Singing Farm Women of Rural Indiana (1934-2009). A Depression Era Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Nominated for the 2012 Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize
In this book the author depicts the lives of rural farm women who travelled through the countryside singing songs. The choral group has lasted over seventy years and this catalogues through archival material, interviews, and scrapbooks kept by the women themselves, the life of this Depression Era Program. What began in the 1930’s has grown out of obscurity into an inter-state travelling music organization inspiring many offshoots.

It is about the role music can play in someone’s life and the camaraderie and social interaction that come with ensemble participation. It is also about the life experiences that can come through travelling and singing. This book catalogues the lives of choirs who travelled through Indiana farmland during the Great Depression to raise people’s spirits in tough times. Most of the work has been preserved through scrapbooking among the families that were involved. There is also a lengthy discussion of the influential minister Al Stewart who was instrumental in organizing the choruses.


“This choir of farm women is certainly a story that has not been told, and Dr. Pohly offers a detailed description of their process and product and what it holds for the future. This will be a unique addition to the historiography of rural Midwestern farm women.”

-Prof. Lisa L. Ossian,
Des Moines Area Community College

“Pohly does a thorough and masterful job discussing the songs that became staples of choral performances over the years…the research is prodigious and exhaustive…especially impressive is the use of archival sources.”

-Prof. Anthony O. Edmonds,
Ball State University

“This history is the description of creativity, independence, leadership, exploration, empowerment, and transformation of rural women over 75 tumultuous and defining years.”

-Prof. April C. Mason,
Kansas State University

Table of Contents

Foreword by April C. Mason
Chapter 1: The Foundations
Historical Introduction
Agricultural Organizations in America and the Birth of “Extension”
Farming in Indiana in the Early Twentieth Century and Extension Services for Farm Women
Extension, the Arts, and Music

Chapter 2: “Better Music for Rural Indiana”: A Simple Idea Blossoms and Evolves
Tippecanoe and Al, too: The Choir Program Begins
The Program Blossoms in the 1940’s and 50’s
The Program Evolves as do American Women’s Lives
The End of the “Stewart” Era and the March Towards the Twenty-First Century

Chapter 3: Al Stewart: The Man and His Vision
Albert P. Stewart
The Indiana Home Demonstration Chorus Workshops
Stewart’s Connections to Related Music Programs
Stewart’s Legacy
A Reminiscence

Chapter 4: Singing on the Road
Introduction: Tippecanoe County Leads the Way
The Nation’s Capital, Once and Again
Toronto, Twice
Europe 1953
Sunny Los Angeles and Sunny Florida
Headed West: Portland
Major Travelling Comes to an End

Chapter 5: Home Demonstration Chorus Activities in Individual Indiana Counties
Fulton County
Marshall County
Parke County
Porter County
Rush County
Tippecanoe County
Other County Vignettes

Chapter 6: Music of the Extension Choirs
Introduction and Song-of-the-Month Program
Newly Composed Extension Music
Music for Indiana State Chorus
Music of the Indiana County Choruses
Assessment and Evaluation
The Author’s Personal Observations

Chapter 7: Extension and Rural Music in Other States

Chapter 8: Revitalization in Indiana in the New Millenium and “The Coda”
A New Energy and a New Face
The Coda – Summary, Assessment, and Analysis

A. Program Name Changes
B. A Tribute: The Reason We Sing by Jon Renard
Books and Monographs
Journals, Magazines, Newpapers, Pamphlets, Newsletters
Archives, Memorabilia, Scrapbooks, Miscellaneous Collections Interviews, Emails, Letters


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