Kellie, Luna (1857–1940)

Luna Elizabeth Sanford Kellie represented many of the rural men and women who were drawn to the Farmers’ Alliance of the 1880s, the forerunner of the People's Party of the 1890s, as they struggled with the harsh conditions associated with farming throughout the South and Midwest. Kellie rose to prominence in the Nebraska Farmers’ Alliance for her stirring speech, “Stand Up for Nebraska,” at the January 1894 meeting of the Nebraska Farmers’ Alliance. The speech expressed her “mid-road” politics as she and a minority of other Nebraska Populists rejected fusion with the Democratic Party. She served as state secretary for the Alliance and published a weekly newspaper until 1901. Although Kellie lived until 1940, she had left Populist politics by the early 1900s, a disillusioned woman.

Luna Elizabeth Sanford Kellie was born on June 9, 1857, in Pipestone, Minnesota, one of five children born to James and Martha Sanford. The Sanfords moved around, with stays in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and eventually St. Louis, Missouri. Kellie attended a girls’ seminary when the family lived in Rockford, Illinois. In St. Louis, Kellie's mother died in a malarial typhoid outbreak. There, Kellie also met her father's foreman on the Northern Pacific railroad bridge, James Thomas Kellie, a Canadian immigrant. They were married in 1874 and followed her father and his new wife to homestead in Nebraska in 1875. It was as farmers living first in Adams County and eventually in Kearney County, Nebraska, that the Kellies became staunch Farmers’ Alliance members as they struggled to support themselves and their family of 11 living children.

Along with her duties as secretary, Kellie played a major role in regional Populism with the publication of her weekly newspaper, Prairie Home, from 1896 to 1901. Kellie wrote, edited, and published the Prairie Home from her farm located near Minden, Nebraska, with the help of her entire family, most particularly her daughter Jessie. The paper reprinted articles from other Populist presses and contained articles written by notables of the day, including Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and socialist Edward Bellamy. As the state's Populist politics began to fail, so too did interest in Kellie's weekly. With the sale of the press, Kellie retired from politics, refusing even to vote once women gained that right in 1920.

The Kellies’ experiences represented the typical participation of midwesterners in the Farmers’ Alliance, even if the family was a part of the minority of Nebraskans who did not support fusion with the Democratic Party. Kellie's involvement in the state party, both as a speaker and later as the state secretary, demonstrated the inclusive nature of the Farmers’ Alliance with respect to women's political participation. Although Kellie changed her stance on woman suffrage, eventually supporting the National Farmers’ Alliance position opposing female enfranchisement, the Alliance recognized her political activities, even nominating her as the Populist candidate for public instruction on the state ticket. Her nomination had been forwarded by Omaha labor unions as a respected party member who would attract voters. In her speech, “Stand Up for Nebraska,” Kellie reminded her fellow Populists that all were working for industrial freedom. Along with her activities in the Farmers’ Alliance, Kellie supported temperance and the Methodist Church. She died on March 4, 1940, in Phoenix, Arizona. She is buried in Heartwell, Nebraska.

Amy M. Hay

See also: Middle-of-the-Road Populists ; People's Party ; Plains and Midwest, Populism in the ; The Press and Populism ; Powers, John H. (1831–1918) ; Timber Culture Act (1873)


Kellie, Luna. A Prairie Populist: The Memoirs of Luna Kellie. Edited by Jane Nelsen Taylor. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.

Ostler, Jeffrey. Prairie Populism: The Fate of Agrarian Radicalism in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, 1880–1892. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1993.