baby something beside meat and fish, they had to raise it, and they did, because they found it difficult to keep a child well by feeding it on wild boar, etc.

They began with those little gardens and patches of earth. All the men ever did was to help them clear it, but the men had nothing else to do with it. What happened? In their great desire to keep their children alive, women worked these little patches of earth century after century, and after a while the men saw that there was something to it, and the women would say we don't want to move this year, just because the hunting is poor here, and later, we don't want to leave this spot because the cattle cannot graze here any longer -- we will wait until the corn is ripe, and so it came about that women, the early, toiling agricultural women, changed the whole structure of human society. They changed it from nomadic tribes to settled, agricultural tribes, and they laid the foundation of domestic morals.

Almost all primitive tribes still believe that seed will grow much better if planted by a woman, and some believe it will not grow at all unless planted by a woman. In Africa, if a woman does not get her garden and house, she can get a divorce, because she is entitled to a garden.

I am sure there are still other transfigured groups which through all these years of club life have clung to their old subjects, which is found in many of the clubs, even to this day, I am happy to say. These women know that in the history [page 7] of morals there is almost always something which can be traced to the early beginnings of life, which it is very valuable to hold on to, to keep up, because they have what is called a natural and normal foundation in human capacities and in the human intellect. May we not say in this great challenge to women now to produce more because our men are going rapidly to Europe, when our muscles are needed, our intelligence is needed, let us go back to it, that we are not doing anything very queer or strange; we are doing something which was done by women once upon a time, and which it may be a very useful thing for women to do now. All over Europe you see women working in the fields. They do it everywhere more than they do in America.

Every European visitor who has seen America to any extent is always so amazed at the leisure of the American women, even the wife of the illy paid working man has more leisure than the same woman has in Europe, because she has all sorts of inventions to help her out. That leisure ought to be utilized and will be. That leisure has to be used in getting some sort of background for woman's place in regard to food; of her business, as it were, to feed the hungry, which is so clear if we take the least pains to look up our history which faithfully records things.

There is another side to it: Those toiling women made the beginnings of domestic morality, gave us such ethics as we have in our family life. If we enter into this world situation with a sense of obligation and understanding of what it means, we may do something to lay over again the foundations of that fundamental morality which we are all being accustomed to say is inadequate to the demands of modern life and nations. What is it which the nations are doing at this present moment?

Before this great war, food was shipped as a commercial enterprise. If it was not commercially valuable, it was not shipped, some times food was withheld or even destroyed. Now, under the stress of war, the nations -- in England for instance, [page 8] is importing all her food under governmental arrangements. The Quartermaster must import the food for the army of munition workers must be fed. Food must be regulated, so it has come about at this moment that all of the food imported in Great Britain is imported under government auspices.

The United States is loaning every month fifteen million dollars to Belgium sent largely in the form [illegible] of food, in order that they may be kept alive until such time that she can once again manage her own life.

What does it mean? It means that the nations are under stress of war, in the midst of war, are dropping their old ways of creating food as a commercial enterprise and are obliged to regard it as a great humanitarian undertaking. This is new, it is taking food out of its commercial list and putting it back into its old humanitarian place. When these toiling women produced the food and men found it had commercial value, they took it away from them. Now they find it has a humanitarian value which is so great that the commercial value is lost. Women have a chance, at this moment, to enter for the first time, so far as that is concerned, into some sort of international relationship.

When did we enter into municipal affairs? Women got the municipal vote when the matter of free milk was brought up, they came into state and federal affairs when the question of Child Labor and Tuberculosis came up. Now, under the pressure of war, purely from the desire to feed the hungry, they are reaching out into this international relation, and may have to be reckoned with from now on to the end of time.

That League of Nations which is being urged so potentially by the President will be found after the war upon this very basis of relationship to weakened nations.

At any rate, there are many wise economists, teachers of ethics, in this country, England, and France, who are pointing out this new internationalism which is rising right in the midst of the war itself. [page 9]

Let us say in this great undertaking, if women come into it with understanding they will come back to their own, they will come back bringing something which has a genuine world value; that this world food supply, which has brought so many people to the verge of starvation, if it is understood and rectified, we may come into a new type of world understanding, world relationship.

As the time comes for the President to press his large plans for a better world order, he has back of him a vast body of club women who have not only obeyed the Food Administration rules, but who also understand that this is a great, historical crisis. It is a demand made upon women such as perhaps has never before been made. We have never been so brought together before. The world has never been so conscious of itself as it is at this moment, and the women who have had training, who have had the companionship and the widening which club life gives, will be the ones to help in this great movement towards producing food more abundantly, towards meeting this challenge gallantly which is now put before them.