Jenny Barker Devine, author of On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Women’s Activism since 1945, is an assistant professor of history at Illinois College.
4. Do you think women in farming today work in different circumstances than their mothers and grandmothers, or are there important continuities?
The most notable differences are in the technology and work options available to women. But even with all of these changes, women’s intense commitments to their families and to their land have remained the same. Over the decades, women’s primary concerns have been about building successful operations that can be handed down through the generations. In the past, policymakers have written this off as sentiment, but what women are really demanding is sustainability. One wonders what our current agricultural economy would look like if policymakers had listened to women decades ago.
5. Of all the individual stories you tell about women activists in the book, which one is your favorite?
All of the individual stories have some personal significance for me, but my favorites come from the oral histories by members of the National Farm Organization (NFO). Those women laid bare the triumphs and struggles of their lives and I am so grateful for their honesty. I often think of Luella Zmolek talking about how “it was a very sad day when the last cows went out of the yard.” All of her hopes and dreams were placed in those cows, and she gave them up for the NFO. It not only shows the depth of her commitment and the strength she possessed to see her ideals through, but I think we can all relate to those moments when life just isn’t what we thought it might be.