Protests have been in the news a lot in recent years, as magnified tensions have prompted people of all ages to protest for and against causes and situations. “Protest!” is also the name of a new exhibit that I’m working on. The idea of the exhibit is to briefly cover a number of protest movements that have occurred in Vernon County over the past 150 years.
One area of activism that I was sure to include was about low milk prices. Dairy farmers in Vernon County have protested many times over the years about the low prices they get for their milk. But I was surprised to learn about one particular call to action, which took place in March of 1954.
Early that month, hundreds of dairy farmers packed the Vernon County courthouse to talk about how to combat a proposed cut in federal dairy supports from 90% of parity to 75%. The cut was scheduled to begin on April 1.
Those who organized the protest included Charles Dahl, future mayor of Viroqua; Fred Nelson of Nelson’s Mill in Viroqua, now called Nelson’s Agri-Center; and Beatrice Small, teacher and farmer in Liberty Pole.
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At the courthouse meeting, a committee was formally elected, with Lester Wood of La Farge as chairman. Fifteen people were elected as advisers including Don Hedding of the Hillsboro Creamery, Floyd Burt of the Bud Cheese Factory, and E.J. Saugstad of the Westby Creamery.
The organizers had drafted a petition that read, “Dear Mr. President: We the undersigned citizens of Vernon County, Wisconsin, respectfully request that you act to extend dairy support prices at their present levels for one more year, pending re-examination of the agricultural price support system by Congress….No other industry has been asked to sacrifice at this time. We ask for fair and equal treatment.”
Those who attended the meeting at the courthouse signed the petition and then over the next few days circulated it among fellow farmers and community members. In all, they collected almost 8000 local signatures. The petition and all of the signatures were typed into a telegram, and the telegram was sent to President Eisenhower. It took 26 hours to type and send that telegram, one of the longest ever.
But in the end, the protest failed, and price supports dropped on April 1, 1954. I wonder how this protest changed the people who participated in it. Did some feel inspired by their involvement in governance? Did others just focus on the negative outcome? Did any participate in future protests over low dairy prices? Let us know if you have memories of this protest or of others related to dairy prices. You can reach the museum at 608-637-7396, or email@example.com.