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Entitled to Power

Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963

Katherine Jellison
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 240
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    Entitled to Power
    Book Description:

    The advent of modern agribusiness irrevocably changed the patterns of life and labor on the American family farm. InEntitled to Power, Katherine Jellison examines midwestern farm women's unexpected response to new labor-saving devices.Federal farm policy at mid-century treated farm women as consumers, not producers. New technologies, as promoted by agricultural extension agents and by home appliance manufacturers, were expected to create separate spheres of work in the field and in the house. These innovations, however, enabled women to work as operators of farm machinery or independently in the rural community. Jellison finds that many women preferred their productive roles on and off the farm to the domestic ideal emphasized by contemporary prescriptive literature. A variety of visual images of farm women from advertisements and agricultural publications serve to contrast the publicized view of these women with the roles that they chose for themselves. The letters, interviews, and memoirs assembled by Jellison reclaim the many contributions women made to modernizing farm life.A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

    eISBN: 978-0-8078-3797-9
    Subjects: Sociology, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. xv-xviii)
  4. Introduction (pp. xix-xxii)

    In her classic novel of farm life in Nebraska, Willa Cather not only paid homage to the fertile farmland of her home state but also celebrated the woman farm producer. Her heroine, Alexandra Bergson, introduces scientific farming to her neighborhood and becomes a skilled farm manager. In so doing, she expands her interests beyond the small butter-and-egg business her dying father had envisioned as her main enterprise on the farm. She has become the most successful farmer in the community, but her neighbors view her activities with some dismay, and her male relatives downplay her contributions to the farm. By...

  5. 1 To “Lessen Her Heavy Burdens” The Country Life Movement and the Smith-Lever Act (pp. 1-32)

    When an anonymous Kansas farm woman made these remarks to the secretary of agriculture, nearly five years had passed since President Theodore Roosevelt’s Commission on Country Life had first noted that the experience of many farm women bore little resemblance to the Jeffersonian ideal of personal independence and spiritual fulfillment on the farm.¹ Instead, women often found hard work and frustration there, and much of their discontent lay in the knowledge that their work was undervalued and unnecessarily difficult. Under a gendered work system in which men were primarily responsible for performing cash-producing field work, women’s labor in the farmhouse,...

  6. 2 “Mother Must Have Every Labor-Saving Convenience” The Modernization Message of the 1920s (pp. 33-66)

    With these comments, Smith, chief of the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Cooperative Extension Work, made clear that the goal of extension work for farm women in the 1920s was to make them into the image of urban, middle-class homemakers.¹ As full-time homemakers, women would ensure the happiness, efficiency, and stability of farm families. And a major key to making farm women better homemakers was to encourage their use of modern domestic equipment. In the dozen years following World War I, private organizations, mail-order catalogs, and periodical and radio advertisements joined the Extension Service in reminding farm women of the...

  7. 3 “A Chance to Live as the City Sisters” The Great Depression and the New Deal (pp. 67-106)

    When Stauffer, a resident of rural Monticello, Wisconsin, wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt to complain about low farm prices, she intended to speak for all midwestern farm women.¹ Focusing on possessions that farm women lacked, such as a functioning bathroom, Stauffer contrasted farm women’s economic status with her perception of the greater affluence of urban women. After twenty years of exposure to the urban domestic ideal, farm women used a ready reference point when attempting to demonstrate the extent of their poverty—their lack of modern equipment. Frequently employing this rhetorical device, women made their opinions known to national leaders,...

  8. 4 “The Man Operating the Farm and the Wife Operating the Household and the Garden” Technology and Gender Roles, 1940 (pp. 107-130)

    A final legacy of Roosevelt’s New Deal was the wealth of research left behind by its rural sociologists. These scholars worked for the USDA’s Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE), an agency that was formed in 1922 to conduct economic research but greatly expanded its activities during the New Deal era. Along with the FSA, it was one of only two agencies within the Department of Agriculture that attempted to aid farmers at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, and it was also the only federal agency that conducted sociological research. Under the direction of Carl C. Taylor, BAE sociologists produced...

  9. 5 “A Call to Farms” “Tractorettes” Go to War (pp. 131-148)

    In October 1941, two months before the United States entered the Second World War, the USDA’s director of extension work set a goal for America’s farm women that would last through the duration of the war.¹ With the argument “Food will win the war and write the peace,” Wilson and other USDA officials called on farm women to raise food for the war cause.² In meeting that goal, farm women would have to make use of technology that the Extension Service had formerly promoted as masculine machinery—motorized field equipment. Wartime propaganda emphasized, however, that the “tractorette”—the rural equivalent...

  10. 6 “They Figured I Didn’t Have a Part in the Farming”: The Postwar Era (pp. 149-180)

    When high school junior Mary Jane Fisher wrote her prizewinning essay on rural electrification for theIndiana Rural News, the Second World War had been over for a decade and a half.¹ The changes that had occurred in the rural Midwest during that brief time, however, were little short of revolutionary. As Fisher’s essay indicates, dramatic changes in household equipment and farm labor practices had taken place across the midwestern countryside. These changes brought with them alterations in the daily activities of midwestern farm women. Although these women still functioned within a patriarchal system, they were able to fashion for...

  11. Conclusion (pp. 181-186)

    When Snedden, a professor of education at Columbia University, made these observations in 1932, his task was to predict what life in rural America would be like in 1960. Basing his predictions on existing trends, Snedden reasoned that increased “use of power-driven mechanisms”would mean a continuing decrease in the work force necessary to produce food for the nation’s foreign and domestic markets. Significantly fewer farm families would be living on the land in 1960, and those families that remained would be smaller in size. A “survival of the fittest” process would determine which family farms would remain in business. In...

  12. Notes (pp. 187-212)
  13. Index (pp. 213-218)