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Politics, Policy, Promotion And Education: Women Plow The Way For Organizational Growth

Politics, Policy, Promotion And Education: Women Plow The Way For Organizational Growth
June 1, 2021 |

By Debra Davis

State Women’s Leadership  Committee Chairman Kathy Gordon, right, and longtime member Lillian Slay of Chambers County discuss the organization’s history during the Women’s Leadership Conference earlier this year in Birmingham. 

Policy, politics, promotion and education. Those are the building blocks of the Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division.

As the Federation celebrates its centennial, it’s also a time to reflect on the role females played in parlaying the organization into a political powerhouse with grassroots members as its core strength.

In 1924, Mrs. John S. Morris of Alpine in Talladega County became the first woman to hold statewide office in what was then known as Alabama Farm Bureau. Two years later, she was elected the first president of the State Women’s Council, a forerunner to the State Women’s Committee.

The group became the Women’s Leadership Division in 2010. The new name reflects women’s contributions and is more closely aligned to its American Farm Bureau counterparts.

Kicking off the 1968 Rural Clean-up drive are Houston County Sheriff A.B. Clarke; Mrs. Rudolph Weeks and Mrs. A.C. Singleton, Farm Bureau Women’s Committee; W.O. Mendhein, sanitation supervisor; County Engineer F.R. LeBron; and Mrs. Tullie Hollis, Farm Bureau Women’s Committee chairman.

The headline in the Alabama Farm Bureau News Sept. 6, 1965, read: “On Their Way! Farm Bureau Women Organized To Carry On Important Duties.” Formal organization of the Women’s Committee was completed during the group’s first meeting at the state headquarters Aug. 26-27 that year. That was in accordance with recommendations made by the 1963-64 Study Committee and approved by the Special Delegate Session in February 1965.

The late J.D. Hays, state president at the time, was quoted in the article saying, “Farm Bureau from this day is going to be a better organization.”

His prediction was spot-on.

Farm Bureau Women’s leaders attended the 1965 convention in Birmingham. From left are Mrs. Thomas McDole, Limestone County, chairman of the new Alabama committee; Mrs. Haven Smith of Chappelle, Nebraska, chairman of the American Farm Bureau Federation Women’s Committee; Mrs. D. C. Till Jr., Lowndes County, vice chairman; and Mrs. L. D. Smith, Tuscaloosa County, secretary.

Women’s Leadership Committees across the state continue to organize county events to educate a growing urban population about the importance of Alabama agriculture. County leaders also help with statewide projects like Alabama Ag In The Classroom and Farm-City. County committees frequently organize meetings where local politicians communicate with members about pending legislation.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System played a significant role in the early years of the Women’s Division. Extension workers helped educate homemakers about gardening, food safety and preservation, and sewing.

Today, many women are decision-makers on their family farms. It’s not uncommon to see women driving a tractor, combining grain, running a multi-million-dollar poultry farm or working cattle.

While their have evolved, their mission remains the same — making certain Alabama agriculture has a seat at the table when decisions are made about its future. 

First-place winners in the 2010 Women’s Leadership Division contests from left were, Deloris Mount of Crenshaw County, hand-stitched quilts; Gayle Smith of Limestone County, machine-stitched quilts; Lydia Haynes of Cullman County, handbags; and June Flowers of Pike County, tablescapes. The contests were at the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 38th Annual Commodity Producers Conference in Columbus, Georgia.
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