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Farmer-Labor Movement : Overview


The 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. The years 1910 to 1945 were 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 used on the ballot for its candidates who were neither Republican nor Democratic. In 1924, the name changed to the Farmer-Labor Federation, and later to the Farmer-Labor Association.

Third parties in American politics are not noted for their longevity, but the Farmer-Labor movement 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 1944, 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, and Eugenie Moore Anderson.

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A Farmer-Labor political poster atop an automobile, 1925."Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party," by William K. Shearer. 
In California Statesman, Mar.-Apr. 1997--Nov. 1999, parts 1-32. 
MNHS call number: JK2391.F3 S53 1997

Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota's DFL Party, by John Earl Haynes.
Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
MNHS call number: F 606 .H38 1984

Farmer-Labor Association of Minnesota.
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.
MNHS call number: See the finding aid in the library (P337).

National Nonpartisan League Papers.
Data concerning the creation of the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota.
MNHS call number: Digital finding aid

Floyd B. Olson Papers.
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.
MNHS call number: See the finding aids in the library (A/.O52 and Olson, Floyd B.).

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