The Mighty Women of the Cooperative Movement

By: Kat Johnson

March is Women’s History Month, a celebration that can trace its roots back 100 years. What started as just one day (International Women’s Day), became a week-long celebration in the 1970s (National Women’s History Week), and then expanded to Women’s History Month in 1987.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, take a moment to learn a little about five women who have been figureheads in the Cooperative Movement, whose work spans from the 19th to 21st century!


Alice Acland: Founder and President, Co-operative Women's Guild (UK)

Alice was a figure in the UK Co-operative Movement. Her husband, Sir Arthur Dyke Acland, was an advocate for educational opportunities for working-class men. She traveled with him on speaking tours which led to her own involvement in providing more opportunities for working-class women, who held purchasing power for their households.

Acland began writing articles about women's lives for Cooperative News. Her column's popularity led to coordination of the Co-operative Women's Guild, which also advocated for Women’s Suffrage, and successfully lobbied for Maternity benefits in the National Insurance Act 1911.


Elizabeth Lee: Co-founder, Ocean Spray

Did you know Ocean Spray is a cooperative of cranberry growers? It was started in 1930 when three independent cranberry growers found the key to expanding the superfruit's success: a single cranberry-growing family. One of those founders was Elizabeth Lee. It’s also claimed she was the originator of cranberry sauce, which she sold under the name "Bog Sweet."

Once Lee joined forces with Marcus Urann and John Makepeace, they released their first product, jellied cranberry sauce. They continued to grow the cooperative, which now includes over 700 grower families across North and South America!


Mary E. Arnold: Founder and GM, Consumers Cooperative Services in New York City

Prior to 1950, few women had attained executive leadership in cooperatives. One who did was Mary E. Arnold, founder and general manager of Consumers Cooperative Services in New York City. The CCS was founded in 1920 by a group of socially minded women as a white collar consumers cooperative in New York City which ran a chain of cooperative restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores.

CCS was a progressive consumer cooperative, which took "the larger view in things cooperative". It was active in consumer and cooperative education and took a lead in establishing new consumer cooperatives on the East Coast. CCS used part of its accumulated profits (patronage funds) to build a 12-story cooperative apartment complex in Lower Manhattan with 66 apartments which was opened in 1935.

Beryle E. Stanton: Director, Farmer Cooperative Service information division (USDA)

After serving as the Director of the Farmer Cooperative Service information division, Stanton became editor of a monthly magazine called News for Farmer Cooperatives. She also joined the American Institute of Cooperation staff as editor of the AIC's Yearbook, American Cooperation.  She transformed the yearbook from a proceedings publication into a complete almanac of cooperative happenings covering major cooperative milestones.

She served as the national coordinator for National Co-op Month as she truly believed in the concept of a nationally celebrated observance that allowed U.S. cooperatives of all types to join hands and observe their commonality as people's institutions. Stanton guided Co-op Month from its inception in 1964 to prominence as a national event.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Theresa Marquez: Mission Executive & Chief Marketing Executive, Organic Valley

A pioneer of the natural foods movement, Marquez moved to rural Wisconsin in 1995, where she spent more than a quarter century growing Organic Valley into what consumers know today. She served 17 years as the co-op’s Chief Marketing Executive, and the last six in the Mission, Messaging and Media Department.

As Mission Executive, she ensured Organic Valley stayed true to its goals – including  encouraging a farming future emphasizing ecological and economic sustainability, producing the best tasting, most nutritious and wholesome food possible, and respecting the diversity, dignity, and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil, and global life.