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.
“This is a concise, carefully researched, cogently argued, and engagingly written study that fills a significant gap in our understanding of rural America and particularly of rural activism. Devine convincingly argues that farm women activists constituted a different kind of feminist, but were feminists nonetheless.”—Melissa Walker, author, All We Knew Was to Farm: Rural Women in the Upcountry South, 1914–1941
"This book is a valuable resource for Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) personnel in education and Extension. It easily fits into an advanced vocational agricultural or sociology cirriculum. Overall, it is an important educational resource about women's changing roles in both agriculture and society. Although the book is focused on Iowa, I am confident that it describes most of the Midwestern agrarian states. The changing role of women is of utmost importance in the FCS curriculum. Progress has been deliberate and has taken years but farm women today are a very important part of the rural landscape."—Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences
“In this very readable book, Jenny Barker Devine shows that rural women who disdained feminism behaved like ‘agrarian feminists.’ Banding together to confront rapid and all-encompassing changes, women in Iowa in the decades after World War II navigated between the demands of a patriarchal society built around land, agriculture, and family and a strong sense of pride in themselves as mothers, wives, and women. This study will provoke more than its share of spirited conversation among Iowans as well as academics.”—Andrew Cayton, Miami University
“Devine redefines midwestern farm women’s activism after World War II by tracing the subtle and powerful shifts in gender relationships in rural America. On Behalf of the Family Farm brings a fresh look at the complexities of how farm women shaped their organizations, claimed public space, and redefined their identities.”—Carolyn Sachs, Pennsylvania State University
2014 Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award Honorable Mention