Editor's note: Shawn Hilliary was named State Champion for FFA News Reporting at the 2019 Tulsa State Fair for this article and photo.
ELGIN - “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” As Neil Armstrong spoke these significant words, Americans across the country cheered for the progress of the United States space program. With the landing of Americans on the moon, the United States seemed to reach the pinnacle of progress in 1969. But for those involved in agriculture, another momentous occasion was unfolding. Delegates at the National FFA Convention in 1969 moved to allow female membership in the National Future Farmers of America. After intense debate, the motion passed by a two-vote margin.
ELGIN FFA'S FIRST FEMALE MEMBER
As the effects of this motion rippled across the country, females slowly gained acceptance in the FFA. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that the Elgin FFA Chapter welcomed its first female FFA member, Ann Shull Dodson. Dodson, a life-long Elgin resident, was raised on a cattle and sheep farm. “I lived in my daddy’s back pocket,” Dodson stated. “Whether it was moving cows or hauling hay, I couldn’t get enough of the farm life.” Dodson’s high school career was pretty typical for a female in the early 1970’s. “I worked for the school newspaper and played basketball for the first girls’ team to qualify for the state tournament from Elgin,” Dodson recalled. But the chance to wear the blue jacket was something she still dreamed of.
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Charles Spencer was the Elgin FFA Advisor in 1974 and knew that it was time to make a change. “There were already young ladies showing livestock through 4-H,” Spencer said. “Allowing them to take vocational agriculture classes was the logical decision.” Dodson enrolled in a freshman agriculture class with two fellow female students in 1974. “We worked hard that first year,” Dodson said. “We felt pressure to not only prove ourselves in the organization, but to recruit more girls to join the Elgin FFA Chapter.” Animal science and shop classes filled most of Dodson’s class schedule for the next four years. She exhibited cattle and lambs while also memorizing the FFA creed and judging livestock.
As her senior year approached, Dodson decided it was time for Elgin to have its first female chapter officer. “My mom encouraged me to run for chapter office,” Dodson explained. “She told me to get as many girls to the meeting as possible to make sure I had the votes.” Dodson had the votes and was elected as the Elgin FFA reporter. She spent the remainder of her senior year writing articles for the newspaper and working toward earning her State FFA Degree. At the end of her senior year, Dod- son hit another milestone accomplishment and became the first female Elgin FFA member to receive the Oklahoma State FFA Degree. “Walking across the stage at the state FFA convention in Gallagher-Iba Arena was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Dodson said. Dodson continued her education after high school and graduated from Cameron University with a degree in Physical Education. She became a coach and bus driver for Elgin Public Schools.
IN HER MOM'S FOOTSTEPS
But Dodson’s story doesn’t end there. Her daughter, Jean Ann Dodson, joined the Elgin FFA Chapter in 2001. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Jean Ann also earned her State FFA Degree. “I thought that earning my State FFA Degree was one of the proudest moments of my life, but I was wrong,” Dodson said. “Watching my daughter earn her degree was the proudest.” Trailblazers like Dodson have opened the doors for thousands of female FFA members. Today, females makeup 46% of FFA membership and hold 50% of all leadership positions. Joining FFA may have been one small step for Dodson, but it was one giant leap for Elgin’s female FFA members. The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education to 669,989 student members who belong to 8,630 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.