College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Michael Davis


Agricultural History, Cooperatives, Nonpartisan League, Populism, American Society of Equity, Farm Organizations


Agriculture | History


The late 19th century marked a golden age for farmers’ movements in the United States. Crushing debt, deflation, increased urbanization, and industrial acceleration generated much discontent in America’s agricultural communities, and unleashed “a Populist moment” of farmer protest and organization. While the early 20th century witnessed significant economic improvement, farm organizations continued to operate and, in some cases, even thrived. Established in 1902 by seed merchant and newspaper editor James A. Everitt of Indiana, the American Society of Equity was one of the first major farmer’s movements founded in the twentieth century and helped to spread the concept of cooperative action to farmers across the nation. Everitt believed farmers and their interests represented “the Third Power” in the American economy and that by organizing they could become more powerful than labor or industry. By 1906, the Equity reported almost three thousand local unions including unions in almost every state as well as nearly two hundred county unions and thirteen state unions. Internal division and outside pressures, however, contributed to the organization’s decline into the 1910s. By the 1920s, the Equity—while continuing to exist in some regions— faded as a national force. Outside of a flurry of scholarship in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Equity achieves only brief mentions in the histories of its successors, suffering from a lack of dedicated scholarship. By examining Everitt and the rise and decline of the Equity, the original research compiled here seeks to bridge the agrarian movements the late nineteenth century with the origins of modern farm organizations in the Midwest.