Girls were admitted to the FFA in 1969! End of story.
That is the way many agriculture teachers cover this fact when they teach the FFA unit. It is sort of like flipping on a light switch. In 1969 it was decided to have girls in the FFA, so we flip the switch on. But there is really more to the story than a single fact that is covered in 15 seconds; it took years to get to this point. This Footnote will examine the girl membership issue in the context of the 1960s. It is somewhat fitting that girls were admitted to the FFA in the same year that the Fifth Dimensions recording of The Age of Aquarius was released. The song is about a new era of love, light, and humanity and is based on the astrological fact that every 2,150 years the sun’s position in March moves in front of a new zodiac constellation. The song was a major hit being number one for six weeks on the U.S. The song was a fitting tribute to the 1960s.
The 1960s was indeed a new era. This was the age of civil rights and riots, hippies and flower power, women’s rights, Vietnam War protests, muscle cars, The Beatles, and Rock and Roll. For more detail about the events of the 1960s check out this video or this web site.
Girls and the FFA
In 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which gave equal rights to all people regardless of race or gender. Title VI of the Act specifically forbade discrimination by programs and activities that receive federal funds. This appears to be the catalyst that started the ball rolling which ultimately ended with girls being admitted to membership in the FFA. But why did it take 5 years after the passage of the Civil Rights to accomplish this? Stay tuned…
Shortly after passage of the Civil Rights Act, some agricultural educators started advocating for the inclusion of girls in the FFA. Warren Weiler, state supervisor in Ohio, after examining the federal legislation regarding vocational agriculture and the FFA asked, “…on what basis can we deny membership to any enrolled student?” Weiler sought the opinion of the Ohio Department of Education attorney who concluded (Weiler, 1964, p. 84) “…this discrimination against girls is an unlawful denial of the equal protection of laws.”
R. Lajuenesse, an agriculture teacher in Cosa Mesa, California, was very critical of the FFA (which he dubbedFailing Future America) in an article in The Agricultural Education Magazine. He wrote (1965, p. 289), “Those of us in Agricultural Education haveno business and no excuse for formulating and employing discriminating policies…The restrictive National F.F.A. Constitution which specifically denies female membership is not only unjust, it is unconstitutional.” He goes on to suggest a constitutional change to allow females in spite of the “…remorse of some tough old diehards in our profession.”
Yes, there was some “tough old diehards”. In a 1973 letter from William Paul Gray, National FFA Executive Secretary, to Jeanie Haslam in Shelley, Idaho Gray partially answered the question why it took five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act to admit girls to the FFA. Gray (1973) wrote, “With the passage of the Civil Rights laws, it was clear that all states should comply. This created problems for the national organization, because a vast majority of the FFA membership and some State supervisors still believed it should be a male organization.” There is corroborating evidence to back up Gray’s assertion.
A doctoral dissertation written at the Ohio State University in 1965 provides research-based information about the views of the profession in regards to admitting females into the FFA. The dissertation, Adapting the FFA to a Changing Program of Vocational Agriculture, was written by Earl Kanter, Executive Secretary of the Ohio FFA. He surveyed a sample of 281 individuals which included FFA Executive Secretaries, Presidents of state agriculture teacher associations, high school administrators, state supervisors, and teacher educators. The response rate was 83 percent.
When presented with the statement “Allow girls who are enrolled in vocational agriculture full membership in the FFA” the responses were very revealing (a score of 4 is “agree” and a 5 is “strongly agree”). The average response scores were:
- Head State Supervisors – 3.56
- Head Teacher Educators – 4.56
- FFA Executive Secretaries – 3.16
- State Ag Teacher Association Presidents – 3.47
- High School Administrators – 4.41
The differences in ratings were statistically significant. The ones who were least in favor of allowing girls to be FFA members were FFA Executive Secretaries, Ag Teacher Presidents and Head State Supervisors. Wow!! No wonder it took 5 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act before girls gained membership in the FFA.
When the ratings were examined by region, Kanter found the North Atlantic region to be at 4.12, the Central region to be a 3.58, the Southern region to be 3.53 and the Pacific region to be 3.26 (and the differences in these scores were also statistically significant).
A National FFA Study Committee had been created in March of 1965 to look at future directions for the FFA. The passage of the 1963 Vocational Education Act which greatly expanded the scope of agricultural education (including the teaching off-farm agriculture occupations) triggered the need for such a committee. One of the recommendations in the study committee was “…the organization should be open to all students of vocational agriculture.” and to delete all references to “male” students. The respondents in Kanter’s study did not support the position of the National FFA Study Committee. So it should be no surprise that change was slow in coming?
At the FFA Convention in 1966, an ad hoc FFA committee recommended the removal of the word “male” from the constitution. The recommendation was not accepted.
At the July 1967 Board of Directors Meeting, a motion was made by one of the national FFA officers to change the constitution to allow girls to be members. That motion received a second but was rejected by the other national officers. However, a motion “…that the FFA seek a legal interpretation as soon as possible regarding the organization’s obligation to accept girls as FFA members on the National level” did pass (FFA Board of Director Minutes, July 27, 1967).
In my opinion, it was the legal opinion from William Metzger, General Counsel for the U.S. Office of Education in 1967 (and later in 1969) that was the catalyst for allowing girls to become members of the FFA. During the late 1960s, Neville Hunsicker, national FFA Advisor, was under pressure from several states (such as Maryland, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Ohio, New Jersey, and North Dakota among others) to end the ban on female membership in the National FFA.
On August 7, 1967 Hunsicker asked for a legal opinion. In his request to the Office of Education, he wrote:
After several State Attorney Generals have ruled that the FFA State Association must admit girls, the question is raised whether the current practice of prohibiting membership and participation by girls on the National level is consistent with recent legislation of equal opportunities.
We will appreciate a legal opinion as early as feasible prior to our scheduled National FFA Convention in early October. Should the law be interpreted to legally require the FFA to admit female students of vocational agriculture as members and to participate in the FFA on both State and National levels, we will be able to take proper action at the October 1967 Annual National Convention.
The response, dated October 6, 1967, from the Office of General Counsel, Department of Education did not arrive early enough for action to be taken at the convention. However, the General Counsel’s response was very clear, “Their exclusion [girls]…would seem to be discrimination which we do not think we could justify legally. It is inconsistent with the overall objectives of the FFA and the Vocational Agriculture program” (FFA Board of Director Minutes, October 1967, Appendix 2A & 2B).
The ruling came too late to get a constitutional amendment on the 1967 convention floor. However, the legal counsel’s ruling concerning girl membership was explained to the delegates and they were instructed to discuss this back home and come to the 1968 convention prepared to take action.
Prior to the 1968 convention, the FFA National Officers and Board of Directors recommended that the delegates approve of a constitutional change allowing female membership. In spite of the legal ruling and admonition of the FFA leadership, the delegates at the convention did not approve the constitutional change (it failed by seven votes) (FFA Board of Directors Minutes, October 12, 1968).
The failure to change the constitution was a serious matter discussed at the January 1969 Board of Directors meeting. Dr. Harold Noakes, Chief, Bureau of Agricultural Education, Albany, New York; Dr. Robert S. Seckendorf, Assistant State Commissioner, Occupational Education, Albany, New York; and Mr. William Metzger, General Counsel, U. S. Office of Education, Washington, D. C. were at the meeting and discussed at length the problems and ramifications of not allowing girls in the FFA. Metzger was asked if an action could be postponed until the next convention or if some type of interim action was needed. He stated he could not say whether the FFA would or would not be challenged in court before October. Eventually, the Board voted to “recognize” the vote of the 1968 convention delegates instead of “sustain” their decision. The Board did vote to recommend to the delegates at the next convention to approve the constitutional change regarding female membership. Excluding girls from FFA membership was fast becoming a thorny legal and public relations problem.
An editorial (Carnes, 1969) in The National Future Farmer magazine published immediately prior to the 1969 convention described the constitutional changes to be acted on at the convention. In discussing the amendment allowing girls to be FFA members Editor Carnes wrote (p. 6), “Regardless of how members feel personally about this change, it would seem that the time has come when such a change is in the best interest of the organization.”
The minutes of the 1969 FFA convention has one sentence about the girl FFA membership issue – “It was moved by Bankhead of California, seconded by Craig of Michigan and carried to amend Article IV, Section B, by striking the word ‘male’”. An article published after the convention in The National Farmer Future provided much more detail (1969, p. 10), “In a spirited business meeting…the 113 delegates to the National FFA Convention voted to admit girls as members of the FFA. The issue passed by two votes over the required two-thirds majority, but was reconsidered and debated several times.” Girls had finally gained the right to be members of the National FFA.
Even though there is debate among astrologers as to the actual date when the Age of Aquarius was to start, for girls who wanted to belong to the National FFA it was 1969.
- Play the YouTube video Age of Aquarius(or download the song from Spotify or some other source). This song was released in 1969, the same year in which girls were admitted to the FFA. Play the video or song and ask the students to pick out phrases in the song that could relate to admitting girls to the FFA. Some answers might be “This is the dawning”, “Harmony and Understanding”, “living dreams”, “liberation”, “open up your heart”, and “let the sunshine in”. Doesn’t’ the FFA emblem contain the rising sun?
- Divide the students into two groups and have them brainstorm some of the possible arguments against admitting girls into the FFA and some of the possible reasons why girls should be allowed into the FFA. They will probably come up with some of the same arguments made in the 1960s. Are the points valid? Discuss.
- Have students do a Google search for images of “FFA”. What percent of the people pictured in the images are female? What is the message conveyed?
- Show the TeachersTube video “The 1960’s” or have students do research on the 1960s and identify five major movements or events. Do the students think any of these had an influence on the decision to admit girls in the FFA?
- Ask the students to speculate what would have happened if the delegates continued to vote to deny membership to girls.
Carnes, Wilson (1969). A Word with the Editor. The National Future Farmer. Volume 18, Number 1.
Girls Admitted (1969-70). The National Future Farmer. Volume 18, Number 2.
Gray, W. P. (1973, November 29). Personal Correspondence to Jeanie Haslam.
Kanter, E. (1965). Adapting the FFA to a Changing Program of Vocational Agriculture. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. The Ohio State University
LaJeunesse, L. R. (1965). The F. F. A. – Failing Future America? The Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 37, Issue 11, pp. 280, 289.
Weiler, Warren G. (1964). For Boys Only? The Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp. 83-84.