By Dr. M. Susie Whittington
The Ohio State University
During National FFA Week, it is with gratefulness that I briefly reflect on an historical aspect of my high school FFA experience during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
As has been recorded in our FFA history, women were voted into membership in the FFA in 1969, so my agricultural science teachers in the early 1970s at Benjamin Logan High School in Zanesfield, Ohio, unlike many Vo-ag teachers of the time, were immediate adopters of the new membership policies…but, I never knew any of that at the time; I didn’t process the timeline, nor understand the political maneuvering of the membership vote, until many years later. What I now understand and appreciate, however, is that I had four male agricultural science teachers in the 1970s, who played no gender favorites, who expected the same quality productivity from every student no matter their gender, and who saw potential in me that I had not yet seen in myself.
I also now understand, because my life revolves on a daily basis around developing the best agricultural science teachers that The Ohio State University can prepare, that Mr. Bill Conklin, Mr. Jim Barnes, Mr. Harmon Conrad, and Mr. Paul Case, my agricultural science teachers, were well-educated in teaching methodologies, were excellent FFA advisors, and cared deeply about students.
My dad was a high school vocational agriculture student and FFA member at Rushsylvania High School in Ohio, under Mr. Ralph Bergman, a highly respected teacher, state-wide. I recall, my entire life, hearing my dad quote and reference Mr. Bergman with much pride, respect, and awe in his voice and in his actions. So, it was no surprise, when my oldest brother approached high school age, that my factory-worker father, would move our family to a small farm, so my brothers could be agriculture students and FFA members.
During the mid-to-late 1960s, when my older brothers’ Vo-ag teachers brought their FFA General Livestock judging team to our farm to practice their livestock selection skills, I remember thinking, “Judging seems really cool. I think I’ll do that when I’m an FFA member.” I had no idea that during those years, girls weren’t allowed to be FFA members, so I couldn’t have been a member of the FFA General Livestock judging team at that time. Nor had I processed, each year, when my dad and brothers brought home the program from the annual “FFA Father and Son Banquet”, that it was titled that because girls weren’t allowed to be FFA members. All I remember was pouring through that program and seeing awards like, “Star Greenhand” and “State Farmer Degree” and thinking, “I’m going to win those!”
Thankfully for me, in 1969, a vote, albeit fueled by government intervention, made it possible for me, and generations of women after me, to experience first-class leadership development through FFA. More importantly, to me, however, the vote opened the door necessary for women to pursue fulfilling careers as teachers of Agricultural Science Education. I, and thousands of women after me, are, indeed, grateful.