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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Howard, James Raley
(March 24, 1873–January 27, 1954)

–farm leader and first president of the Marshall County [Iowa] Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the American Farm Bureau Federation—was the first of three children born to Henry and Rhoda Jane Howard. Reared on the family farm near Clemons in Marshall County, Howard learned the value of hard work on his father's 160-acre farm. Educated in a one-room schoolhouse, young Howard took his education seriously and contemplated leaving the farm for an urban life. After attending Iowa College (now Grinnell College) for a year, he transferred to William Penn College, earning a B.A. in 1894 and an M.A. in 1897.

    Howard briefly taught at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then at the University of North Carolina, specializing in economics. During a quick trip to Iowa, he married Anna Pickerell. They spent their honeymoon in Chicago, where Howard enrolled in the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature. After two semesters, he returned to Iowa, serving as a bank cashier and a school principal until his father's death.

    Upon the death of his father in 1912, Howard inherited 240 acres of Iowa farm ground and entered farming full scale. Through careful management and decades of applied labor, he managed to build "Homelands" into a farm of 488 acres on which he raised hogs, corn, cattle, and lambs.

    Howard, with his interest in education and economics, soon found himself involved in the local soil improvement association, the forerunner of county farm bureau federations. He was a founding member and first president of the organization in Marshall County. In the aftermath of World War I, as farmer pondered their place in a world that no longer held them in the highest esteem, Howard gathered with approximately 30 colleagues in Marshalltown in December 1918 to form the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF). Howard was elected to serve as the first president of the organization. Issues facing the new president included building membership, representing the needs of Iowa farmer before the state and federal legislatures, and addressing President Woodrow Wilson on the problems plaguing farmer in a postwar economy: low prices and low demand for agricultural commodities, high interest rates, and the dubious value of daylight saving time.

    Within the states' farm bureaus, Howard's star rose rapidly. At a meeting in Ithaca, New York, in early 1919, he, along with other state leaders, met to contemplate a national farm bureau. They determined to meet again in the fall. Howard worked in the interim to develop a constitution and bylaws for the potential organization, modeling them upon ones he had prepared for the IFBF. Meeting in Chicago in the autumn, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) came into existence. Howard was elected its first president. Howard's term as president was one of considerable challenge. Not only did farm conditions continue to decline, with prices plummeting, interest rates climbing, and foreclosures mounting, but the position of the American farmers. in the public's eye deteriorated. No longer was the farmer viewed as the Jeffersonian ideal, but rather as a backward hayseed keeping America from its full potential.

    Beyond working with legislators to prepare legislation on the control of packers and stockers, the legalization of interstate cooperatives, the development of midrange credit facilities, and the supervision of grain traders, Howard worked to elevate the image of the farmer He urged farmer to counter the backward-looking image that they had acquired in the public's eye by educating themselves on matters of production and issues related to economics and cooperative action, and, most important, to develop an image of themselves as professionals who had the right to petition Congress for redress of ills and benefit of position, just as any other organized branch of business did.

    His labors started the AFBF on solid ground. Some 320,000 members joined in its first year alone. They tended to be the wealthier, more conservative sort of farmer who realized that to compete in the modern business world, the ways of agriculture must change.

    Following his two-year term, Howard returned to Homelands for the life of an Iowa farmer Despite offers to become the president of South Dakota State College, to hold a seat on the Federal Reserve's board of governors, and to head the National Transportation Institute, Howard stayed true to himself, participating in local farm bureau activities but never again holding office within the organization.

    Howard died at dawn on January 27, 1954. He was survived by his widow, three sons, and one daughter.
Sources Howard's personal papers are, for the most part, archived in Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames. See also D. B. Groves and Kenneth Thatcher, The First Fifty: History of the Farm Bureau in Iowa (1968); and Robert P. Howard, James R. Howard and the Farm Bureau (1983).
Contributor: Kimberly K. Porter