On this date in 1912, readers of the Washburn Leader learned that women were no longer content to take a backseat when it came to farming. The article stated the outdoor life was luring women to the Great Plains. Within the previous two years, many women had chosen farming over teaching, clerking in stores, or doing secretarial work. While noting that modern machinery made farming easier, the women agreed that the main attraction was an active life in the open air.
Throughout the Great Plains, women farmers were viewed as something of a curiosity. In 1911, female farmers met in Fargo for an organizational meeting. The members had to be women who were active farmers and, according to the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, “not one man” was allowed to speak. A similar organization met for the first time in Missouri at about the same time. In 1916, the Iowa Women’s Farmers Conference met to present informative sessions. A survey at that time estimated that there were over five thousand women farmers in Iowa alone. In 1918, the Nonpartisan Leader called attention to women farmers who organized to support each other. The article focused on “egg circles” for women involved in egg and poultry production. These organizations offered education and support to women producers. The 1910 census reported that there were over 300,000 women throughout the United States who listed farming as their occupation.
Some states took steps to actively include women and girls in agricultural classes. Missouri recruited women for the agriculture program at the University of Missouri. Rural counties in Missouri included girls in elementary school agriculture classes. Yet women farmers were still considered an oddity. Newspapers felt compelled to make mention of the fact that, while some of the women were young, those who were not married had no interest in changing their single status “unless it includes the outdoor life.”
Women are still making a success of farming in North Dakota. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, twenty-six percent of North Dakota farmers are women. They farm over twelve million acres. The economic impact of women farmers in the state is $136.5 million. As one woman farmer said: “we have to prove ourselves every day not only to the community, but to ourselves.”
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Hope Pioneer. “Women as Farmers.” Hope ND. 1/7/1912. Page 1.
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Women Farmers.” Fargo ND. 1/24/1911.
Nonpartisan Leader. “Cooperation for Women Producers.” Fargo ND. 1/14/1918. Page 12.
Evening Times Republican. “Iowa Farm News and Notes.” Marshalltown IA. 1/28/1916. Page 5.
University Missourian. “Taught Agriculture to 2808 Last Year.” Columbia MO. 1/11/1915. Page 4.
University Missourian. “Notes of the Farm.” Columbia MO. 1/14/1915. Page 3.
US Department of Agriculture. “Women in Ag.” https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/North-Dakota-Womeninag.pdf Accessed 12/7/2020.
Farm Flavor. “How Female Farmers Are Driving Agriculture Forward.” https://www.farmflavor.com/north-dakota/north-dakota-farm-to-table/how-female-farmers-are-driving-agriculture-forward/ Accessed 12/7/2020.