Farmers’ Clubs developed during the mid-1800s, with later champions like Joseph B. Killebrew in Tennessee and Leonidas Lafayette Polk in North Carolina. Both men were journalists and used their publications to promote their ideas on rural collectivism and agricultural education. Farmers’ Clubs laid the groundwork for agrarian reform societies such as the Grange, the Agricultural Wheel, and the Farmers’ Alliance.
Around the same time Joseph Buckner Killebrew was hired by Nashville's Union and American to travel through Tennessee organizing Farmers’ Clubs and simultaneously selling subscriptions to the paper. Killebrew promoted education and scientific agriculture while encouraging social reform through collective organization. Killebrew grew in prominence and was appointed to be the state's first commissioner of agriculture, immigration, statistics, and mines. In 1871, Nashville hosted the first meeting of the National Agricultural Congress of delegates from 11 states and 40 agricultural and mechanical associations.
North Carolina farmer, entrepreneur, and editor Leonidas Lafayette Polk also utilized the concept of Farmers’ Clubs as grassroots societies, encouraging the integration of science into agricultural education. Polk promoted the clubs in his newspaper, the Progressive Farmer. Polk's vision for Farmers’ Clubs was to develop a collective community while educating farmers on the latest scientific and agricultural techniques. He also urged members to lobby legislators for reform so that farmers could achieve the same economic success as their counterparts in industry and manufacturing. The clubs often met in schools, and they gained popularity during through the 1880s. Polk's commitment to education was instrumental in developing Raleigh's College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as North Carolina State University.
By the late 1880s, farmers became less interested in education and agricultural science and more concerned with realizing fundamental economic change. Farmers’ Clubs fell out of favor as their members turned to more politically active organizations such as the Farmers’ Alliance in the hopes of seeing real legislative social and economic reform.
Carla W. Garner
See also: Agricultural Newspapers and Farmer Unrest ; Agricultural Wheel ; Granger Movement ; Polk, Leonidas L. (1937–1892) ; The Press and Populism
Ayers, Edward L. The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Buck, Solon J. The Granger Movement: A Study of Agricultural Organization and Its Political, Economic and Social Manifestations, 1870–1880. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963.
Hunt, James Logan. Marion Butler and American Populism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Lester, Connie L. Up from the Mudsills of Hell: The Farmers’ Alliance, Populism, and Progressive Agriculture in Tennessee, 1870–1915. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.
Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.