Anna Lea Willits

Honored by:Iowa Farm Bureau Federation
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Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), Iowa’s largest general farm organization, formed in 1918 to give farmers a stronger voice in legislative decisions impacting agriculture and the promotion of Iowa-grown products. Acknowledging that women played a crucial role in leveraging these voices, the Iowa Farm Bureau state board appointed Ella Richardson of Pella to direct women’s activities and charged her with working alongside IFBF State Secretary E. H. Cunningham, in creating the organization’s first State Women’s Committee. This committee, formed in 1922, brought women across the state to Des Moines, where they developed plans to strengthen the involvement of farm women in securing a successful and prosperous agricultural way of life. Their work was described by then-IFBF Vice President C. W. Hunt as “unquestionably the most stabilizing influence in the organization.”

Within their first two years of organization, their work reached 158,000 Iowa women. While their early programs focused on efficiency in daily living, they soon took on the role of working to improve rural health, road safety and building relationships that promote Iowa agriculture.

The importance of their work came to light during WWII, when they were tasked with finding ways to increase egg and milk production to ship overseas to allied countries. During this time, they were also promoting health insurance coverage domestically through county Farm Bureau offices, encouraging the county health nurse program and launching hot lunch programs for schools using surplus commodities.

To connect others to agriculture, the women’s committee also held farm-city dinners in which their urban guests would fill bags with grocery items from Iowa commodity organizations with the explanation that an “hour’s work in a factory buys more food today than ever in history because of an efficient agricultural industry.” The committee also formed relationships across the United States and abroad, sharing not only what they knew about Iowa agriculture, but gaining a better global understanding of the challenges and successes in the ag industry as a whole.

A century later, women have an even greater presence in Iowa Farm Bureau thanks to the pioneering women who served before them. While there is no IFBF “women’s committee” today, the legacy of their work goes on as both men and women in the organization work shoulder to shoulder, serving in leadership roles to further Iowa Farm Bureau’s vision of “agriculture leading a growing and prosperous Iowa.”

Thank you to these former Women’s Committee chairpersons for their inspiring dedication:

Mrs. W.A. Tanner, Linn County, 1920-1922*

Mrs. Sara Elizabeth (Ellsworth) Richardson, Marion County, 1922-1937

Mrs. Ruth (Raymond) Buxton Sayre, Warren County, 1937-1947

Mrs. Amanda “Peg” (Roscoe) Eliason, Louisa County, 1947-1949

Mrs. Marian (C.C.) Inman, Kossuth County, 1950-1956

Mrs. Ester (H.L.) Witmer, Cedar County, 1956-1959

Mrs. Alice (J.S.) VanWert Murray, Franklin County, 1960-1965

Mrs. Thelma (Herbert) Johnson, Floyd County, 1966-1974

Mrs. Charlotte (James) Mohr, Scott County, 1975-1980

Mrs. Anna Lea (Levi) Willits, Hardin County, 1981-1986

Mrs. Carol (Emmet) Messer, Des Moines County, 1987-1992

Mrs. Beverly Schnepel, West Pottawattamie County, 1992-2001

Mrs. Marilyn Poppen, Osceola County, 2001-2004

Beginning in 1984, Barbara Lykins was the Director of Leadership at IFBF, serving as a liaison between the IFBF State Office and IFBF Women’s Committee. She was aided by administrative assistants, Phyllis Whalen and Carol Huff.

*Mrs. W. A. Tanner was asked to take charge of women’s activities on the state level prior to the formal organization of the Iowa Farm Bureau State Women’s Committee.

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation State Women’s Committee Iowa Farm Bureau Federation State Women’s Committee Iowa Farm Bureau Federation State Women’s Committee Iowa Farm Bureau Federation State Women’s Committee Iowa Farm Bureau Federation State Women’s Committee