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Sewell, Edna (1881–1967)

Sewell, Edna (1881–1967)

American advocate for farm women. Born Edna Belle Scott in Ambia, Indiana, on August 1, 1881; died in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1967; daughter of Clinton Scott (a farmer) and Emma (Albaugh) Scott; married Charles W. Sewell, in 1897 (died 1933); children: Greta Geneive Sewell (b. 1900); Gerald Scott Sewell (1904–1945).

Organized and helped direct first home improvement tours ever conducted in the U.S.; was instrumental in prompting the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) to welcome women as members; served as board member of the Indiana Farm Bureau; headed Associated Women of the AFBF (1934–50).

Edna Sewell was born in 1881 in Ambia, Indiana, into a farm family. She attended a one-room elementary school and graduated from high school in Oxford, the county seat. In 1897, she married Charles W. Sewell, a local farmer, and the couple had two children, Greta Geneive Sewell in 1900 and Gerald Scott Sewell in 1903.

The family moved to Otterbein, Indiana, in 1906. Two years later, Sewell presented a paper, "The Woman in the Home and Community," while addressing the Benton County Farmers' Institute, which was followed by similar engagements in surrounding counties. In 1913, she started a farmers' social club, which later became a local chapter of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). Sewell's efforts to help farm women led to an offer from Purdue University to organize the first home improvement tours ever conducted in the United States. The tours demonstrated new and more efficient ways for American farm wives to care for their families and homes. Sewell was assistant leader of Home Demonstration Agents at Purdue for a year, and in 1920 she helped to develop a home economics course in conjunction with the Indiana State Fair.

A speech by Sewell at the second annual meeting of the fledgling AFBF led to a resolution by the organization to welcome women as members. In 1921, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace invited Sewell to join six others as Indiana's delegates to the National Agriculture Conference convened by President Warren Harding. That year she also became a second vice president, head of the women's department, and a member of the board of the Indiana Farm Bureau. In 1927, she directed the newly established Home and Community Department of the AFBF, which in 1934, the year after her husband's death, became the Associated Women of the AFBF. Sewell served as its head until she retired in 1950.

Sewell was a frequent speaker at meetings and conferences throughout the country, and in 1947 and 1950 she was the federation's delegate to the Associated Country Women of the World conference in Europe. She also served as a consultant on rural health to the American Medical Association, receiving a citation for distinguished service. Other honors came her way as well, including distinguished service awards from the University of Wisconsin (1933) and the AFBF (1950). Sewell died of kidney failure in 1967 at a nursing home in Lafayette, Indiana.


Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Deborah Conn , freelance writer, Falls Church, Virginia

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