The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Hearst, Charles Ernest
(October 18, 1869–March 8, 1936)

–farm leader, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation president (1923-1936), and American Farm Bureau Federation vice president (1931-1936)—was one of seven children born to James Hearst, a farmer, and Maria (Dane) Hearst. Reared on the family farm—Maplehearst–just southwest of Cedar Falls, Iowa, Hearst did not immediately seek the life of a farmer, his stern, taskmaster father having worked the pleasures of farm living out of the boy. Rather, Hearst attended the Iowa State Normal School in Cedar Falls for a two-year course, then he taught rural school for a single year before assuming control of the family's 350-acre farm.

    A progressive farmer, Hearst encouraged planting alfalfa, testing for bovine tuberculosis, vaccinating against hog cholera, and liming the soil. Working with the county extension agent, Hearst labored to improve the quality of farm life for men, women, and children. He urged, for example, that the textbooks used by farm children reflect their worlds, including the introduction of story problems based on cooperative marketing into mathematics textbooks.

    In 1912 he joined with neighbors to form the Black Hawk County Crop Improvement Association, soon to be known as the Black Hawk County Farm Bureau. The organization was only the third of its kind in the state, and Hearst was its president until he was elected the vice president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) in 1920. Hearst became president of the IFBF in 1923.

    Hearst's term of office coincided with the onset of the agricultural depression of the 1920s and its continuation into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Throughout his years in office, Hearst sought a variety of solutions to the farmer' difficulties. Initially focusing his efforts on educational endeavors associated with agricultural extension, Hearst later came to embrace cooperative enterprises in his attempt to restore World War I-era farm prosperity.

    As the agricultural crisis deepened, Hearst turned from his traditional reticence toward government intervention in the economy to support such endeavors as Federal Land Banks, tariff reform, and the McNary—Haugen bills propounded by his friend George M. Peek. Indeed, throughout the latter portion of the 1920s, Hearst exhausted himself speaking, writing, and lobbying in favor of Peek's "Equity for Agriculture" on both the state and national levels. Simultaneously, he helped to squelch radical elements bent on violence and destruction on the farm scene.

    In 1928 Hearst supported Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden for the Republican nomination for president, finding in him a candidate more attuned to the needs of agriculture than fellow Iowan Herbert Hoover. At the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Hearst served as Lowden's floor manager. With the stampede to nominate Hoover, Lowden fell by the wayside, as did Hearst's dream of a presidency supportive of farmer

    Hearst's efforts to improve the lot of the nation's agriculturalists did not go unnoticed. Although he rejected the call to run as a Republican for governor of Iowa, he did not turn down the American Farm Bureau Federation's vice presidency in 1931. In that office, he continued to work for the benefit of agriculture, albeit with a sense that the Hoover years offered little promise for the thousands he represented.

    In 1932, as vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Hearst interviewed both Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt to determine their stands on farm conditions. He returned from the experience bewildered and angry. Hoover had told him that farmer should pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, as he had done. Roosevelt, on the other hand, commiserated with Hearst, promising to find solutions to the problems facing farmer Hearst's sons strongly suspected that their father, a lifelong Republican, voted for Roosevelt that year. The Hearst family participated in a number of New Deal initiatives over the course of the 1930s in an effort to maintain their beloved Maplehearst.

    Hearst's health failed in 1935, leading him in January 1936 to resign his offices in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the American Farm Bureau Federation. He died in March of that year. He was survived by his wife, Katherine, as well as three children, including the poet and memoirist James Schell Hearst.
Sources Charles E. Hearst's family material is archived at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, while his business correspondence is at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Des Moines. For a family perspective on Hearst, see James Hearst, Time Like a Furrow (1981).
Contributor: Kimberly K. Porter