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No Man's Land: 1940

No Man's Land: 1940

May 1940. Grant County, Illinois. "FSA rehabilitation borrower operating tractor. She and her mother run the farm without the assistance of any men." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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So that's what they meant

The farming area I grew up in had occasional signs along the roads: "Tractors with lugs prohibited." Quite understandable.

I believe my parents had one of these tractors to work our orchard.


Not an expert, but: The tractor looks like an early 1920's McCormick-Deering brand (part of International Harvester). In 1923 McCormick and Deering (both IH) had to reduce to one dealer per region as part of a US antitrust suit. Maintaining a battered 17-year-old tractor had to be fun.

Grant County?

The label appears to be wrong; there is currently no Grant County in Illinois. It looks like there's a Grant Township in Illinois or Grant County, Wisconsin.

[Vachon did take 20 photos labeled Grant County, Wisconsin, so perhaps this is there. - Dave]

Tractor ID

McCormick-Deering 10-20, perhaps?

[It is indeed a McCormick-Deering. Click below to embiggen. - Dave]

Good for her!

I assume the tractor is a Fordson? That's what it looks like. They were called widowmakers, for their propensity to pop wheelies.

I must say, as someone typically assumed to be a dude, I'm thrilled to see a woman named as an "FSA borrower" rather than as a wife thereof. Those women worked just as hard as the men, and they deserve the credit.

And who says she didn't repair her own tractor?


The clutch-operation instruction sticker located just ahead of the operator shows just what sticks in the mud the builders of this equipment really were. After all, where's the fun in having all those gears if you can't speed-shift?


The hard part is the repairing, not the driving.

Not surprising

Until probably the 1950s, women in America worked really hard all day long, and pretty much drudge work at that. Much harder than men, in general, or at least a lot more continuous work. Running a tractor doesn't require a man's physical advantages, it takes a lot of stick-to-itiveness. It was probably notable at the time, hence the underlying "shock" of the original caption, but arguably it's easier than doing endless manual housework like scrubbing clothes by hand and trying to feed a family 3 meals a day from a huge cast-iron wood stove.

What she needs

is a hat.

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