At the beginning of the 20th century, social reformers grew concerned about rural life. Some felt farmers could learn techniques that would improve their farms’ production, make farming more profitable, and alleviate rural poverty. Others were concerned about the number of young people who were leaving rural areas for the city, which the reformers believed was dangerous to life and morals.
In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which authorized the use of federal funds to help states provide county agricultural agents to help farmers apply the scientific techniques of farming and animal husbandry developed at the university agricultural experiment stations. The Smith-Lever Act led to the development of 4-H clubs that taught better farming and homemaking skills to farm kids, Extension Clubs that taught homemaking skills and provided social activities for farm women, and teaching sessions that showed farmers how to increase their crop yields.
In 1915, Saline County farmers met to form an organization to work with the county agent for education and socialization. This group became the basis of the Missouri Farm Bureau, an organization dedicated to representing the economic interests of farmers and ranchers and improving rural communities.
In 1919, farmers from 30 states met in Chicago to form the American Farm Bureau. By the end of the year, 31 states had joined the national organization. The group hoped their members could “secure the benefits of unified efforts in a way which could never be accomplished through individual effort.”
In mid-December 1919, the Sedalia Democrat announced a mass meeting of farmers sponsored by the Pettis County Farm Bureau. President M. D. Norton had arranged for several speakers to address what he hoped would by a large crowd interested in improving economic conditions for farmers. What the group actually resolved was an interesting aspect of Farm Bureau’s goals.
One of the speakers was to be Howard Leonard, a prominent farmer in Eureka, Ill. He had worked to organize farmers in Illinois. He was to speak about Farm Bureau work in that state.
Another speaker was to be E. J. Trosper, Secretary of the National Livestock Shippers Association, who was to talk about the benefits of farmers shipping their own livestock. Members of the NLSA stationed representatives at stockyards to be sure animals were fed and watered while waiting to be shipped and that they were properly weighed. Farmers attending the meeting would discuss shipping their own livestock.
The meeting was a success; 250 Pettis County farmers attended. Local mule breeder L. M. Monsees presided over the morning session. He introduced O. J. Lloyd of the Federal Land Bank in St. Louis, who told attendees “How to Get Loans Through the Federal Land Banks.”
In the afternoon, Norton presided. He introduced Leonard and a second speaker, Roy Rucker of Sheridan County who spoke about farm organizations.
During the meeting, the group discussed an issue involving community improvement. The county courthouse, which had been built in 1884, was in disrepair. The Grand Jury that met in November noted that the courthouse lacked an adequate meeting hall for large groups and adequate office space for the county juvenile officer, welfare officer, farm agent, collector, and school superintendent.
The Pettis County Farm Bureau, as “farmers and taxpayers of Pettis County,” approved a resolution that approved the Grand jury’s report and “heartily endorsed” the efforts of the Circuit Court and County Commission to improve the courthouse. A copy of the resolution was to be given to the county clerk.
Repairs to the courthouse did begin in 1920. Unfortunately, during work on the roof, a fire started and the courthouse burned to the ground. It would take four years for the county taxpayers to approve the building of a new courthouse.