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Stover, Frederick William
(August 6, 1898–July 12, 1990)

—farmer, farm leader, and political dissenter—was born and raised on a farm near Sheffield, Iowa. Although he did not go to high school, he eventually attended Hamilton Commercial College in Mason City, Iowa. Stover was active in Robert La Follette's 1924 independent presidential campaign, a move that proved a harbinger of things to come. As his German immigrant father had, Stover joined the Farm Bureau and served as president of the Cerro Gordo County bureau in the early 1930s. He soon became a strong supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and never wavered from that support for the rest of his life. For several years, he served as a field man for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) corn-hog program in north-central Iowa. Later he took a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., which he kept until 1943, when he returned to Iowa.

    The official reason Stover returned was to manage a U.S. government hemp plant in Hampton, Iowa, but at least part of his motivation was to work with the Iowa Farmers Union. He was elected vice president of the organization in 1944 and reelected the following year, and became president a few months later. Repeatedly reelected, he continued to serve as president of that organization or another Iowa-based farm group until his death in 1990. The Iowa Farmers Union had been a large organization in the 1920s and early 1930s, but by the time Stover became involved, its membership had dropped to a few thousand.

    Under his leadership, the Iowa union was closely aligned with the pro-New Deal orientation of national president James G. Patton. In the 1945-1947 era, the National Farmers Union promoted New Deal-type reforms on the domestic front and the continuation of good relations with the Soviet Union. Patton and others often were critical of the Truman administration, particularly of what they perceived as a "get-tough" foreign policy. When Henry A. Wallace bolted the Democratic Party largely on foreign policy grounds and launched a third-party campaign for the presidency in 1948, Stover was among the first to endorse the move. Patton and other key liberal leaders were much more cautious and avoided an open break with the Democratic Party. They were unhappy with Truman, but saw the third-party venture as impractical and harmful to the liberal cause. Stover was selected to give the nominating speech for Wallace at the Progressive Party convention in Philadelphia and took an active part in the campaign. Two years later he denounced U.S. entry into the Korean War, provoking a severe response in Farmers Union circles. Patton and others attempted to oust Stover as president in 1950. When such efforts failed, they took steps to remove the Iowa organization's charter, which ultimately was accomplished in 1954.

    After a series of court battles, the Stover-led group changed its name to the Iowa Farmers Association and formed the U.S. Farmers Association (USFA), which published a monthly newspaper, the U.S. Farm News. Stover maintained a small group of loyal followers in Iowa and attracted support from sympathizers in other states as well. Although Stover was well informed on farm issues, much of his following was attracted by his foreign policy views. Critics denounced him as a Communist, and he had lost a 1954 lawsuit against NBC for a radio broadcast that portrayed him as a Communist Party member in the early 1930s. There is no credible evidence that he ever was a Communist. In the 1930s he had been a member of the Farm Bureau, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records indicate that the Communist Party was upset with Stover in the 1950s and sought to prevent its members from following his lead. He himself became disgusted with the party because it dropped its support for the Progressive Party by the mid 1950s.

    Stover remained a critic of a Cold War liberalism that supported the Trumandoctrine, U.S. involvement in the Korean War, and eventually the Vietnam War. He and his organization enjoyed a revival of sorts in the late 1960s as a consequence of his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke on college campuses and participated in antiwar rallies. By that time, the USFA was less a farm organization and more a forum for dissenters on U.S. foreign policy and other issues, including the Palestinian question; the masthead of U.S. Farm News read: "Peace, Parity and Power to the People."In the late 1970s and early 1980s the organization attracted the attention of farm activists, some of whom would play a key role in the farm crisis of the 1980s. Many of them ultimately left the USFA but continued to work with other groups, including the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, PrairieFire, and the North American Farm Alliance. Stover died at age 91 and was buried in Sheffield, Iowa.
Sources For additional reading, see Biographical Sketch of Fred Stover (1985); William C. Pratt, "The Farmers Union and the 1948 Henry Wallace Campaign," Annals of Iowa 49 (1988), 349–70; William C. Pratt, "The Farmers Union, McCarthyism, and the Demise of the Agrarian Left," Historian 58 (1996), 329– 42; Bruce E. Field, "The Price of Dissent: The Iowa Farmers Union and the Early Cold War, 1945–1954," Annals of Iowa 55 (1996), 1–23; and Bruce E. Field, Harvest of Dissent: The National Farmers Union and the Early Cold War (1998).
Contributor: William C. Pratt