Since the beginning, women have been a part of the rich history of agriculture and pork production. Whether they are caring for animals, operating feed mills, completing groundbreaking research or fighting for our industry on Capitol Hill, there is not a section of modern agriculture that has been untouched – or unimproved – by women. Today, we’re shedding some light on an important, but lesser-known, part of the Pork Council’s history: the Porkettes.
To support and promote the work of pig farmers, state pork associations began forming throughout the United States during the mid-1900’s. (Read about how the NCPC incorporated in 1962.) Although these associations were important to pig farmers at the time, membership and leadership positions in these associations were exclusive to men.
In an effort for their work to extend past their own barns, the wives of Iowa pig farmers gathered in December of 1963 to incorporate what would become a women’s auxiliary group known as the Porkettes. The Porkettes supported the work of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and promoted pork through primarily “feminine” activities. Endeavors included hosting Pork Queen contests, introducing pork into the curriculum of their local home economics classrooms, and distributing promotional materials. The group would gain popularity, and eventually other state associations established Porkettes chapters of their own to support national efforts. (Read more about the Iowa Porkettes)
The North Carolina Porkettes
On February 14, 1972, 40 women met at the Hilton Inn in Raleigh to officially form the North Carolina chapter of the Porkettes. The purpose of the NC Porkettes (in accordance with the National Porkettes Association) was to support the pork industry in three ways:
- Protect and improve the image of pork.
- Promote increased consumption of pork products.
- Provide consumer information concerning today’s pork.
Members of the Porkettes were expected to be active, as is mentioned in the North Carolina Porkettes Handbook. These women took their efforts to improve the perception of pork in the state very seriously, and quickly got to work on making these goals a reality.
As written by Leatrice Stephenson, the first vice president of the North Carolina chapter, their goals were to “promote pork, educate our school children and give out information to consumers.” In May of 1972, the Porkettes hosted the North Carolina Pork Queen Contest, an effort to find a polished and effective spokeswoman for the industry. These women were expected to be a catalyst in the group’s efforts to promote pork across the state. The NC Porkettes attended conferences, promoted pork at the North Carolina State Fair, and even judged barbecue cookoffs.
The Porkettes and the Women’s Movement
As the role of women began to change throughout the sixties and seventies, so did the role of the Porkettes. The abilities of these farm wives and daughters to promote and market agricultural commodities expanded far beyond the historically feminine tasks they began with. The Porkettes had grown to manage chapter budgets, operate large-scale advertising campaigns and began to market pork arguably more successfully than the men in their industry.
As the group grew, their promotional and educational efforts led them further away from their rural areas and they found it was hard to initiate conversation in cities and Washington DC when the name Porkettes arose. In 1985, the group moved to change their name to the National Pork Council Women (NPCW). The North Carolina chapter would also reflect the name change, becoming the North Carolina Pork Council Women (NCPCW).
With a new name and a desire to be taken seriously in an industry dominated by men, the NCPCW attended national training sessions to become effective spokeswomen for the industry, increased their educational efforts about pork nutrition, and assisted the North Carolina Pork Producers Association (renamed the North Carolina Pork Council in 1997) at events such as the North Carolina State Fair and barbecue competitions.
In January of 1993, the NCPCW merged with the NCPPA, gaining leadership roles and voting rights within the organization. With the remaining funds left in the NCPCW’s accounts, the group elected to put them towards a statue as a “permanent artistic tribute to farmwomen’s roles in the advancement of pork production.” This statue, known as “Feeding Time” can be found in the NCPC office.
NCPC and Women Today
Although the Porkettes’ name may have now been forgotten by most, the roads paved by these leaders surely have not. Through the leadership of these women in agriculture, a seat at the table was made for women in an industry once completely dominated by men. The efforts of the Porkettes and the NCPCW have made it possible for women such as Deborah Johnson (first female CEO of NCPC), Jan Archer (former NCPC Board Member and former NPB President) and Lorenda Overman (Immediate Past President of NCPC Board) to hold agricultural leadership roles in our state and beyond. Today, a third of the board of directors is filled by women.
The North Carolina Pork Council Archives – The Porkettes Scrapbook
Terri M. Smith, North Carolina Pork Council