“The Rest of the Story” was a daily radio program originally hosted by Paul Harvey in the 1970s through the 1990s. Mr. Harvey would tell a story about some forgotten fact or person then conclude the story by revealing an interesting fact that had been held back; such as the true identity of the person (click here for an example). Mr. Harvey would conclude his broadcast by saying “And now you know the rest of the story.” The Friday Footnote this week is “the rest of the story” concerning the fight in the 1930s about having girls in the FFA.
This Footnote contains references to a Letters about the Massachusetts Situation document. The Letters document contains copies of the original letters used in creating this Footnote (use the page numbers at the bottom right of the letters). Very interesting reading. There are additional letters and materials that have not been included in this Footnote because of self-imposed space restrictions.
Setting the Stage
The main characters in our Story are:
- Rufus Stimson – State Supervisor of Agricultural Education and FFA Advisor in Massachusetts
- R. O. Small – State Director of Vocational Education in Massachusetts
- F. E. Heald – Agricultural Teacher Trainer in Massachusetts
- W. J. Weaver – State Supervisor in New York & member of the National FFA Advisory Council
- C. H. Lane – National FFA Advisor from 1928 – 1933
- J. A. Linke – National FFA Advisor from 1934 -1941
- FFA Presidents – Vernon Howell (1933), Bobby Jones (1934)
A Word about FFA Governance – When the FFA was established, the governance of the organization had not been carefully thought out (Tenney, A. W., 1977). A Board of Trustees comprised of the six national FFA officers and two adults (an elected national advisor and an elected secretary-treasurer) were the legal authorities for the FFA. Questions were raised about the legality of having a Board of Trustees comprised primarily of minors. Would their actions be legal (or tempered with wisdom)?
A bylaw was added to the national constitution at the 1930 convention creating a National Advisory Council. The bylaw stated “The Advisory Council shall possess the power of approval at all times of the actions of the Board of Trustees and delegates to the National Congress” (Minutes, 1930).” Accordingly, an advisory council comprised of four state supervisors and the chief of the Ag Ed Service in the Federal Board for Vocational Education was established in 1931.
Now for the Story
The starting point for this story was when the Essex, Massachusetts entry in the 1933 National FFA Chapter Contest listed five girls as members.
June 16, 1933 – FFA President Howell sends a terse letter to Stimson about having girls in the FFA. “I am greatly surprised…drastic action will be necessary.” (Letters, p. 3)
July 12, 1933 – Stimson responds to Howell and explains the national FFA granted a charter to Massachusetts with the knowledge girls were members at the state level but would not compete in national events. “We are willing to accept your slap on the wrist for the error [listing girls as members in the chapter contest]. You need have no fear of ever being disturbed again by a similar offering from our state.” (Letters, pp. 4-8)
July 17, 1933 – Heald writes Stimson supporting his stance and goes on to say “This illustrates an inherent weakness in the whole plan. Mr. Howell and his associates had no part in the earlier understanding three years ago. Today they are officious and full of power.” Then Heald says because of the benefits to the members he hoped this would blow over; otherwise, he would say “Withdraw at once.” (Letters, p. 13)
August 1, 1933 – Howell was not very receptive to Stimson’s letter. His response to Stimson included such phrases as “I say again…” and “This is a boys organization” and “I will take the matter up again with the executive committee. (Letters, p. 7)
True to his word, Howell took up the matter at the 1933 convention. The delegates, after learning that Massachusetts had girls as members of the FFA, voted to give Massachusetts three months to conform to the national constitution or be suspended.
November 28, 1933 – Weaver informs Stimson that he had proposed a change to the FFA constitution supporting the rights of states to determine their own internal affairs. The other members of the National Advisory Council were not supportive of the change. (Letters, p. 15)
December 12, 1933 – Stimson, responding to a letter from the newly elected FFA President Jones notifying Stimson of the potential suspension, pointed out that the National Advisory Council for the FFA had not approved of the suspension of Massachusetts, thus the decision to suspend Massachusetts was not legal. Stimson concluded by stating “All we have asked has been the right to control our State and local F. F. A. affairs in such a way as to be in accord with the Constitution of our Commonwealth” (Letters, p. 23).
December 18, 1933 – Weaver writes C. H. Lane asking that the members of the Advisory Council veto the actions of the delegates at the 1933 convention. Lane sent out letters to the Advisory Council members asking for their opinion. They voted 3-1 to uphold the suspension of Massachusetts (Letters, p. 18-22, 25-26, 29).
December 30, 1933 – R. O. Small writes Lane and tells him to pass the Weaver amendment and stop the “unsound membership restriction.” Furthermore, Director Small said “I shall not approve expenditure of public funds for the support of any program in Massachusetts which draws a line against race, religion, color or sex…” (Letters, p. 27)
January 9, 1934 – The state supervisor of Agriculture Education in West Virginia writes Small and states “…you are incorrect in your position…I, personally, would look with alarm on any vocational organization…that would attract…girls.” He then rather proudly states there are no girls in agriculture classes in West Virginia. Later, Stimson received a somewhat similar letter from the state supervisor in Texas (Letters, p. 68)
January 13, 1934 – After learning the other members of the Advisory Council would not veto the actions of the delegates at the last convention Weaver again wrote Lane and implored him to employ any legitimate way to stay action on the motion to suspend Massachusetts. Weaver then proposed a new amendment to be placed before the 1934 convention allowing states “where no line of race, religion or sex can legally be drawn” to be allowed membership in the national FFA with the understanding only males could compete at the national level. (Letters, p. 31)
February 27, 1934 – Lane wrote each member of the Advisory Council and suggested that action regarding Massachusetts be put on hold until the next convention. Lane said he had talked with many state leaders and “everyone seems to be of the opinion that we should not go too hastily in the elimination of any State from the national organization.” (Letters, p 38-41)
March 21, 1934 – Lane wrote Stimson informing him of the decision to delay the suspension of Massachusetts. (Letters, p. 44).
At the regional meetings of state leaders held in the spring and summer of 1934 the Massachusetts situation was discussed along with the Weaver amendment. The North Atlantic region agreed with the Weaver amendment (Letters, p. 45-46) and passed a resolution supporting amending the constitution to allow states to have female members. The Southern region was also in agreement but the other two regions were not (Letters, p. 55).
October 1934 – Stimson sent a memo to the Massachusetts teachers of agriculture sharing the proposed constitutional amendment but acknowledged the 1934 national FFA Advisory Council was split 2-2 on the change and that Mr. J. A. Linke, the NEW acting chief of the Agricultural Education Service would ultimately be the deciding vote. Lane has been reassigned, and now there was a new player in the game. Stimson stated that Mr. Linke wanted to come to Massachusetts in December to investigate the situation for himself (which Linke did). (Letters, p. 47-48)
June 4, 1935 – Frank Lathrop, an agricultural education research specialist for the Agricultural Education Service, attempted to bring closure to the Massachusetts Situation. He wrote Linke expressing concern about the rampant misinformation regarding the Massachusetts situation and raised a question about the legality of barring females from membership. Lathrop wrote, “The expulsion of Massachusetts would raise the question whether an organization which functions as a part of the public school … may make a membership discrimination between sexes.” Lathrop then raised the question would it be OK to have an English club or a science club in a high school excluding girls from membership. Lathrop supported the Weaver amendment.
April 26. 1936 – Stimson sent a memo to the national leadership of the FFA and the state FFA advisors in other states. At the state FFA convention in March of 1936, a resolution was passed reaffirming the stance of the Massachusetts FFA Association (Letters, p. 66-67). The resolution said they had acted in good faith and “We are unable to comply with the ruling discriminating against female membership even if we found it otherwise desirable because it is contrary to the constitutional provisions of Massachusetts governing the use of public funds in public education…” The resolution also stated that Massachusetts would decline to forward dues or surrender their charter.
August 19, 1937 – R. O. Small sent a letter to Stimson with a copy going to Linke stating the motion at the 1936 FFA convention that called for getting a ruling from the Massachusetts Attorney General in regards to female membership was not a good idea. Small wrote “it would be ridiculous for us to ask the Attorney General a question to which the answer is so elementary and patent…We would not only be ridiculous, but we would be unwise. We would precipitate trouble for all concerned.” Small quoted provisions of Article 46 in the state constitution which supported the Massachusetts position and said there was a whole line of opinions, court cases and court decision that upheld this provision of the constitution. Small was concerned that if the FFA foolishly did this, and if other state and national legislators learned of this, it might imperil the whole system of vocational education. (Letters, p. 70-71)
No date – probably August 1937 – In response to the Small memo, Linke sent a letter to Stimson (Letters, p. 72-73) and agreed that the Massachusetts Attorney General should not be consulted. Linke further stated that he had “inherited this whole controversy” from Lane and was making “an honest effort to solve this problem”. Linke also said there was a plan to be brought to the Advisory Council and Board of Trustees at the next convention in Kansas City.
August 25, 1937 – Stimson sent a memo (Letters, p. 75-77) addressed to “Those Responsible for Sound Vocational Agricultural Education and Future Farmers of America Policy and Procedure.” The subject line was “Revision of the National F. F. A. Constitution with Reference to Membership”. Stimson reviewed the history of the Massachusetts situation and stated that the current stance of the national FFA was “indefensible” given that fact that public funds were supporting the enterprise. He encouraged the adoption of a provision “in the national F.F. A. Constitution now in process of revision” that would allow states like Massachusetts to have girls as members at the state level. It is believed this memo was sent to all state supervisors.
And now finally, the rest of the story – A change in the FFA constitution and bylaws was passed at the 1937 FFA convention that allowed states with legal provisions against discrimination to retain membership in the National FFA provided that girls did not compete in national contests. After a long and determined battle, Stimson and Massachusetts won the battle. But the real winners were the girls of Massachusetts (and those in several other New England states) who wanted to be members of the FFA.
Stimson retired four months after the 1937 National FFA Convention. Since Stimson had a degree in divinity and once considered being a minister, it is possible he had a favorite Bible verse. Perhaps it was 2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I hope this can be said of all of us at some point in the future.
The Friday Footnote for next week is The Age of Aquarius – the 1960s and Girls in the FFA
There is an enhanced version of this Footnote that contains additional background information, extra quotes, and more explanations. If you want more detail, that is the document to read. The Massachusetts Situation III is the enhanced version.
The work and effort of Frankie Farbotko, agricultural teacher at Cape Fear High School in Fayetteville, NC was invaluable in preparing this Friday Footnote. Some years ago Frankie contacted the FFA archivist at the IUPUI library and requested copies of letters between Rufus Stimson and others regarding the Massachusetts Situation. While I had some of the letters in my files, Mr. Farbotko gathered many more from the FFA Archives and shared those with me. They were indispensable in piecing together this Footnote.
Letters about the Massachusetts Situation (A compilation of letters from the National FFA Archives)
Tenney, A. W. (1977). The FFA at 50. Future Farmers of America: Alexandria.