Celebrating women in the history of farming
They are our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, neighbors, ancestors, partners, mentors and friends. The women who have added to the beauty and robustness of agriculture are vast and we would like to acknowledge the underrepresentation and put them front and center in the spotlight today.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but we have put together a few names of the superstar women who we admire and have helped shape what we know as agriculture today.
Anna Baldwin was a dairy farmer in New Jersey. She held 5 patents for inventions to improve dairy milking production. One of which was the Hygienic Glove Milker, patented in 1879 and was the first suction milking machine. This invention paved the way for the modern milking machine we use today.
Harriet Williams Russell Strong
Harriet Williams Russell Strong was an innovator, business woman and conservationist. She worked not only to bring her own farm back from the brink of failure but also to help conserve water through irrigation and damning allowing water irrigation. Helping countless others bring water to otherwise arid land. She was also a lifetime advocate for women’s rights and powerful voice in the women’s suffrage movement alongside Susan B Anthony. Shown below is one of her 5 patents.
Mary Engle Pennington “Ice Woman of the Cold Chain.”
Despite the many closed doors that Biology showed her as a women scientist she went on to receive her Ph.D and work in the US Department of Agriculture’s, Bureau of Chemistry (now known as the Food and Drug Administration). Her groundbreaking work with food storage and education for dairy farmers handling raw milk, poultry and fish spanned 40 years. Her refrigeration methods revolutionized food storage and distribution and reshaped the way we store food safely. Her patents and work were not unnoticed. In 2018 she was indicted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her Food Preservation & Storage patents.
Alice Evans, aka “The Pioneer of Safe Milk”
Alice Evans was an American scientist whose pioneering work on milk bacteria led to the understanding of these bacterium present in milk being both an occupational hazard for farmers and food safety concern for the public. Her work revolutionized the safe handling of dairy. At a time with little knowledge of raw milk diseases, she made controversial discoveries about the bacteria present in milk. One of those, Bacillus abortus, is a bacterium that causes spontaneous abortions in animals and constant fluctuating fever in humans. Her work with food safety has saved countless lives. Her trailblazing and often criticized research eventually led to the mandatory pasteurization of milk. She also became the first female president of the American Society for Microbiology.
Fannie Lou Hamer
A dedicated Civil Right activist and lifetime farmer, she founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in 1969. The work of this group helped create opportunities for poor black sharecroppers, like the pig bank and other land, housing and voting opportunities. Together the Freedom Farm Cooperative purchased farmland in the Mississippi Delta to build a place to empower poor black farmers and sharecroppers. The Farm grew to more than 640 acres, demonstrating the potential for prosperity and resilience of the Black farming community. Reminding us that providing food to our community is a human rights issue. Despite profound hardships of racism, sexism and classism, she persevered and worked tirelessly for the rights of her farming community and women as a collective. Her work and quotes, still echo today. In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame posthumously.
A plant geneticist, biologist and an agricultural scientist. Her graduate findings from Cornell were one of the sparks that began cytogenetics and corn chromosome research but that was just the beginning. She went on to discover radical findings about hybrid plant chromosomes and changes in plant genes called transposition. Although some of these findings were recognized as the most significant research in modern biology they were met with resistance and hostility. Almost two decades later in 1970, another finding in molecular biology was found that proved her earlier findings. 35 years after publishing her work on transposition, she was awarded the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Temple Grandin
American scientist, author, animal behaviorist and active proponent for autism and neurodiversity. She has overcome her own share of obstacles being autistic herself. She is outspoken about “the need for different kinds of minds” and it has influenced her work with animals. Much of her work is in the care, understanding and the humane treatment of livestock. She has been widely cited from her many books and papers about the need for the humane treatment of animals leading up to the time of slaughter as well as the importance in the manner of care they receive at feed lots. She was one of the first scientists to report that animals are sensitive to distractions and other sources of fear in handling facilities. One of the innovations she designed is a curved conveyer rail system which leads animals in a way that is calm and unforced. She has authored or co-authored 60 peer reviewed scientific papers and other books. Her work continues today, she speaks all over the world and is a professor at a university close to our hearts, CSU.
Preserving the history of women in farming
There have been many women throughout history that ended up in farming as their profession by both desire and necessity. Some have been unfortunately been forgotten and there is a movement to preserve those memories in history called the Female Farmer Project.
The Women in Ag Science has some wonderful posts on their blog about some of the women we’ve mentioned here.
Happy National Women’s Month!
It’s a fact that there are many women throughout history who have worked in agriculture and still do this work. One of our founders, Janine Russell is also a women working in agriculture who is following in the foot steps of her grandmother and great grandmother by working in agriculture.
Today (and everyday) we celebrate all of the women who do this work; to grow our food throughout the world and work tirelessly to care for their livestock as well as the many other things that need to get done around the farm.
Farmbrite is a farm management software that helps farmers and ranchers track and gain insight into the production of their crops and livestock. Take a look at how they can help you today.