Iowa kids visited English farms where Guernsey and Jersey cows were raised. Photo from 1918. Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

“Girl From Iowa Farm Leads Men in Quest for World’s Cattle Prize”

The headline in the Anniston (Alabama) Star newspaper in July 1927 was similar to others in newspapers across the country:

The Santa Ana (Calif.) Register: “Girl Champion Cattle Judge Seeks Laurels”

And the Lafayette, Ind. Journal and Courier:  “Girl Leads Iowa Cattle Judging Team Overseas”

It was a headline-grabbing event when a teenage girl from Iowa won national honors as a cattle judge, earning her a chance to compete at an international competition half way around the world from her home in Clayton County.

Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.

Cheryl Mullenbach is the author of non-fiction books for young people. Her work has been recognized by International Literacy Association, American Library Association, National Council for Social Studies, and FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

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The Alabama newspaper described 16-year-old Gertrude Kaiser as a “shrewd young business woman.” Citing her first venture into farming at the age of 9, the paper reported she had started raising purebred Guernsey cattle on the family farm at St. Olaf with “no other capital than youthful ambition and knowledge gained in club work.” She also raised hogs, turning “helpless little pigs into prize-winning hogs.” By the time Gertrude was 10 she had begun judging and exhibiting cattle at the county fair. In her spare time she was a leader in the 4-H club, earning awards for her demonstration teamwork.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen described Gertrude as a “modest, yet bright-eyed farm girl” when she appeared at the 1926 Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, with “unbobbed hair” and dressed in knickers. Competing in the individual junior dairy judging competition, she earned the top score—536 out of a possible 550 points. Gertrude also participated in a junior dairy judging team with two boys from her county. Competing against 124 boys and girls from around the state, Gertrude, Lloyd Kaiser (Gertrude’s cousin) and Kenneth Walter took first place at the Waterloo event. It was on to the national competition for the Clayton County team.

The Clayton County team weren’t the only Iowa kids at the National Dairy Cattle Show competition in Detroit in October 1926. Clarence and Lawrence Parker, twins from Jesup, took first place honors in the demonstration contest. They won over teams from 16 other states, scoring 96 out of a possible 100 points.

According to the Des Moines Register, Gertrude “amazed all the officials of the exposition” when she was named the individual champion junior dairy cattle judge in the United States. Her score, 198 out of a possible 200, was the “highest score yet recorded in the national competition,” according to the DeKalb, Ill. Daily Chronicle. And she was the first girl to become a champion of the “50,000 dairy cattle judging club members in the United States.” The Michigan club leader said Gertrude showed the “finest and highest judging he had ever seen.”

And if Gertrude’s individual honors weren’t enough, she, Lloyd and Kenneth took first place in the junior dairy judging team division. The Des Moines Register reported they had earned 3,789 points of a possible 4,200, leading the second highest team from Maryland by 152 points. This earned them the right to compete at the international judging contest in London in summer 1927. The Davenport Daily Times, claimed it would be the first time a girl was a member of a championship U.S. team.

A bill was introduced in the Iowa legislature to appropriate $5,000 for the team to cover the cost of the European trip. The Des Moines Tribune reported that the Elkader Fair Association pledged to raise money if the legislature didn’t come through. A committee was set up in each township, where funds were being solicited. In the end, the legislature did provide the money.

On May 28 the kids and several adult chaperones left Iowa for New York, where they departed for England on the steamship, Majestic on June 4. While in Europe the Iowa group visited dairy farms in the Guernsey and Jersey Isles, England, France, Germany and Denmark.

On July 21 the Iowa team took second place at the International Livestock Show. Great Britain took first.

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Sources

  • “Ask For $5,000 to Send Judging Team to Show in London,” Daily Times (Davenport), Feb. 23, 1927.
  • “Clayton County, Iowa 4-H History,” Iowa 4-H Foundation.
  • “Clayton Dairy Judging Team Wins Honors,” Quad-City Times, July 21, 1927.
  • “Dairy Expert Tells of Trip,” Sioux County (Hull) Index, Aug. 19, 1927.
  • “Girl Champion Cattle Judge Seeks Laurels,” Santa Ana (Calif) Register, July 27, 1927.
  • “Girl First in Judging,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 2, 1926.
  • “Girl From Iowa Farm Leads Men in Quest for World’s Cattle Prize,” Anniston Star (Alabama), July 17, 1927.
  • “Girl Leads in Judging, Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, IL), July 15, 1927.
  • “Girl Leads Iowa Cattle Judging Team Overseas,” Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Ind), Aug. 6, 1927.
  • “Iowa Judging Team May Seek World Honors,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 13, 1926.
  • “Judging Team May Get Trip to England,” Des Moines Tribune, March 30, 1927.
  • “Champ Judging Team is Off For England,” Sioux County Index, (Hull), June 3, 1927.
  • “Yank Farmer Boys Compete With English,” Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, July 17, 1927.

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