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"Well, I guess I always felt that I was a partner in the family farming operation because we shared responsibilities. We did have a hired man, but I did all of the cooking and whatever was needed. The children helped on the farm. They would help move [irrigation] pipe. It was something that we did as a family. And finding time to get away just for a weekend was a real challenge back then…
     "Later years, probably in the 70s and early 80s when we no longer had a hired man, then I sometimes went out and do some discing. I didn't enjoy doing a lot of that. I told my husband it would be like sitting him down in front of a sewing machine; he wouldn't know exactly what to do, either. So I was never real comfortable but I did help out during harvest with the grain auger wagon…
     [Question:] "How did WIFE [Women Involved in Farm Economics] get started?"
     "Actually there were a group of women in Sydney, Nebraska, in 1976 who were sitting around the table and decided that the prices were so low and that they really felt that they needed to become involved and do something. And when you think back in 1976 women were not involved in policy making at all. Usually their role was back in the kitchen making coffee and cookies while the men might be discussing the policy issues. So, this was started in Sydney and then actually those ladies came to York in September of 1977. And we had 250 women from this area attend that first meeting here.
     "And we broke down by different counties or county areas and I was selected as the first president of this area. And it just seemed to snowball after that. We continued to organize in other states. And actually, our primary purpose was to promote agriculture and to increase prosperity in agriculture and to educate others about the importance of agriculture. We just felt that with each generation we're getting further removed even at that time from the farm what agriculture means and from the importance of it. So we continued to work to educate to build different [organizations] in different states. I believe in 1990 we had 23 state organizations that were members.
     "I became state president in 1983 and served for two years in '84. And then served as national president in 1990 and '91. So it was a wonderful experience to visit other states and learn about agriculture and what was going on in their states. And I guess probably we were known for our 'kitchen table lobbying.' And that was the phrase that was coined because most of us did our work from our kitchen tables and we made those phone calls to our elected officials and we wrote those letters. And sent telegrams back then, which is really amazing to think that you sent telegrams to our officials in Washington but that was the mode of communication that was taking place. So it, I think, probably laid the groundwork for my involvement in future political activities and serving as a [Nebraska state] senator for Nebraska.
     "I had the opportunity to testify in Lincoln at the state capitol and then also in Washington DC before the House and the Senate Ag Committees. We were known [as the Ladies in Red]. We all wore red because one of the things was that farmers were usually operating in the red. And back in 1976 in Washington there weren't very many people that wore red. It was just pretty basic, black and navy colors. So whenever we would see someone in red we would know also that they usually were associated with the WIFE Organization. So, it really became a very distinguishing feature for our organization…
     "Sometimes we [women] have a special role to play. And I know when we would go back to Washington and talk to our congressmen they were really interested in what we had to say because it came from the heart…
     "It was important that we built the leadership in women. Women hadn't had a chance [to speak out] and I think they had a lot of talents that just weren't being used. Many of the men are busy, I mean during those busy times of harvest, and whatever. Of course, the women are also busy, but it's a little bit more convenient for them to pick up a phone and write a letter possibly than the farmer himself has time to do…
     "That was in the 80s and 90s. But, we knew people. We knew all the people in the USDA, the secretaries and the undersecretaries, the chairmen of the House committees and of the Senate committee. And we would sit in on hearings. We would testify. And then [we would] also meet with other organizations… We always had a very good reception because we would be dressed in red. People would know who we were, and they would enjoy talking. And we always made good connections with staff because we learned that staff was very important. And they would take the message on.
     "Now, one project that we had and I haven't mentioned that was the Farm Equity Spouse Act. Our organization felt that it was unfair that women were treated differently in farm programs than what the men were. Even though the wife may have a piece of ground in her name everything came through her husband. We were not recognized as individuals. So we filed a law suit against the USDA in 1987. And we worked from 1987 to 1991. In 1990, we were able to have legislation introduced in the House and in the Senate – Senator Nancy Kassebaum was our person that we worked with on the Senate side – to recognize women as individuals as far as farm payments. What evolved from that legislation was that it would be up to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture [then Clayton Yuetter] whether they would grant that authority. And in January of 1991, I received a call from the Secretary of Agriculture saying that he was granting that authority. So, we felt that we again had made some progress of really working. And [we] found out we had to be persistent if you had something that you were working on that you had to keep working and not give up…
     [Question:] "Are you a feminist?"
     "No, I've never considered myself a feminist [laughing]. I just have felt it's important that women have an opportunity to take some leadership roles because I believe we bring a different, sometimes a different perspective in solving some of the challenges that we have."

Elaine Stuhr – Women & WIFE

   

Excerpts from Elaine Stuhr’s Interview:

Beginning Farmers
Farm Strike Movement
The Bust of the 80s
Anyone Can Lobby
Raising Kids for Export
Immigration in Rural America
Environmental Laws & Agriculture