A new breed of farm woman has taken up the banner of a Kansas farm wife who, distraught over plummeting farm prices, proclaimed in the late 19th century that "Its time to raise less corn and more hell."
American Agri-Women (AAW) an organization of some 3,000 farm women in 32 states that runs the gamut of farm interests from beef feeders to apple growers and cattle ranchers.
At the group's third annual convention in Green Bay last week, the mood of the 200 delegates in attendance was strictly business.
"Our husbands are so busy being the best producers in the World that they haven't time to get involved in legislative concerns and consumerism," said Sharon Steffens, the outgoing national coordinator of AAW. "It's imperative that we take an active role."
Energy and state taxes and marketing techniques, lobbying tips, farm equipment sales and more issues occupy the group. Business spilled over into late night discussion groups. Following the appearance of a Milwaukee newspaper article depicting the group's alleged disagreement with the independent farmers' strike planned for Dec. 14, AAW leaders won unanimous support for a press release sympathetic to the planned action.
"Farm women have been squeezed between male-dominated farm organizations and the urbans feminist movement," said Fran Hill, a University of Texas political scientist who addressed the group. "What we haven't acknowledged is that we can always pass the coffee pot and speak on a resolution at the same time."
"All of agriculture is intertwined, and that's what we failed to see in the past," said Joan Adams, the newly elected AAW national coordinator. "Through a coalition of all commodities we can become a voice. We can be heard."
The group started out with "noble and illusory aims" that uniting women would get the splintered farm commodity group together. Hill said. It hasn't done that in its short history.
But independently of the city-oriented women's movement, it has provided the forum for a number of farm women to go beyond the scope to the typical women's auxiliary and get involved in policy making.
"We've always enjoyed equality in labor," says Hill, the daughter of a Wisconsin dairy farmer. "It's time we crack that policy barrier."