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Sorority Girl, Farm Wife, Environmental Advocate: Rachel Peden

A popular feature in the Indianapolis Star, “The Hoosier Farm Wife Says. . .” was written by a Delta Zeta. In two long-running newspaper columns and three books, IU graduate Rachel Peden dispensed lessons gleaned from a life lived in tandem with the land.

The eminently quotable columnist was born Rachel Mason on a Monroe County orchard farm, where, she later described, “we have at least nine seasons in an average year. To move away from this abundance to a place that has only four seasons is like moving out of the big, rambling farmhouse you were born in to a small city apartment.”

But move she did, at least to the Bloomington campus, from which she was graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in sociology in 1923. While at IU, Rachel pledged Delta Zeta, the sorority for which her sister Grace Mason Lundy would go on to serve as National President in the 1940s. Rachel herself ranked as the sorority’s 1972 Woman of the Year.

Rachel married Richard Peden and set up a farm in Johnson County. Her husband’s name gave her the opportunity to improvise on Ben Franklin’s title for her Muncie Star column, “The Almanac of Poor Richard’s Wife.” Around the same time, she penned a humor column for her sorority newsletter, called “Wholly Smoke; or Don’t Say I Said Anything.”

Peden chronicled and championed modern country life over the course of three books—Rural Free, The Land, The People, and Speak to the Earth. In 1952, Rachel and her husband began inviting local schoolchildren to their farm outside Bloomington. Rachel passed away in 1975, but the Children’s Farm Festival at the Peden Family Farm continues to be a long-awaited spring tradition.

Rachel Peden’s 1961 text, Rural Free—widely considered an environmentalist classic—may enjoy new life in its second edition, among IU Press titles for 2009.

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