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HISTORY TOPICS

Farmer-Labor Movement

A Farmer-Labor political poster atop an automobile. Location no. J1.3 r2The Farmer-Labor movement in Minnesota is an unlikely coalition of two seemingly disparate groups, rural and urban, that found common cause and united in pursuit of their goals. 1910-1945 was a turbulent period in Minnesota, a time of economic distress for farmers and city workers alike. Drought and the Great Depression brought havoc to wheat farmers of the region: prices for their product plummeted, and farm foreclosures meant ruin. In the city, jobs were scarce and wages low. Laborers-those fortunate enough to have work-fought for fair wages and against unfair laws that prohibited unionization. Out of that ferment, a coalition of reformers and radicals formed the "Farmer-Labor Party," a designation it used on the ballot for its candidates who were neither Republican nor Democratic. The name changed, in 1924 to the Farmer-Labor Federation, and later to the Farmer-Labor Association.

Third parties in American politics are not noted for their longevity, but this group proved an exception to the rule. Taking root in soil planted earlier by the Nonpartisan League, it gained power, even prevailing in state and congressional elections over candidates of the two major parties. In 1943, the Farmer-Labor Party merged with the Democratic Party to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party of Minnesota. Prominent figures in its formation were former Governor Elmer Benson, Hubert H. Humphrey—then in his early political career—and Eugenie Moore Anderson.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • The Drama of a Party's History, by Carl Chrislock.
    Typescript, 1960.
    MHS call number: JK 2318.1 .C47.
  • Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota's DFL Party, by John Earl Haynes.
    Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
    MHS call number: F 606 .H38 1984.
  • The Farmer-Labor Movement in Minnesota, by George Wilton Bergquist.
    Typescript, 1938.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 109 (there is 1 reel of microfilm).
  • The Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, by Howard Allen Merritt.
    M.A. thesis (University of Wisconsin), 1937.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 132 (there is 1 reel of microfilm).
  • "The Farmer-Labor Association: Minnesota's Party Within a Party," by Paul S. Holbo.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 38, no. 7 (Sept. 1963): pp. 301-309.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F 601.5 .M66 v.38, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
  • Historical Development of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota, by L.C. Nesvig.
    Typescript, 1953.
    MHS call number: JK 2318.1 .N48 1953.
  • Liberals, Communists, and the Popular Front in Minnesota: The Struggle to Control the Political Direction of the Labor Movement and Organized Liberalism, 1936-1950, by John Earl Haynes.
    Ph.D. thesis (University of Minnesota), 1978.
    MHS call number: JK 2318.1 .H38; also available on microfilm: Microfilm 551.
  • Minnesota Farmer-Laborism: The Third-Party Alternative, by Millard L. Gieske.
    Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1979.
    MHS call number: Reading Room JK 2318.1 G53.
  • Radicalism in the States: The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the American Political Economy, by Richard M. Valelly.
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
    MHS call number: JK 2391 .F3 V33 1989.
  • Minnesota History index terms that may be useful for this topic:
    • Agrarian Movement
    • Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
    • Farmer-Labor Association
    • Farmer-Labor Party
    • Knights of Labor
    • Nonpartisan League
    • Populist Movement

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Vince A. Day Papers.
    This collection (1906-1945) includes correspondence, speeches, clippings, printed materials, scrapbooks, and other papers of Day, who was private secretary to Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson (1931-1935). Day's papers as Governor Olson's secretary provide data on many aspects of state and national politics; third party movements; labor problems and strikes; political patronage; the farm depression (1931); the bank holiday (1933); the American Commonwealth Political Federation; the Communist party; and the labor newspaper Austin American, and the activities and murder of Walter Liggett, its first editor.
    MHS call number: A/.D275; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes (there are 4 boxes of material plus 29 oversize items, but not all relate to this topic).
  • Farmer-Labor Association of Minnesota.
    This archival collection consists of proceedings of conventions, minutes of meetings, speeches, and correspondence of this political association. There is information on patronage, tax reform, collective bargaining, strikes, the labor movement, political conventions and campaigns, and Minnesota political figures, including Victor E. Lawson, Ernest Lundeen, William Mahoney, Floyd B. Olson, and Harold Stassen.
    MHS call number: P337; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 8 boxes plus 4 volumes of material).
  • Hubert H. Humphrey, Mayor's Political Files (1935-1951).
    Correspondence, platform and policy documents, campaign and other promotional literature, statements, clippings, publicity items, and assorted background materials and issuances pertaining to Humphrey's 1944 and 1947 campaigns for mayor of Minneapolis; to activities of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the Democratic National Committee, and the Americans for Democratic Action during the period of his mayoralty; and to Humphrey's political contemporaries.
    MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed alphabetically under Humphrey, Hubert H.—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 6 boxes), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • William Mahoney Papers.
    This archival collection contains correspondence, minutes, reports, speeches, pamphlets, clippings, and campaign literature relating to Mahoney's political activities as a member of the Farmer-Labor Association and Farmer-Labor party in the 1920s and 1930s.
    MHS call number: P1246; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 2 boxes of material).
  • National Nonpartisan League Papers.
    This archival collection (1915-1927) contains data concerning the creation of the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota.
    MHS call number: M182 and M183; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks—filed under M182 and M183—for a detailed list of reel contents (there are 18 reels of microfilm, but not all relate to this topic). An electronic version of Guide to a Microfilm Edition of the Nonpartisan League Papers is also available.
    Note: Microfilm may be borrowed on Interlibrary Loan.
  • Floyd B. Olson Papers.
    This collection (1923-1974) includes correspondence, press releases, speeches, clippings, campaign literature, and miscellany, chiefly for the period (1930-1936) when Olson was governor of Minnesota. They provide information on the Farmer-Labor party, conservation of natural resources, agriculture, education, taxation, cooperatives, labor unions, municipal ownership, state government, the Farmer-Labor Association and its educational bureau including a copy of its charter of 1923, a controversy with Senator Anton J. Rockne regarding state relief for the unemployed, the 1932 gubernatorial election, and Olson's death.
    MHS call number: A/.O52; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks—filed under both A/.O52 and in the Alpha notebooks under Olson, Floyd B.—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 5 boxes of material, but not all relate to this topic).
  • Francis Monroe Smith Papers.
    This archival collection (1936-1951) includes correspondence, clippings, pamphlets, minutes, constitutions, resolutions, and other papers relating to the political career of Smith, a St. Paul lawyer active in the Democratic, Democratic-Farmer-Labor, and Progressive parties in Minnesota. There is information on the merger in 1944 of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties; dissent within the new party, and between it and the national committee; organization and activities of the Progressive party in Minnesota; the Midwest Farmer-Labor Alliance; the Minnesota All-Party Citizens Committee organized (1951) by Smith as a medium for citizen action on public issues; and political conventions and campaigns.
    MHS call number: P20; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes (there are 3 boxes).
  • Out Where the West Begins, by Walter Eli Quigley.
    A reminiscent account (typed, 106 pp.) of Quigley's career as an organizer for the Nonpartisan League (1915-1919); his activities in the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party; and work with such political leaders as Arthur C. Townley, Floyd B. Olson of Minnesota, and Lynn Frazier and William Lemke of North Dakota.
    MHS call number: P2302; see the green Manuscript Notebooks for more details; or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • Newspapers that may be useful for this topic:
    • Minneapolis Star
    • Minneapolis Tribune
    • St. Paul Dispatch
    • St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.