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First lady of the farm

By Staff | Sep 15, 2017

Dr. Abby Dubisar, Humanities Iowa program speaker, listens as Shirley Yungclas, a member of both the Associated Countries of Women of the World and Master Farm Homemaker, describes her visit to an international ACWW conference in England. Yungclas is also active in the Iowa Farm Bureau Farm Women group.



WEBSTER CITY – The Kendall Young Library in Webster City was the site of a presentation on Ruth Buxton Sayre, an Iowan who spent a lifetime educating and promoting women.

The Humanities Iowa-sponsored presentation was held Sept. 7.

Titled Farm Women as Global Citizens: Post-WWII Authority of the First Lady of the Farm, the presentation was given by Dr. Abby Dubisar, an assistant professor of English at Iowa State University.

It focused on Sayre’s lifetime of work educating and promoting women as “worldwide peace influencers through agriculture.”

Dubisar said Sayre shared a farm woman’s point of view through her newspaper columns and a series for the agriculturally-focused magazine “Farm Journal.”

The titles of Sayre’s articles “The Homemaker as a Citizen” and “Trouble in the Land of the Pyramids” reflect months traveling the Middle East, England, Africa, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, India and Scandinavian countries, where she educated first herself, and then others, to empower and encourage women worldwide.

Sayre was recognized by President Dwight Eisenhower as a leader in agriculture by a seat on the National Agricultural Advisory Commission, the only woman in that group.

Her work with women and agriculture was honored by multiple entities, including Farm Bureau, Iowa State University and her alma mater, Simpson College, in Indianola.

Sayre graduated from Simpson College with a degree in German.

According to Dubisar, Sayre planned to teach German, until those language classes were stopped due to America’s entry into World War II.

She married her Simpson classmate, Alonzo Sayre, and joined him on a farm near New Virginia.

According to Dubisar, Sayre was dissatisfied with farm living conditions and began speaking and traveling locally to encourage women to improve their living conditions.

Sayre raised four children, and would often take them with her on her speaking engagements.

Dubisar said Sayre was nationally-known s the “Farm Wife” column author from Iowa by the more than half a million “Farm Journal” readers every monthly.

After her husband died, Dubisar’s writing focused on the transition from farm wife to women farmers.

Dubisar said Sayre encouraged women to accept leadership positions, improve living conditions on their farms and challenge women’s power as consumers to women as “power citizens.”

Sayre’s later speeches included asking women to investigate the conditions where food was produced and to use food as a starting place to tackle world problems, such as poverty and inequality.

Dubisar said Sayre’s tireless devotion to improve world citizenship among farm people inspired her to start an international group called Associated Country Women of the World.

While serving as its president, Sayre traveled the world and spoke to thousands of farm women internationally.

Sayre died in 1980 at the age of 84.

Humanities Iowa, which sponsored the presentation, serves over 250,000 Iowans with programming and projects, such as the Speakers Bureau and Library Reading and Discussion Series.

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