The Rich History Behind the Alice in Dairyland Program
March is Women's History Month and a perfect time to highlight the rich history behind the Alice in Dairyland program. For 74 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 U.S. as an ambassador for 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 were well-versed in agriculture. Many also went on to careers outside their home in a time when most women’s homes and families were their careers.
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 of 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.
Over the years, Alice in Dairyland has adapted to the changing face of agriculture and the 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.
In May, the 75th Alice in Dairyland will be selected to carry on the legacy of this important program. The 75th Alice in Dairyland Finals will take place in Dane County, May 19-21, 2022 at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Some portions of the finals are open to the public, including the final selection ceremony. After being selected at the conclusion of the finals, the 75th Alice in Dairyland will begin her term on July 5, 2022.