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Merle Hansen papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS-0595

Scope and Content

This collection (1932-1999, undated) documents the life of Merle Hansen and the activities of various farmers' organizations and pro-farm protest groups and contains correspondence, legal records, news clippings, creative works, publications, photographs, two reels of magnetic audiotape, and a small number of artifacts relating to farm protest groups and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for President Campaign. The collection also contains records of the North American Farmers Alliance including correspondence, memorandums, financial records, meeting materials, publications, subject files and artifacts.

The photographs depict Honduran agriculture, livestock and livestock equipment, individuals, and groups. There are twelve black and white stills from the motion picture Country. The two reels of audiotape document speeches by Dan Turner and George Christopher at a National Farmers Organization convention (no date).

Family papers and records include legal documents, news clippings, press releases, and demographic research documenting Hansen's campaigns for State Regent and State Legislator. These files portray Hansen and his family and their involvement in events in and around their home town of Newman Grove, Nebraska.

Creative works of Hansen include: articles, editorials, essays, speeches, and testimony before the U.S. House and Senate. Also present are creative works of Homer Ayres and George Levin, two of Hansen's farm activist associates. These creative works lend insight into Hansen's thoughts and sociopolitical philosophies.

General correspondence files include correspondence to and from Hansen. This correspondence provides a look into the "behind the scenes" activities and relationships of many prominent pro-farm and farm protest leaders. Correspondence in files assigned specific proper names or subjects remain as originally labeled and organized by Hansen. Files arranged chronologically represent files arranged by repository staff.

Files about farmers' organizations and pro-farm protest groups document the activities of most major U.S. farmers' organizations and many important smaller Midwestern farm groups. These files include correspondence, internal communications, event ephemera, clippings, mail-outs, publications, and other printed material. The files remain as organized by Hansen and his family.

Publications and printed literature document the activities of a variety of organizations and their stance on farm issues of the day. In addition to the literature of pro-farm organizations, literature of non-farm organizations, right-wing organizations, and counter-right organizations are also included. Printed materials from right-wing groups show how these groups attempted to use farm issues and recruit disgruntled farmers to their own purposes. Similar materials from counter-right groups document those organizations' attempts to negate such efforts.

Hansen's political activities on a national level are documented by correspondence, news clippings, and materials associated with his work for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. Hansen developed a close personal relationship with the Rev. Jackson and became his primary advisor on agricultural affairs.

The collection includes as a distinct sub-group the institutional records of the North American Farm Alliance. These documents and records came into Hansen's possession as a result of his serving this organization as its first President and include educational pamphlets, meeting minutes, committee materials, correspondence, reports, newsletters, publications and subject files.

These files remain as labeled and organized by Hansen and his family.


  • 1932-1999, undated

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


Merle Elwin Hansen, grandson of a Norwegian immigrant, was born on his family's farmstead just north of Newman Grove, Nebraska on November 11, 1919. Hansen enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941 and served during World War II. Hansen attained the rank of Chief Yeoman and was honorably discharged in 1945. After military service, Hansen returned to Newman Grove and farming. Hansen farmed, owned a fertilizer business, and was active in Charolais cattle buying and breeding.

Hansen has held a lifelong interest in politics. Hansen's father and grandfather operated a garage in the Newman Grove area that became a gathering place during Depression years for farmers frustrated with their economic plight. In the early 1970's, Hansen joined and became President of Nebraskans For Peace, a group whose main focus was stopping the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Hansen ran unsuccessfully for University of Nebraska Regent in 1976 and for the Nebraska Legislature in 1978.

By the early 1980's, Hansen's energies as a social activist focused on rural issues, particularly the economic struggles of farmers and the fate of the American family farm. By 1978 Hansen was the second ranking member of the Nebraska Chapter of the American Agricultural Movement. Hansen rose to the office of Vice-President of the United States Farmers Association (USFA) in 1982.

In 1983, a number of USFA members, including Hansen, met and created another organization, the North American Farm Alliance (NAFA), with Hansen as its first elected Chairman. NAFA was a loose coalition of pro-farm organizations and labor and community organizations. In addition to USFA and NAFA, Hansen was active in numerous other farm protest activist organizations, including The Farmers Union and the Nebraska National Farmers Organization.

Hansen was active in the Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition movement and by the mid-1980's became Reverend Jackson's Agricultural Advisor. Hansen worked for the Rev. Jackson for President campaign in 1984 and again in 1988. In 1984, Hansen addressed the Democratic National Convention when he seconded the nomination of the Rev. Jackson for President.

Among the many awards Hansen has received were the Conservation Farm Award for Madison County, Nebraska; the 1990 FDR award from the Nebraska Democratic Party; and one of two inaugural Dixon Terry Tom Saunders Rainbow Rural Leadership Awards from the National Rainbow Coalition in 1990.


30.73 Linear Feet (22 records boxes, 1 document box, 1 half-document box, 1 map case folder, 3 artifact boxes)


The collection is arranged in eight series:

Series 1, Family Papers

Series 2, Creative Works by Merle Hansen

Series 3, General Correspondence

Series 4, Pro-Farm and Farm Protest Organizations

Series 5, Publications and Literature

Series 6, Political Campaign Activities

Series 7, North American Farmers Alliance Records

Series 8, North American Farm Alliance Subject and Publication Files

Folder titles are by Merle Hansen and his family except where foldering or re-foldering on the part of repository staff was necessary.


Digital reproductions of a selection of materials from the Merle Hansen papers are available electronically. Please see the Electronic Resources section for a link. Also included in this digital collection are materials from the Charles Walters papers, the George J. Ormsby papers, the National Farmers Organization records, the Sam J. Newlson Collection of United Farmers of Story County (Iowa) reocrds, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation records, and the Wayne Darrow papers. Please see Related Materials for links to these collections.

Items in related collections

MS-0501. North American Farm Alliance records, 1982-1988, undated MS-0588. Charles Walters papers, 1937-2003, undated MS-0109. George J. Ormsby papers, 1911-1965, undated MS-0481. National Farmers Organization records, 1955-2001 MS-0204. Sam J. Nelson Collection of United Farmers of Story County (Iowa) records, 1932, undated MS-0105. Iowa Farm Bureau Federation records, 1914-2008 MS-0021. Wayne Darrow papers, 1930-1972, undated

Related collection materials

ISU Special Collections holdings also include the records of numerous other agricultural and farm organizations and associations.

Collection Files

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

MS-0595. Merle Hansen papers, 1932-1999, undated
May 29, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672