45 AND COUNTING: State Women's Committee Gets New Name, Familiar Mission
By Darryal Ray
You might say Caroline Batcheldor's office is decorated in Early American Farm Bureau. After all, the boxes, filing cabinets, notebooks and computer disks all testify to more than four decades as secretary-treasurer of the Russell County Farmers Federation.
|Caroline Batcheldor looks over clipping from 1965 edition of Alabama Farm Bureau News announcing formation of State Women's Committee.|
"Can you believe that?" she asks. "And it's a strictly volunteer job! How can they keep anybody that long? I keep waiting for somebody to take it over, but they aren't moving very fast!"
Now, 83, Mrs. Batcheldor is a pioneer of the Alabama Farmers Federation and one of a few surviving members of its first-ever State Women's Committee, an esteemed panel of nine that will mark its 45th year this August with a new name and a familiar mission.
Renamed the Women's Leadership Committee to more closely align itself with its counterparts in the American Farm Bureau Federation, the group will be looking toward its anniversary with a sharpened focus and renewed vigor, says current Chairman Gloria Jeffcoat of the Houston County Farmers Federation.
"It's like I told the men at the state board meeting, 'You know yourselves that the women are a catalyst for leadership in each county,'" said Mrs. Jeffcoat, whose husband George is longtime president of the county Federation. "We can learn a lot from those women on that first committee. We can learn that it's important to be involved, and it's important to follow what you believe in because that's just what they did."
"On Their Way! Farm Bureau Women Organized To Carry On Important Duties" shouted a headline from the Sept. 6, 1965 issue of Alabama Farm Bureau News which reported, "Formal organization of the Alabama Farm Bureau Women's Committee was completed at the group's first meeting at state headquarters Aug. 26-27 in accordance with recommendations made by the 1963-64 Study Committee and approved by the Special Delegates' Session last February."
Further down in the story, President J.D. Hays is quoted as saying, "Farm Bureau from this day is going to be a better organization."
Hays was right on target. Forty-five years later, the significant role women play in the Federation's multi-faceted mission is undeniable.
As Mrs. Batcheldor looks over a yellowed clipping of the group, the faces of the other members stir memories of friendships forged long ago.
"We were very energetic at that time!" Mrs. Batcheldor says with a laugh. "We were vivacious and we were going to do things! We had a good committee. We really did."
Batcheldor says all but three of the original committee members have now passed away. Those included Mrs. Mabel McDole of Limestone County, Mrs. Nell Guthrie of Bullock County, Mrs. Gay Langley of Talladega County, Mrs. Cecil Loyd of DeKalb County, Mrs. D.C. Till Jr. of Lowndes County and Mrs. Leroy Jordan of Marengo County.
The late Mrs. McDole, a member of the committee which spent more than a year studying Farm Bureau programs and services in other states, was appointed first chairman, an office that would later be filled by election. Other members -- one from each Farm Bureau area and two from the state at large -- were all hand-picked by Hays for their leadership potential.
"They chose Mabel McDole because she had been a state Extension homemakers' chairman for several years," recalled 82-year-old Dot Smith, who became chairman of the state's very first county women's committee in Tuscaloosa. "She had been working at the state level, and she knew how to lead the group. Of course, all these women were dedicated. They had to be dedicated to be there. And all of us, except for Mabel, lived on a farm. I think they appointed Mabel because of her leadership qualities and ability. She got right in there and gave it all she had. They were always ready to do something."
One of those members was Alice Gregg of Marion County, another surviving member.
"I had been with this caliber of women when I was with the Extension Service and I was familiar with a lot of them," explained Mrs. Gregg, who accepted the challenge despite having five children at home under age 14. "I felt like it was going to be a success from the very beginning."
She was right.
By May of the following year, Katy Sue Meredith, the first coordinator of women's activities, reported that almost half the state - 30 counties - had begun county women's committees.
A month later, however, the panel faced new challenges when Meredith resigned after getting married and her successor, Peg Meall, left only a few months later.
But once Martha McInnis came aboard as coordinator of women's activities, the women were blazing new trails. Not only did they continue efforts to establish women's committees in each county, but also launched a door-to-door membership campaign aimed to reach 100,000 members (a goal met in September 1967) and kicked off the Political Education and Action Program (PEP).
"I really admired Martha," said Mrs. Gregg. "There wasn't a lazy bone in her. She was ready and willing to go anytime, anywhere."
Of all its accomplishments, however, Ms. McInnis cites Rural Clean-Up Week as the committee's greatest. Launched Nov. 27, 1967, the campaign to rid Alabama's countryside of litter began as a policy recommendation from the Dale County Farmers Federation, but it ultimately resulted in Alabama's establishment of a garbage collection and landfill disposal system -- one of the first in the nation.
"The women did a lot, but that to me was one of the longest-lasting contributions not only to agriculture but to the entire state," said Ms. McInnis, who still resides in Montgomery. Litter was such a problem back then that it had become a public health issue. That was a wonderful program. Because of it, we today have a sanitary landfill law that requires county governing bodies to provide a garbage collection disposal system. That's because of Farm Bureau women! Most people don't know that!"
The program's success also had an unexpected result in the establishment of the non-profit Alabama Environmental Quality Association that McInnis operated from within the Farm Bureau's offices. Eventually, she ended up working for the AEQA full-time. "I never could get away from the garbage," she says with a laugh. "It changed my whole life, my whole life."
Today, Kim Earwood, who follows in McInnis's footsteps as women's director, says many of the group's goals remain the same, including its anti-litter campaign with People Against a Littered State (PALS). "We hope that by introducing new projects,we'll generate more interest from Federation members and assure them that everyone can have a say in spotlighting all of our commodities as well as promoting agriculture."
That's something that Gloria Jeffcoat, as chairman of the new Women's Leadership Committee, also believes in.
"I think it's important that our women step up to the plate and take an active role," she says. "Most of the women I work with have a passion for farming. They enjoy that way of life and want their children and grandchildren to be a part of that. There's longevity in what the women are doing. They are the ones who make things happen."