There is a locally produced program on our local PBS called Mossback’s Northwest. It often provides ideas for stories like this one.

Cascade PBS’s resident historian Knute Berger dug into these overlapping histories in a recent episode of the Mossback’s Northwest video series, but there is far more left to explore. 

In this episode of Mossback, Berger joins co-host Stephen Hegg to discuss the unique characteristics of Sitka spruce and why the U.S. military was so interested in it; labor strife and the role of unions in the Northwest logging industry in the early 20th century; the entrance of female workers into the lumber camps and the rampant sexism they sometimes faced; and the larger impact that all of these forces had on the Pacific Northwest and its timber business. Lumberjacks, meet the Lumberjills.

You’ve heard of Rosie the Riveter, but how about Rosie the Logger? During both world wars, the Northwest brought working women to the woods. It wasn’t just here in the PNW, but also in Wisconsin. Britain had theirs too, in Scotland, where they also re-planted what was felled, for the future. Canadian women also filled the roles in both Scotland and in British Columbia.

   

The Women’s Timber Corps: Who were the ‘Lumberjills’ and what did they do? – BBC Newsround

Twice in the 20th century, a Northwest wood came to the rescue in wartime. At the same time, the cutting of that wood triggered advances that changed not only how loggers worked, but also who worked in the logging business. One war brought the eight-hour workday, cut from 12 or more — and another saw a cadre of working women move into the woods. 

Sitka Spruce trees were key material in both world wars.

In the early 20th century, Sitka spruce, a giant conifer native to the Pacific Northwest, became known as an excellent material for building airplanes. As a result, when the U.S. entered World War I, the demand for that wood exploded.

In the early years of flight, light, durable wood was what aircraft were made of. The Wright Brothers’ famous Flyer, Kitty Hawk, which first flew in 1903, was made of Appalachian red spruce and ash. Aircraft builders soon realized that spruce made an ideal material for planes, and the demand for such planes increased dramatically with the start of World War I. The Allied forces needed raw material to take the fight against Germany to the air, and it turned out that the best material was Sitka spruce. These tall trees grow in the coastal Northwest from northern California to Alaska. Even before the U.S. entered the war, demand for spruce exploded and the region’s old forests had what was needed. Remember the Spruce Goose?

Sitka spruce was lighter than steel, flexible, buckle- and shatter-resistant. The virtues of the wood were well-known to Indigenous people, who built with it and used its pitch and resin for glue and waterproofing. When the first European explorers arrived in the region, they took tall, straight spruce trees for masts and, when Royal Navy rum rations ran out, crews brewed an alcoholic “spruce beer” in its place made by fermenting spruce needles with molasses. 

Workers building airplanes during WWI took advantage of the flexibility of Sitka spruce wood. (National Archives)

The American military set up what was called the “Spruce Division” and brought in soldiers to Washington forests to help manage a growing industry. Over time, as the demand for spruce continued into World War II, women began to fill tens of thousands of timber jobs traditionally held by men.  

The links gives a much more immersive information about these women’s roles, and they change they brought to the industry. I just covered the highlights.

Women have always been in the “camps”, but they are who brought better working conditions.

The Lumber Jill’s of the World Wars
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