Chicken Woman: Gender and Labor in the Early Arkansas Poultry Industry

Author: ORCID icon
Paschal, Olivia, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

Before chicken became an agricultural commodity raised by the thousands, many rural women oversaw small flocks that provided them with side cash to be spent at their discretion. Scholars of the poultry industry and the postwar rural economy have argued that the industrialization and expansion of the chicken business pushed women out of this traditional role, and that chicken became a man's business. This article traces rural women's changing cultural and economic roles within the newly expanding poultry industry from World War II, the first major period of industry expansion, through roughly the end of the twentieth century. Using the example of Arkansas—by the 1950s a hotspot of chicken production and industry innovation—I argue that many rural farm women were primary managers and laborers on chicken farms long after industrialization and vertical integration. With their knowledge of how to care for chickens and their experience keeping track of farm finances, they were critical participants in the growth of this new sector of American agribusiness. I examine the way that industry, media, and government portrayed gender roles in the production of this booming agricultural commodity. I also discuss women's interactions with a newly capitalized, debt-financed form of agriculture that incentivized large-scale farming in a traditionally small-farm region.

MA (Master of Arts)
united states, arkansas, poultry farming, tyson foods, ozarks, rural women, farm women, debt-financed agriculture, agribusiness
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