Barbara Sutton, pictured in her photo in the 1950 Edmunds High School (Burlington, VT) Yearbook.
Williston’s very own royalty: Barbara (Sutton) Arms, the 1954 Vermont State Poultry Queen
By Elizabeth A. Allen
Special to the Observer
When I was flipping through old Chittenden County newspapers, looking for some historical tidbit to catch my interest, several photos from the early 1950s jumped out at me. They showed a smiling young woman standing with official-looking men in suits. Captions identified the woman as “Barbara Sutton of Williston, the state’s Poultry Queen.”
Eager to find out more, I went directly to the source: the 1954 Vermont Poultry Queen herself. Barbara (Sutton) Arms, now approaching 90, lives in assisted living in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. But she was born and raised in Williston, where this tale starts.
The Suttons were an agricultural family. Barbara and her siblings grew up on her father Harry’s dairy farm on Sunset Hill Road.
Barbara’s mother Vera raised poultry. “She had an egg business, and I used to help her all the time, collecting the eggs and delivering them,” explained Barbara. Little did she know that her youthful knowledge of chickens would lift her to queendom when she was older.
After graduating from high school and studying at the University of Vermont (UVM), Barbara worked as a secretary for the UVM Extension office in Essex Junction. The UVM Extension program, which began in 1913, embeds faculty and staff in offices around the state, helping Vermonters with research-based educational programming and practical information. Its offerings address farming, forestry, gardening, watershed outreach and more. There is no longer an Essex Junction Extension office, but there was in the 1950s.
Barbara’s fellow employees at the Extension all belonged to the Vermont Farm Bureau, and they drew her into Farm Bureau and related activities as well. The one who put her on the road to royalty was Bob Carlson, the Chittenden County Extension agent and Barbara’s superior.
Gregarious and persuasive, Bob was a local star. He wrote a farming column for the weekly Suburban List and hosted the Extension’s noon-hour TV show “Across the Fence” on WCAX.
In summer 1954, the Vermont Poultry Association planned its annual meeting in Randolph at Vermont Technical College. A contest would be held to select a Vermont Poultry Queen. Bob encouraged Barbara to enter.
“I said that I didn’t want to do anything like that,” Barbara told me with a laugh. “He said, ‘Oh, come on. You can do it.’” She added, “He could convince anyone of anything.”
Barbara, 24, competed for the title against several other contestants. “One girl said that what she knew about poultry could be put under a little fingernail,” Barbara said. “Well, that didn’t help her out.”
Barbara’s childhood experience with her mother’s egg business gave her the expertise she needed to take the throne. The judges were impressed, and that summer she was crowned Vermont Poultry Queen.
As part of her queenly duties, Barbara mingled with governmental officials and posed for newspaper photos. She even met the president of the United States.
June, 1955 was declared Dairy Month in Vermont. Festivities culminated with the Vermont State Dairy Festival in Rutland, with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the guest of honor. He admired Vermont cows, received one as a gift, viewed a parade including square-dancing students, and addressed enthusiastic crowds. “He was the main attraction,” Barbara said, “and he was a big hit.”
The Vermont Poultry Queen and her sister royals gave Eisenhower a literal taste of Vermont. “The dairy, poultry, maple and apple industries were involved,” Barbara recalled. “They had myself as the Poultry Queen to serve a barbecue chicken. The Dairy Queen served him his milk and ice cream.” (The Maple and Apple queens also presented him with signature foods, but Barbara didn’t remember what they were.)
“I got to talk to Eisenhower,” continued Barbara. “He was a very nice man — quite a gentleman. I liked him as a man and as a president too.” After a pause, she remarked, “We haven’t had too many good ones since then.”
Though she continued working for both the Extension and the Farm Bureau for a few years, Barbara never experienced anything on the job as thrilling as her conversation with Ike. She handed the Poultry Queen crown to her successor shortly after Dairy Month and moved on.
Barbara’s interest in agricultural activities endured. At 27, she married Chadwick “Chad” Arms, who had UVM degrees in dairy production. They ended up in Maine, where Chad worked for the University of Maine Extension. There they cultivated, among other things, a thriving 26-member 4-H club in Vassalboro. Sadly, Chad died in 2018, after he and Barbara had been married for 59 years.
When I first asked Barbara about her activities in her 20s, she warned me that her memory was not as good as it used to be. As soon as I mentioned her reign as Poultry Queen, however, details returned to her. She reminisced with enthusiasm.
Vermont farm life endures in people’s hearts and minds, even if they no longer live in Vermont.
Special thanks to Barbara, for letting me interview her, and her son Todd for connecting us.
Note: Due to a proofing error, this article was initially published with the wrong byline. It was researched and written by Elizabeth A. Allen, and has been edited to include the correct byline. Additionally, the photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower had an incomplete attribution that has now been corrected. Finally, the attribution of the yearbook photo of Barbara Sutton has also been corrected.