Abstract: Illinois Farm Bureau Cooperatives, Knowledge, and Gender

Nancy Berlage


This paper examines service and marketing cooperatives that Illinois Farm Bureau and Home Bureau members organized in the 1910s-1930s. I focus on how the cultural authority of science, knowledge, and professionalism, working in tandem with new sophisticated mechanisms of community organization, served as impetus for cooperative formation. Cooperatives became a site where knowledge flowed back and forth along pathways connecting rural populations to university-trained specialists. The cultural power attached to organization and knowledge fostered innovative ways of doing business. The Farm Bureau Farm Management business cooperatives helped pioneer "modern" methods of farm accounting. Members worked closely with specialists in farm management to develop a system for collecting and using empirical data on farmers' business enterprises, thus contributing to the body of knowledge underpinning the emerging male-dominated field of agricultural economics. Likewise, Home Bureau women participated in poultry marketing cooperatives that developed out of home economics poultry science. While home economics sometimes fostered the notion of women as consumers, in this case, some female members used knowledge to claim a niche in agricultural producuction.