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Voices from the Land: An Oral History Project in Iowa

Identifier: IWA0825

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Scope and Contents

"Voices from the Land: An Oral History Project in Iowa" consists of tapes and transcripts of oral histories, photographs, slides, and resource files. The collection is arranged in four series: Oral histories and related papers, Photographs, Slides, and Resource files. The Oral Histories and related papers series is divided into four subseries: Iowa Farm Women in Transition, Tama County Farm Women in Transition, National Farmers Organization Activists, and Women Active During the 1980s Farm Crisis.

The Iowa Farm Women in Transition subseries consists of interviews by Doris Malkmus with women who held key leadership positions in farm organizations from the 1950s through the 1990s, a period when changes in the farm economy radically altered the Iowa landscape and rural communities. Tanya Zanish-Belcher interviewed four women about their responses to the changes in rural life. Transcripts of her interviews with Nancy Bevin and LaVon Griffieon are part of this collection, while tapes of interviews with Bevin, Griffieon, Liz Garst, and Mary Garst are available at the Special Collections Department, Parks Library, ISU.

The Tama County Farm Women in Transition subseries consists of interviews with five women from neighboring farms in Tama County in central Iowa. They shared similar educational and farm backgrounds but responded in very different ways to the new farm economy. An African-American farm woman retired and put much of her land into the Conservation Reserve Program. Her neighbor decided to keep her farming operation small and began selling produce and bakery goods at four local farm markets.  Her sister-in-law became a state legislator in the 1980s, but after being widowed decided to buy and operate a garbage hauling business. One of the women owned a hog confinement operation that employed another of the women.

The final two subseries are the National Farmers Organization Activists and Women Active During the 1980s Farm Crisis. Doris Malkmus interviewed sixteen activists, five women who were members of the National Farmers Organization in the 1960s and eleven Women Active During the 1980s Farm Crisis who were involved in organizations ranging from mental health centers to religious organizations to groups such as PrairieFire Rural Action. The women spoke of their experiences protesting low farm prices and farm foreclosures, but also of their childhoods, families, work roles, and the loss of a rural way of life. The interviews reflect the impact of feminism, the new farm economy, and the decline in rural communities since the first half of the century when the population of rural Iowa was at least double what it is now. They also reveal ways in which women's roles in these struggles changed over the twenty years before and after second wave feminism. The women active in the NFO during the 1960s tended to be wives and mothers whose husbands were supportive of their leadership roles. The 1980s activists were of a different generation and many managed their farms because they were widowed or divorced. Their politics spanned the continuum from left to right. Others had gained a feminist perspective at college, held left-leaning political views, and brought new expectations to family, community, and leadership.

Four interviews on sustainable agriculture area available at Iowa State University are: Marilyn Anderson, a Roland, Iowa, weaver and activist against hog lots; Wende Elliott, who ran an organic livestock operation in Colo, Iowa; Shelley Gradwell, founder of an organic vegetable co-operative that delivers vegetables to shareholders throughout the growing season; and Fred Kirschman, director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.


  • Creation: 2000-2001


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to interviews conducted by Doris Malkmus has been transferred to the University of Iowa. Copyright to interviews conducted by Tanya Zanish-Belcher has been transferred to Iowa State University.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical or Historical Information

"Voices from the Land: An Oral History Project in Iowa" consists of oral histories conducted in 2000 and 2001 by Doris Malkmus, Project Archivist, as part of the Rural Women's Project of the Iowa Women's Archives. The oral history component of the Rural Women's Project was funded by the State Historical Society, Inc., and the Historical Resource Development Program of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Additional interviews, including several on sustainable agriculture, were conducted by Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Head of the Special Collections Department at Parks Library, Iowa State University with funding from a Vision 20/20 grant from the Kellogg Foundation.


18.00 linear inches

8 CDs [d 0203] - [d 0210] shelved with digital media collection boxes

Language of Materials



Oral histories with Iowa farm women conducted as part of the Rural Women's Project of the Iowa Women's Archives.

Method of Acquisition

The materials were donated by narrators through the Voices from the Land oral history project between 2000 and 2001.

Kären Mason
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)