Skip to main content

Stover, Fred W.



  • Existence: 1898-1990


We have a right to be disgusted. We have a right to be depressed and downhearted. But we do not have the right to quit. Knowing what we know, we do not have the right to quit.. --Fred Stover, 1976 Frederick William Stover was born on August 6, 1898, on a farm outside Hampton, Iowa (where he spent the majority of his life). His parents were German immigrants who left their homeland for the United States at the end of the 19th century and settled in northern Iowa on a small rented farm. He was raised in a conservative environment that emphasized the value of family and hard work, and it was in this atmosphere that Stover became committed to the farming life. His family was relatively prosperous until the post-World War I economic depression, which devastated many farm families across the nation. According to Stover, it was in this period that he began to experience an awakened political consciousness. Never made sense to me that the fellow who had the mortgage on our farm could collect his interest every year and that came first; next came taxes. If there was anything left for the family well and good, and if there wasn't, it was just too bad. I think this is where I got my education, where I got my strong beliefs about the evils of interest. Stover's own farm career started in 1924, when he rented 160 acres from his father; over time, his holdings would grow into a 240 acre-property that Stover would manage and identify with for the rest of his life. Stover was active in farm issues from an early age. He was elected township chairman of the Cerro Gordo County Fam Bureau in 1923, and served as county president from 1931-1934. During his tenure as president Stover began to believe that traditional farmer's cooperatives had only limited effectiveness in overcoming the constant problem of insufficient income for famers, and that federal intervention was necessary to solve the farmers' plight and establish a system of economic fairness. This belief led naturally to Stover's lifelong commitment to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's activist federal policies and the programs of the New Deal. In late 1933 Stover's work with the Farm Bureau brought him to the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which hired him as an administrator for the federal Corn-Hog Program in Iowa. We put everything we had into organizing that corn-hog program and those early meetings. When the elected township and county chairmen called a meeting, nearly all farmers came. It was like getting a rebirth of democracy in every township in the land. It was a wonderful thing. And the farmships supported the program. Stover worked for the AAA until 1939, in Iowa and also for a time in both Michigan and Pennsylvania. In 1939 he was called to Washington, D.C. to assist the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation with developing and refining its program of grain storage (the so-called "Ever-Normal Granary") as part of the overall agricultural loan process. Stover was appointed in 1942 to supervise the USDA War Boards (bodies set up in each county and state early in 1942, that were comprised of USDA officials and empowered to supervise agricultural activities) in the 10 states in the North Central region of the United States. He resigned in 1943, and returned to Hampton where he managed the war hemp industries plant there. During his tenure with the War Boards, Stover became interested in the work of the Iowa Farmers Union, a progressive farmers interest organization that was the state branch of the National Farmers Union. One of the reasons for his resignation from the USDA was so that he could return to Iowa and help build up the union there. Although the IFU drew in members from across the political spectrum (including, as Stover put it, "all kinds of right wing dangerous elements" including Milo Reno, who Stover described as a "race-hater, a Red-baiter"), Stover saw a powerful progressive element in the organization that he wanted to support in order to promote "the liberal fight for agriculture." In 1944 he was elected Vice-President of the IFU, and in 1945 succeeded anti-New Dealer O.B. Weber as the union's President. They [the members of the IFU] must choose whether the progressive and comprehensive program of the National Farmers Union and its cooperative programs and dynamic leaders are to receive our effective support as a peoples' movement, or whether individuals and interests hostile to our program are to be permitted to wield a frightening and dictatorial influence...whether we are to appeal to the many thousands of liberal thinking farmers in Iowa, and make definite plans to invite them into our organization and start a strong independent and progressive farm movement in Iowa, or whether we are to appeal to the reactionary type of farmer... -- Fred Stover, March 1, 1945 Stover's tenure at the IFU was stormy and controversial. Stover was an outspoken pro-FDR liberal who originally shared these beliefs and had a positive working relationship with National Farmers Union President James G. Patton. The two both supported the United Nations and a movement towards peace, and opposed a militaristic foreign policy and the increasing international arms race. They both fought to end the disparity of income between farm and industrial economies and to preserve commodity price parity. However, things changed in 1948, with the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. Stover actively supported Wallace and aligned himself politically with the Progressive Party's campaign and platform. (Indeed, Stover was the man who actually put Wallace's name into nomination for President at the Progressive Party's 1948 convention.) This conflicted with Patton's own perception of the Farmers Union as a nonpartisan organization that did not endorse specific candidates. Patton's insistence on a nonpartisan stance angered Stover, who believed Patton and the NFU were, in fact, behaving in a partisan manner against Wallace and against a firm progressive stand. He vowed that he would "not become either a conservative or a luke warm sterile and frightened liberal just to accomodate a few people who have yet to demonstrate that they can and will build the Farmers Union." As Stover led the IFU towards an intensely progressive vision, he came into continued conflict with the liberal, yet more mainstream NFU. 1950 was a crisis year for Stover and the IFU. The Korean War broke out in June of that year, and Patton made the decision to end the NFU's ongoing criticism of an aggressive American foreign policy in order to ensure his organization's continued political influence. In this, the NFU was following the lead of many other liberal organizations that in the early years of the Cold War wanted to deflect charges of being Communist or sympathizing with Communism. The phenomenon of Red-baiting finally touched the NFU and Stover in September 1950, when right-wing Republican Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire publicly charged that Communists had infiltrated and were taking over the NFU. He specifically mentioned that "the president of the organization [the IFU] is F.W. Stover. He has been and still is, so far as I know, one of the leaders of the Communist-dominated Progressive Party." Stover publicly and vehemently denied the charges, stating that "the Iowa Farmers Union is following its own line." Bridges' claims, together with the NFU's new political direction and support of American forces in Korea, created an atmosphere of hostility to Stover. Stover did not help to calm matters. He gave speeches and wrote articles (most notably his 1950 NFU convention speech "Atomic Blessing or Atomic Blasting?") decrying American militarism, claiming that the U.S. was battling in Korea for economic gain rather than to promote democracy and ignoring worldwide calls for peace, and charging that increased military spending was hurting the American economy, especially the agricultural sector. Therefore it became clear that, between Patton's pro-Truman, pro-government stance and Stover's strong belief that to support the war and military spending was to hurt the American farmer and that America's foreign and domestic policies could not be separated, something had to give. From 1951-1954 the NFU struggled with Stover over the future of his leadership of the IFU. The national organization worked secretly to oust Stover from his position. As the Korean War dragged on and Patton's battle with Stover continued, the NFU continued to compromise its earlier political positions by supporting a pro-American role in world affairs, opposing the growth of new farmers' cooperatives and government aid to farmers, and, generally falling into line with the new, more conservative politics of the Cold War. Finally in 1954 the NFU succeeded in revoking the charter of the Iowa Farmers Union (via an underhanded tactic of restructuring membership requirements in order to ensure that the IFU could not meet the minimum). Stover continued, undaunted, to lead the IFU as an independent farmers' group. He faced renewed controversy in early 1954, after former Communist Helen Wood Birnie charged on the February 21 edition of the NBC radio show "Last Man Out" that Stover was a Communist involved with inflitrating American agriculture. Stover denied the allegations, asked the FCC to investigate the program, and sued the broadcasting station, WHO-FM, for libel. He lost the suit, despite the strong lack of any real evidence identifying Stover as a Communist. It was also around this time that Stover began coming under the scrutiny and surveillance of the FBI, an investigation that would stretch for decades and end with no concrete results whatsoever. In 1955 the NFU sued Stover to stop him from using the name "Iowa Farmers Union"or its insiginia. He was unsuccessful in fighting the suit and his old IFU, comprised of members who supported his progressive stance and followed him away from the NFU after his explusion, evolved into two parallel organizations - the Iowa Farmers Association and the U.S. Farmers Association. The latter, Stover's flagship group, adopted the slogan "Peace and Parity" (later "Peace, Parity, and Power to the People"), which reflected Stover's conviction that America's domestic economy and policies and its foreign policies were two sides of the same coin in which one impacted the other. Foreign policy [is] just domestic policy away from home. -- Fred Stover (1965) Stover's last forty post-Farmers Union years were spent promoting the causes of peace, progressivism, and anti-militarism for which he had fought all his life. He never achieved (or, indeed, desired) a position of political influence, although he did receive one vote for nomination as President at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. In the pages of his publication U.S. Farm News he vocally opposed the Vietnam War and other instances of American military intervention, continued to promote parity of agricultural income, and decried what he saw as the inherent immorality and unfairness of the American capitalist economy. A powerfully vocal advocate for the American farmer, Fred Stover died of a stroke in Hampton, Iowa, on July 12, 1990. (The first 4 italicized quotes in this note are taken from Marc Gellar's May 4, 1975 seminar paper "Fred Stover and the Farmers Union in Cold War America" - available in the Papers of Fred Stover administrative file. The last is quoted from Bruce E. Field, Harvest of Dissent: The National Farmers Union and the Early Cold War (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998). )

Author: Jeremy Brett, September 2008

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Fred Stover Papers

Identifier: MsC0165

Hampton, Iowa farm advocate and activist for progressive causes, former head of the Iowa Farmers Union and president of the U.S. Farmers Association. Correspondence, writings, and organizational materials, together with miscellaneous material, documenting his 40 years of political and social activism.

Dates: 1917-1989; 1948-1954