Coming of Age: Young Women and FFA

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

High school can be a challenging time for teens. Much as they do today, young men and women throughout the 20th century wrestled with identity, education, and social status during their teenage years. For young women in the 20th century, changes in the way people thought about gender and equality greatly impacted their experience. Documenting those changes for teens is an important aspect of telling a larger story about the changing roles of women in the 20th century. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has found an interesting way to tell that story through its agricultural collection.

The story of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) jacket once worn by Louise Rogers (now Mary Louise Reynnells) explores teenage life, high school, and how a national organization changed with the times. The museum collected the jacket because it symbolizes a large youth membership group—the National FFA Organization—and because its distinctive white color evokes decades of debate over women’s role in society.

As seen in this 1928 photo from the founding meeting of the Future Farmers of America, membership was male. Two years later, the group formally excluded membership of young women.

The Future Farmers of America, founded in 1928, is a national school-based organization that offers students in grades seven through 12 structure and purpose. In 1998 the group changed its name to the National FFA Organization, or FFA for short. More than just agricultural learning, participation in the FFA gives teens independence and membership in a supportive group. Being in the FFA is, as alumna Gina Whiteman describes, an “opportunity to grow as individuals.”