Soybeans and Beauty Queens: Newspaper Coverage of the Queens of the Crop

Apple Queen 1 Sept 1982

The Virginia Farm Bureau News, September 1982

The Virginia Farm Bureau News has been the go-to publication for farming news since it first appeared in 1941. With articles like “Should Grades be ‘Beefed’ Up” and “Choose Tobacco Varieties to Suit Soil and Climate” anything and everything related to agriculture has been printed on its pages. With its focus on agricultural news, it’s no wonder that the Virginia Farm Bureau News has, over the years, reported on annual festivals which celebrate the regional crops of Virginia, from peanuts and soybeans to apples and tobacco. These festivals have become important cultural events, not only for the excitement they generate, but also in shaping a town’s identity and creating a sense of local pride.

An important feature of local festivals, which often include food, music, dancing, a parade, and other general merriment, has been the crowning of a queen to represent the town’s respective main crop or agricultural product. “Be it pecans, asparagus or watermelons,” as the NPR story “All Hail the Asparagus Queen! How Ag Pageants Lure New Contestants,” recently explained, “many farming communities have also had a tradition of granting their prized commodity crops their very own monarchs.”  The Queen Arachis Hypogea (a.k.a Queen Peanut) once garnered as much attention as the illustrious queen of state, Miss Virginia. Here are a few queens of the crops the Farm Bureau News has celebrated over the decades:

Miss VFBF Jan 1976

Virginia Farm Bureau News, January 1976

Not only has the Farm Bureau News provided faithful coverage of festival beauties, but the Farm Bureau organization has also chosen its own representative annually since the 1950s.  The conditions for competing for Miss VFBF (Virginia Farm Bureau Federation) in 1970 were that the contestant “must be a daughter of a producer member of the Farm Bureau. She must be single, and the minimum age requirement is that she must reach her 17th birthday by Dec. 31, 1970.”

Winners of Miss VFBF were awarded scholarships and other prizes and were featured in an issue the Farm Bureau News. Most often, the representative Miss VFBF had farming experience herself, growing up and working on a family farm. Today, the Farm Bureau offers a host of different kinds of contests and awards to successful women working in agricultural fields.

During their hay day, festivals proved popular fodder for local newspapers as well. “Here is the story of the big show coming to town,” the Suffolk News Herald reported in anticipation of the approaching peanut festival of 1941, “the story of a community organized to the nth. degree to entertain the public at its largest celebration in history. . .For Tuesday the people of Suffolk swing open wide the gates of Virginia’s friendliest city, for the opening gun of the first annual National Peanut Festival.(SNH 27 Jan 1941)”

Throughout the inaugural festival, the newspaper kept a close eye on festival happenings with a heavy dose of photographs and news of the popular Peanut Festival Queen, Miss Olive Cawley. “Following the parade,” the Suffolk News Herald wrote on 27 January, “there will be a coronation ceremony at Peanut Park at which time Governor James H. Price will crown the queen of the festival who will be surrounded by a court of seventy-five attractive princesses.”

SNH Headline Jan 29, 1941 (2)

SNH Jan 30, 1941 (2)

Suffolk News Herald, 30 January 1941

The Suffolk News Herald coverage is just one example in the myriad of stories that have been printed in local newspapers throughout Virginia since festivals first appeared and whether frolicking in a pile of peanuts, modelling a dress made of tobacco leaves, or donning a “Miss Pork” sash, festival beauties have been an essential ingredient in the coverage. Visit the Library’s History Pin channel for fabulous photographs of beauty queens from the Library’s collection and check out digitized issues of the Farm Bureau News (also listed as the Virginia Farm Bureau News) as well as many other Virginia newspaper titles on Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s free, searchable digital newspaper database.

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