Hello History Lovers!
During the 1920s The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women published articles about Home Demonstration Agents and their services. By reading the articles I was able to glean some of the purposes of Home Demonstration Work but I was not really clear about the “agents” affiliation or the extent of their influence. Fortunately, I ran across a charming pamphlet (U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication Number 178) published in 1933 providing the answers to my questions. Below are excerpts and photos from this pamphlet.
“There are over 6,000,000 farm homes in the United States. The women and girls who so largely influence the family life in these homes are endeavoring to develop efficiency in their home-making duties and to find satisfaction for themselves and their families in rural life.”
“To aid them in this effort, home demonstration work, a nationwide system of home-making education, is carried on by the United States Department of Agriculture and the State colleges of agriculture. The local representative of this system is the home demonstration agent. She is a college graduate trained in home economics, who works with the women and girls of a given county. The home demonstration agent keeps informed regarding all matters that affect the home and brings the latest scientific information to rural homemakers in such form that they can readily apply it in practical daily life.”
The counterpart to the female Home Demonstration Agent and her responsibilities is the male County Extension Agent whose responsibility it was to educate and demonstrate new and proper farming practices. Just as home demonstrations took place in the homes of county housewives, agricultural demonstrations took place in a farmer’s field. Interestingly these offices and services are still available today with a large focus on the 4-H youth program. Instead of the title Home Demonstration Agent, a woman in this position is now referred to as the County Home Economist.
“The first home demonstration work was with rural girls. In 1910 a tomato club of 47 girls was formed in Aiken County, S.C. The work with women began in 1913 and was rapidly established in 15 Southern States. In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act authorizing cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics was passed, making Federal funds available for home demonstration work throughout the United States. Federal, state, and county governments cooperate in maintaining the home demonstration agents.
The work has consistently expanded in volume and in scope, and at present home demonstration work is conducted in every state including Hawaii, and in Alaska.”
Meet a Home Demonstration Agent
The October issue of The Farmer’s Wife —A Magazine For Farm Women 1921 introduces its readers to a prominent Home Demonstration Agent. This article points out the level of expertise these agents held.
“Miss Ola Powell is assistant in charge of Home Demonstration and Girls’ Club work for the Office of Extension Work in the South. Miss Powell was born in Texas but spent the greater part of her early life in or near Philadelphia. Having always been greatly interested in gardening and homemaking, she took a course in home economics and graduated from Drexel Institute. Later she had charge of school garden work in Cleveland, Ohio, and in connection with that carried on canning to demonstrate the principles of proper utilization of garden crops.
Miss Powell’s interest in canning lead her to make a very careful study of it in its advanced phases. She also made a study of commercial canning and preserving in some of the foremost commercial packing establishments. As a result of her experience in both gardening and canning, she was appointed as assistant state home demonstration agent in Louisiana, from which position she was soon promoted to that of state agent. After serving only a few months as the leader of that state she was called to Washington by the Office of Extension Work South to serve as an assistant in directing the work with women and girls.
Miss Powell’s appreciation of the value of high quality inspired the workers in the South to a determination to maintain high standards in all club products put up and marketed under the 4-H brand label. Her fine influence and inspiration along with all other phases of home demonstration work besides canning have been recognized.
Due to her broad understanding of this work, as well as to her fine personal qualities and the ability for organization, she was called to France this spring to assist the French Ministry of Agriculture and their representative, Madam Devouge, in the teaching of home canning to the women of France”.
As Home Demonstration Work in the early twentieth century was so much a part of rural farm women’s lives, I will be frequently posting examples of their club work in the future.
The above article was originally published by the US Department of Agriculture 1933 and The Farmer’s Wife Magazine—A Magazine For Farm Women, October 1921, Page 568; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.