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On Behalf of the Family Farm

Iowa Farm Women's Activism since 1945

Jenny Barker Devine

Publication Year: 2013

On Behalf of the Family Farm traces the development of women’s activism and agrarian feminisms in the Midwest after 1945, as farm women’s lives were being transformed by the realities of modern agriculture. Author Jenny Barker Devine demonstrates that in an era when technology, depopulation, and rapid economic change dramatically altered rural life, midwestern women met these challenges with their own feminine vision of farm life. Their “agrarian feminisms” offered an alternative to, but not necessarily a rejection of, second-wave feminism.

Focusing on women in four national farm organizations in Iowa—the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, the National Farm Organization, and the Porkettes—Devine highlights specific moments in time when farm women had to reassess their roles and strategies for preserving and improving their way of life. Rather than retreat from the male-dominated world of agribusiness and mechanized production, postwar women increasingly asserted their identities as agricultural producers and demanded access to public spaces typically reserved for men.

Over the course of several decades, they developed agrarian feminisms that combined cherished rural traditions with female empowerment, cooperation, and collaboration. Iowa farm women emphasized working partnerships between husbands and wives, women’s work in agricultural production, and women’s unique ways of understanding large-scale conventional farming. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

This book project started more than a decade ago when my college roommate suggested I interview her grandmother, a farm woman, for my senior honor’s thesis. As I ventured into the history of rural women, there seemed to be more ...

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pp. 1-14

In April 1970 farm woman Helen Karnes posed the following question to readers of the Farm Journal: Has anyone ever noticed the treatment women get from farm organizations? Women rarely served on boards or took on leadership ...

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Chapter One: This Rich Gift of Voluntary Leadership: Rural Women's Activism in Iowa

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pp. 15-37

At the 1921 Iowa state fair, Sarah Elizabeth Richardson, a farm woman from Mahaska County, Iowa, made an appeal for the inclusion of women in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF). She asserted that “the Federation ...

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Chapter Two: As Natural a Process: Women's Leadership in Township Farm Bureau Clubs

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pp. 39-58

In 1945 Nell M. Forsyth of Muscatine County, Iowa, penned the twenty- five- year history of the Cedar Valley Community Club, a township homemaker’s club affiliated with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the ...

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Chapter Three: Does Your Man Belong to the Farmers Union? : Women and Cold War Politics in the Iowa Farmers Union

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pp. 59-84

In March 1950 Edna Untiedt of Dixon, Iowa, penned a letter to Fred Stover, the president of the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), in which she lamented farm women’s declining interest in the organization. She found that, just as the women of the ...

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Chapter Four: Because Somebody Had to Do It: Women, Families, and the National Farmers Organization

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pp. 85-112

During the late winter Of 1958, Luella Zmolek’s husband, Don, announced that he was going to a “farm meeting.” Don had never joined an agricultural organization or even expressed interest in farm politics, but Luella was so caught up with her ...

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Chapter Five: Hop to the Top with the Iowa Chop: The Iowa Porkettes and Transformative Leadership

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pp. 113-136

In January 1964, when Jan Jackson became the first president of the Iowa Porkettes, the women’s auxiliary of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA), she reflected on her own realization that women played a vital role in promoting pork ...

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pp. 137-143

Did the development of Agrarian feminisms actually result in substantial changes for Iowa’s farm women? In the early 1990s there were no definitive answers as the Porkettes hesitantly dissolved their organization and women’s voices remained muted within the larger agricultural community. Certainly, a century of activism ...


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pp. 145-169


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pp. 171-179


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pp. 181-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381707
E-ISBN-10: 160938170X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381493
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381491

Page Count: 203
Illustrations: 10 photos
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st ed.