Corn and soybean farmers in Missouri are enjoying near-record yields in their fall harvest this year. As these producers store their crops or haul them directly to market, today we highlight our excellent memoirs, biographies, and rural writers of Missouri farmers.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks
Edited by Stephen W. Hines
Before Laura Ingalls Wilder found fame with her Little House books, she made a name for herself with short nonfiction pieces in magazines and newspapers. Read today, these pieces offer insight into her development as a writer and depict farm life in the Ozarks—and also show us a different Laura Ingalls Wilder from the woman we have come to know.
This volume collects essays by Wilder that originally appeared in the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924. Building on the initial compilation of these articles under the title Little House in the Ozarks, this revised edition marks a more comprehensive collection by adding forty-two additional Ruralist articles and restoring passages previously omitted from other articles.
“These writings provide a unique window into the thoughts and writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, showing a side of her that many are unaware of.”—John E. Miller, author of Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder
From Missouri: An American Farmer Looks Back
By Thad Snow, edited by Bonnie Stepenoff
After years of subjecting the editors of St. Louis newspapers to eloquent letters on subjects as diverse as floods, tariffs, and mules, Thad Snow published his memoir From Missouri in his mid-seventies in 1954. He was barely retired from farming for more than half a century, mostly in the Missouri Bootheel, or “Swampeast Missouri,” as he called it. Now back in print with a new introduction by historian Bonnie Stepenoff, these sketches of a life, a region, and an era will delight readers new to this distinctive American voice as well as readers already familiar with this masterpiece of the American Midwest.
This unique and honest series of personal essays expresses the thoughts of a farmer, a hunter, a husband, a father and grandfather, a man with a soft spot for mules and dogs and all kinds of people. Snow’s prose reveals much about a way of life in the region during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as the social and political events that affected the entire nation. Whether arguing that a good stock dog should be left alone to do its work, explaining the process of making swampland suitable for agriculture, or putting forth his case for world peace, Snow’s ideas have a special authenticity because they did not come from an ivory tower or a think tank—they came From Missouri.
“Today, more than five decades after it was [first] published, From Missouri remains one of the best explanations I have ever read about how the land and landscape of a region shaped its people and determined their history. . . . It is time for a new generation of Americans to hear what Snow had to say. The issues he addressed in From Missouri are timeless; his thoughtful comments about and analysis of them are inspiring.”—Gary R. Kremer, coauthor of A History of Missouri, Volume 4: 1875 to 1919
Dirt, Sweat, and Diesel: A Family Farm in the Twenty-first Century
By Steven L. Hilty
This book provides readers a glimpse into life on a modern Missouri farm where a variety of grains, grass seed, corn, and cattle are produced.
All of the conversations, events, and descriptions are drawn from the author’s experience working alongside and observing this father and son family farm operation during the course of a year.
“The great strengths of this book are the author’s knowledge and understanding of rural life, including the weather, land, animals, technology, and people of the Midwest. There is a remarkable attention to detail.”—Bonnie Stepenoff, Professor Emerita of History, Southeast Missouri State University, author of Big Spring Autumn
Deep River: A Memoir of a Missouri Farm
By David Hamilton
Deep River uncovers the layers of history—both personal and regional—that have accumulated on a river-bottom farm in west-central Missouri. This land was part of a late frontier, passed over, then developed through the middle of the last century as the author’s father and uncle cleared a portion of it and established their farm.
Deep River is composed of four sections, each exploring aspects of the farm and its neighborhood. While the family story remains central to each, slavery and the Civil War in the nineteenth century and Native American history in the centuries before that become major themes as well. The resulting portrait is both personal memoir and informal history, brought up from layers of time, the compound of which forms an emblematic American story.
“This magnificently written account of a time now gone is far more than just a slice of Missouri’s rural history. . . . In its best sections (and there are many), it catches the tone and mood of a place in a manner worthy of a modern-day Thoreau.”—Bruce Clayton
My Farm on the Mississippi: The Story of a German in Missouri, 1945-1948
By Heinrich Hauser, Translated & Introduction by Curt A. Poulton
My Farm on the Mississippi is a delightful and informative memoir by the German writer Heinrich Hauser about his experiences while living in Perry County in southeast Missouri from 1945 to 1948. Born in Berlin in 1901, Hauser was an accomplished journalist and novelist who had published at least two dozen books by the time he fled Germany for the United States in 1939. In 1945, after an unsuccessful stint as a farmer in upper New York, a brief stay in Chicago, and the publication of three more books, Hauser purchased three hundred acres along the Mississippi near the little town of Wittenberg, Missouri (which succumbed to the Great Flood of 1993).
Hauser’s remarkable ability to portray day-to-day life with detailed observations, along with his knack for sharing his sense of wonder at the natural surroundings, makes this work a great adventure story, as well as an important resource for Missouri folklore and for scholars pursuing local and American immigrant history.
“My Farm on the Mississippi is the work of a gifted writer. It provides insight into a place and time that we know little about. I don’t know of any better descriptions of farmwork, its challenges and its rewards, or of the benevolence and malevolence of the natural world anywhere.”—Adolf E. Schroeder
More than a Farmer’s Wife: Voices of American Farm Women, 1910-1960
By Amy Mattson Lauters
Farm women have often been seen by their city sisters as victims of patriarchy, overwork, and poverty, aptly depicted by the “Migrant Mother” image from the Great Depression. Amy Mattson Lauters now goes directly to the women themselves to get the other side of the story of American farm life: that many women survived and even thrived on farms through the adversity of the Great Depression and beyond.
More than a Farmer’s Wife spans fifty years of farm life to reveal that many women saw farming as an opportunity to be full partners with their husbands and considered themselves businesswomen central to the success of their farms. Lauters shows that the farm woman was fundamental to the farming industry—the backbone of the family business and the manager of the farm home—as she explores the role of media in the farm woman’s everyday life and discusses the construction of the American farm woman in those publications.
Cultivating Cooperation: A History of the Missouri Farmers Association
By Raymond A. Young
As one of the most successful farm organizations in the United States, the Missouri Farmers Association brought together farm clubs from all over the state to serve as the central body through which farmer-owned businesses could compete with investor-owned businesses. In Cultivating Cooperation, Raymond A. Young follows the fascinating history of MFA from its grass-roots beginning in a schoolhouse in 1914 through the upheaval that led to only the second leadership change in the organization’s history in 1979.
The late Raymond A. Young started his lifelong career with the Missouri Farmers Association in 1933 as an accountant for the Producers Produce Company in Springfield. In 1938 he moved to Columbia, were he served as President of MFA Oil for forty-two years, spending the last thirteen years of his career as Executive Vice President of MFA.
Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal” domestic policy agenda promised to continue Roosevelt’s New Deal and, with some modification for postwar realities, to guide America into a new age of peace and prosperity. Agricultural policy was a cornerstone of this program, as it attempted to transform the farm program from the parity price foundation crafted by FDR to one based on income support through direct payment to farmers.
Virgil W. Dean takes a new look at the much-heralded “Brannan Plan” to examine in detail the farm policy dilemma and Truman’s quest for a long-range agricultural program that would confront the problems of an industry in the midst of a technological revolution—one in which regional and commodity-based differences only served to complicate any solution.
“An Opportunity Lost is well-written, solidly researched, and cogently argued. . . . Dean has given astute, perceptive analysis to an often tangled and always difficult aspect of domestic policy, the farm program.”—R. Douglas Hurt
Among FDR’s most important New Deal programs were those created to address rural poverty and a depressed farm economy. In 1935, several such programs were consolidated into the Resettlement Administration, which in 1937 became the Farm Security Administration (FSA). For the next six years, the FSA stayed at the center of a turbulent battle over the shift from regional to national authority. One tool the FSA used to defend itself against political attacks was its Photographic Section, under the direction of Roy Stryker.
Stryker, who was once referred to as “the press agent of the underprivileged,” directed a team of photographers who documented American life in the thirties, capturing images of the old ways while seeking to justify a new agricultural order. The photos they took were used to build up popular support for the FSA and the New Deal. Seven of these photographers traveled in Missouri and produced a collection of over 1,250 pictures. Drawing on those photographs, A Portrait of Missouri, 1935-1943 chronicles the photographers’ work, the programs they sought to promote, and slices of life they captured in Missouri during this time.
“The photographs are engrossing. They show the efforts of the Farm Security Administration to illustrate the problems of the 1930s and the results of the programs designed by the New Deal to address these problems. More than simply being a vehicle of persuasion, however, these photographs document the way Missourians lived during the period.”—Lawrence Christensen