Alice in Dairyland program touts rich history
March is Women's History Month and a perfect time to highlight some of the rich history of the Alice in Dairyland program. For more than 70 years, Alice in Dairyland has served as Wisconsin's agricultural ambassador. From its wholesome and pastoral beginnings following World War II to today's high-tech age of instant communications, the program has grown and changed with the times.
Margaret McGuire of Iowa County served as Wisconsin’s first Alice in Dairyland in 1948. She was selected to host a month-long centennial exposition at the Wisconsin State Fair Park and tour the United States as an ambassador for the Wisconsin's dairy industry. After her tenure as Alice, she earned a master’s degree in elementary education and taught for 23 years.
Like Margaret, early Alices traveled nationwide with a chaperone, logging 150,000 miles a year – much of it on an airplane – and making 1,000 appearances annually. In many cases, they were professional women that came from farms and well-versed in agriculture. Many also went on to careers outside their homes in a time when that was not as common as it is today.
In 1952, Alice in Dairyland became a one-year full-time contracted employee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and an official representative of all Wisconsin agricultural products. Also, in the 1950s, Alice carried boxes of cheese to Hollywood stars, served samples at corner grocery stores, and even made an appearance on the Today show.
Mary Ellen Jenks Jordal, the sixth Alice in Dairyland, served Wisconsin in 1953 and is one of only two Alices originally from Chippewa Falls. She went on to become the vice president of Consumer Affairs and Services for Green Giant and then Pillsbury. She then worked in publicity for the Minnesota Beef Council and other food clients as well as customer service training for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota.
In 1961, Alice hosted a wine and cheese reception for national and international media after the Green Bay Packers won the National Football League (NFL) championship title. Alice also continued the tradition of carrying boxes of cheese to Hollywood stars and serving samples at corner grocery stores throughout the 1960s.
In 1966, she started delivering her message to classrooms and educating students about Wisconsin agriculture. As women’s television programs became increasingly popular, she filled the role as a consumer educator by promoting nutrition and food preparation. She also continued to make appearances on national television programs and appeared with celebrities.
The 26th Alice in Dairyland, Mary Hopkins-Best, danced on the Lawrence Welk show in 1969 and the 29th Alice, Janice Findlay Aiken, shared the stage with Bob Hope on the opening night of the Wisconsin State Fair.
Today, Alice in Dairyland is a marketing professional by any and all standards. In the first round of the selection process, applicants are evaluated on their resume, interview, and communications ability. If an applicant meets the initial criteria, she is evaluated by a selection panel during the three-day finals on public speaking, personal interviews, TV and radio interviews, and agribusiness tours.
Over the years, Alice in Dairyland has adapted to the changing face of agriculture and contemporary world. Even so, she remains Wisconsin’s agricultural ambassador, serving as a custodian of Wisconsin's proud agricultural heritage and dynamic voice for the future of agriculture.
Julia Nunes is Wisconsin's 73rd Alice in Dairyland