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Interpreting the Evidence

Ruth Shaw Farm Cadet Essay, Cortland High School

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Central New York
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Ruth Shaw, World War I, Farm Cadet Essay, Cortland High School, 1918 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Ruth Shaw, World War I, Farm Cadet Essay, Cortland High School, 1918 in Main Image Viewer
  3. Load Ruth Shaw, World War I, Farm Cadet Essay, Cortland High School, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
World War I Farm Cadet essay by Ruth A. Shaw of Cortland High School, April 1, 1919.

Historical Context
The presence of over four million American soldiers in Europe meant the absence of those same individuals from the American workforce. Certain areas of the country noticed a significant decline in the number of active farms due to the absent farm labor. State officials feared that if too many farms became inactive during the war a severe food shortage would follow. New York State attempted to solve the issue of a labor shortage by enacting several programs which recruited workers and students into farm labor. 
The Farm Cadet Program also called the New York State Boys’ Working Reserve, allowed high school students to enroll as farm laborers. Farm Cadets could work on their own family farms or be placed on another farm in the state. The state required each farm cadet to submit an essay at the end of their service documenting their activities and the ways in which they contributed to the war effort. Although not old enough to fight on the battlefield, these individuals could provide the labor necessary to maximize food production for both the local communities and the world. Both the federal Food Administration and the state Food Commission promoted the idea that contributing to the production of food was both a public duty and a patriotic act. 

Essential Question
How are children utilized by a nation in times of war and conflict?

Check for Understanding
Describe Ruth Shaw's experience and explain her motivation for service.

Historical Challenges
How did New York State regulate child labor in the early 20th century? What jobs were children permitted to do? Did the state set restrictions on the number hours children could work? For the purpose of labor, at what age was an individual considered an adult? How did these rules or lack of rules relate to the Farm Cadet Program? Would such a program be legal today? Explain why or why not.

Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Draw an illustration to accompany Ruth’s essay.

English Language Arts: Write an essay about a time in your life that you helped your family. Use the same format found in Ruth’s essay.

English Language Arts: Write a poem about Ruth’s life as a farm laborer using information from her essay.