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The Midwest Farmers Daughter

In Search of an American Icon

by Zachary Michael Jack

Publication Year: 2012

From yesterday’s gingham girls to today’s Google-era Farmer Janes, The Midwest Farmer’s Daughter explores the resurgent role played by female agriculturalists at a time when fully 30 percent of new farms in the US are woman-owned, but when, paradoxically, America’s farm-reared daughters are conspicuously absent from popular film, television, and literature. In this first-of-its-kind treatment, Zachary Michael Jack follows the fascinating story of the girl who became a regional and national legend: from Donna Reed to Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Elly May Clampett to The Dukes of Hazzard’s Catherine Bach, from Lawrence Welk’s TV sweethearts to the tragic heroines of Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres. From Amish farm women bloggers, to Missouri homesteaders and seed-savers, to rural Nebraskan graphic novelists and, ultimately, to the seven generations of entrepreneurial Iowan farm women who have animated his own family since before the Civil War, Jack shines new documentary light on the symbol of American virtue, energy, and ingenuity that rural writer Martha Foote Crow once described as the “great rural reserve of initiating force, sane judgment and spiritual drive.” Packed with dozens of interviews, The Midwest Farmer’s Daughter covers the history and the renaissance of agrarian women on both sides of the fence. Giving equal consideration to both agriculture’s time-tested rural and small-town Farm Bureaus, 4-H, and FFA training grounds as well as to the eco-innovations generated by the region’s rising woman-powered “agro-polises” such as Chicago, the author crafts a lively, easy-to-read cultural and social history, exploring the pioneering role today’s female agriculturalists play in the emergence of farmers’ markets, urban farms, community-supported agriculture, and the new “back-to-the-land” and “do-it-yourself” movements. For all those whose lives have been graced by the enduring strength of American farm women, The Midwest Farmer’s Daughter offers a groundbreaking examination of a dynamic American icon.

Published by: Purdue University Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: Pioneering Women

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pp. ix-xii

"The Story of a Pioneer Cedar County Farm” headlines the account of my ancestor Levi Pickert’s settling of our midwestern family farm. “The next year, 1855, he again came out to Iowa,” the recounting goes, “bringing not only his wife and son, but his father and mother also.”...

Part One

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Chapter One: The Gingham Girl in the Google Age

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pp. 3-24

The history of Midwest farmers’ wives and daughters is forever undertold, yet, paradoxically, no class of American woman has maintained a more powerful pull on our collective psyche. “As no other woman in the nation, she is the product of our soil and our institutions and our...

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Chapter Two: The Midwest Farmer's Daughter

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pp. 25-46

In the summer of 1965 the Midwest farmer’s daughter was still a song worth singing. On a momentous LSD trip the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love had written a ditty that would go on to be ranked by Rolling Stone in the top 100 greatest songs of all time, and by the Rock...

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Chapter Three: How Ya Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm?

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pp. 47-60

It was a time of disillusionment. Three heroes had been lost—Jack Kennedy, his brother Bob, and the Reverend Martin Luther King. As my grandmother would put it, ‘I wanted to fly the coop.’”
Dianne Ott Whealy, the girl who wanted to fly the coop, is cofounder of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, an 890-acre farm and seed exchange...

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Chapter Four: Raising Farmer Jane

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pp. 61-88

The July 8, 2007 edition of the New York Times Book Review led with a blast from the past: the life of the farm daughter had once more become fodder for the best-seller list. For eight solid weeks Barbara Kingsolver’s tale of the recovery and miracle wrought in her own daughter...

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Chapter Five: The Chores of Being a Farm Girl

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pp. 89-116

Midwest farmer’s daughter Sarah Evans’s song of a working farmer’s daughter itching to kick the dust off her boots, “Suds in the Bucket,” went Gold in 2005 on the RCA label. Five years later the song’s stunning entry into the country cannon was cemented by...

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Chapter Six: Welk Girls and Daisy Dukes

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pp. 117-132

The day after Thanksgiving in 1950 my grandmother’s family, the Puffers, made headlines in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Writ large across the top of page was a picture of a bustling family of six staring intently at a Cold War-era box with its space-age screen. The set was switched off...

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Chapter Seven: Milkmaids in Manhattan

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pp. 133-148

"There’s no place like home,” read the exam prompt for the 1993 course final of English 210 at Iowa State University. “Both King Lear and A Thousand Acres are in crucial ways domestic dramas; that is, they are both concerned with family land home, parents and children, food and...

Part Two

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Chapter Eight: Little Houses on the Prairie

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pp. 151-162

"Trading Tiaras For Calico on the Prairie,” ran the headline in an August 2011 New York Times dispatch from De Smet, South Dakota. Reporter Anna Bahney had what surely felt like a scoop—a Laura Ingalls Wilder-inspired renaissance in a midwestern prairie town where, from 2009 to 2010, visitor spending had jumped 27 percent, and in July...

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Chapter Nine: Future Farm Daughters of America

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pp. 163-186

"Having a chance to meet with some of the men and women in this room has only made me feel more confident,” President Barack Obama declared from the makeshift lectern at the front of the room—a steel-sided pole building at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta...

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Chapter Ten: Ag-vocating Women

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pp. 187-210

"There are days when divorce is just not good enough. . . . This is why we’re in the jungle tonight.”
After an hours-long autobahn on Interstate 80 to Des Moines, Iowa, I arrive at the Holiday Inn Heartland Ballroom in time to hear the first volley of keynote speaker Jolene Brown’s address to the Farm Bureau Young...

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Chapter Eleven: Community-Supported Agriculture

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pp. 211-230

In 1984 a prospective kindergartner teacher named Robin Van En moved from northern California with her young son to Egremont, Massachusetts, looking for a little land on which to build a new life. Van En intended to finish her teacher training, but instead she found herself investing...

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Chapter Twelve: Female Farmers

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pp. 231-238

An October 2010 issue of Farm World led with some Farmer Janeworthy news: the growth in agriculture programs around the country was coming not from men, but from women. From 2005 to 2009, said Bill Richardson, the project manager of the USDA’s Food and Agricultural...

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Chapter Thirteen: Farmerettes in the Farm City

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pp. 239-254

Historically, the idea that the trail to America’s rural daughters wound its way through the Chicago Loop made intuitive, if not paradoxical, sense. Midwest country girl Jane Addams migrated here, after all, from the tiny farm village of Cedarville, Illinois, in 1891, a decade or...

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Chapter Fourteen: Her Daughter Has a Dynamo

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pp. 255-258

Many Moons—blanche and blue, gibbous and full, harvest and rose—have waxed and waned since first I began my search for the Midwest farmer’s daughter. And in that time I have seen more clearly how what an American icon chose and where she chose it have shaped a...


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pp. 259-260

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 261-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781612492193
E-ISBN-10: 1612492193
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557536198
Print-ISBN-10: 1557536198

Page Count: 260
Illustrations: 8 images
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 821726186
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Midwest Farmers Daughter

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women farmers -- Middle West.
  • Farm life -- Middle West.
  • Middle West -- Social life and customs.
  • Women farmers -- Middle West -- Public opinion.
  • Farm life -- Middle West -- Public opinion.
  • Middle West -- Public opinion.
  • Women in mass media.
  • Farm life in mass media.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
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