POWER IN THE LAND: HOME DEMONSTRATION IN FLORIDA, 1915-1960
KELLY ANNE MINOR
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Inspiration, criticism, and reassurance came from many people during the course of
this project. That said, any fault with what I say here is my own. I must acknowledge the
guidance afforded me by a capable committee, none more so than my advisor, Fitz Brundage,
a patient and skillful editor who helped me hone the dissertation at every turn. And I thank
my original advisor and long-time supporter George Ellenberg, for telling me bluntly that my
brilliant pre-home demonstration research ideas were not so brilliant after all. I also must
thank all those who read the prospectus and offered timely, thoughtful critiques: Melissa
Walker, Mary Hoffschwelle, Lu Ann Jones, Joan Jensen, Katherine Jellison, Rebecca
Sharpless, Jeanette Keith, David Danbom, and Pete Daniel; all generously gave of their time,
and I benefited from their expertise.
No researcher can neglect to thank the dedicated staff of libraries and archival
collections. The staff at the National Archives in Maryland, and at UF's Special Collections,
proved themselves worthy and able ambassadors for their kind. I also am grateful to my UF
colleagues, particularly Carey Shellman, who buoyed my spirits and helped me sharpen my
project, often in the midst of crafting some clever conference proposal. Finally, mere
acknowledgment does not adequately express the depth of my gratitude to my family. I
simply cannot thank enough my brother, Kevin, and my mother, Catherine. From the first
idea to the last revision, I absolutely, unequivocally could not have done this without their
guidance, support, sacrifice, and friendship. This dissertation is as much my mom's
accomplishment as mine, and I dedicate it to her.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDG ENTS................ ...................................... .....................ii
LIST OF FIGURES.................. ...... ..... .. ...... ........ ...................iv
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS AND CITATIONS................ ............................ vi
A B STR A C T .......................... .. .......... ....... .. .. .. ........................ vii
1 "CAST DOWN YOUR BUCKET WHERE YOU ARE":
HOME DEMONSTRATION ON THE GROUND AND AT
2 ROOTS THAT RUN DEEP: HOME DEMONSTRATION'S
REFORM PEDIGREE................................................. 26
3 INSPIRATION TO INSTITUTION: NEGOTIATING THE
PROFESSIONAL HOME DEMONSTRATION AGENT...............................64
4 OUT OF THE CAN AND INTO THE FREEZER: FOOD PRESERVATION
TECHNOLOGY AND HOME DEMONSTRATION ................................111
5 "THE UNIMPROVED TOILET IS ALL TOO PREVALENT": HOME
DEMONSTRATION, ITS PARTNERS AND RURAL SANITATION.............167
6 NEW WORLDS FOR OLD: HOME DEMONSTRATION IN POST-WAR
7 EPILOGUE: THE PRICE OF DURABILITY........................................244
REFERENCE LIST.................. .......................................... .... ..... 258
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................... 271
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1 Map of 1930 Florida and its counties.................................. ....................24
1-2 Chart of Florida home demonstration personnel 1915-1960..............................25
3-1 1966 hypothetical representation of the Extension Service from the state level
downward. ........................... ..................109
3-2 Mrs. Louis Von Hofen, Duval County resident and former home demonstration
club member, to Chairman of the Board of Control P. K. Yonge, registering her
intense displeasure with home demonstration in Duval, and Florida, 1932............ 110
4-1 "Snuffy Sm ith" on canning .............................................. ........ .........111
4-2 Cut-away view of a water bath............................................................160
4-3 Pressure cooker: a retort for glass jars and tin containers of all sizes................ 160
4-4 Home demonstration kitchen in Hillsborough County, 1918...........................161
4-5 Community canning center............ ...... ....................................161
4-6 Orange County's new canning center............................... ..................162
4-7 Mrs. W. B. Edwards in Lloyd, Florida, with her new home freezer....................163
4-8 Home demonstration exhibit booth at the North Florida Fair in
Tallahassee, 1955.................... ...... ...... ... ....... .......163
4-9 Woman accessing her freezer locker in North Carolina .....................................164
4-10 Healthy display of canned goods .......................................... ..................165
4-11 W ell-stocked pantry in modem kitchen......................................................166
5-1 M ap of areas prone to hookworm ................. ................. ...................212
5-2 Children afflicted by hookworm........................... ....................... 212
5-3 Children ofJ. D. Tillman, afflicted by hookworm.................... ....................213
5-4 "Filthy Fly" poster produced by the State Board of Health and used by HDAs and
other reformers to demonstrate the dangers of allowing flies to run amok in and
around the hom e ......... ............ ........... .............. ..................... ...214
5-5 World Health Organization hookworm slides for children's education...............215
5-6 Typical privies, designed to indicate the dangers of privies that did not meet sanitary
standards ........................ ... ......................................... ....216
5-7 Privies constructed during the New Deal.............................. ...................216
5-8 Extant privies constructed during the New Deal.................... .................... 217
5-9 Woman going into her outhouse in Bristol, Florida, 1953...............................218
6-1 Puerto Rican Gleaners, 1857 to 1945............................ ... ................... ...219
6-2 Hardee County citizens in 1947 preparing and gathering canned foods to donate to
needy families in Europe, and a Jacksonville woman's personal contribution to the
relief efforts coordinated as part of National Home Demonstration Week............240
6-3 Puerto Rico's extension newspaper, El Heraldo de Extension.......................... 241
6-4 Image: 1950s recruitment brochure for home demonstration..........................242
6-5 Qualifications: 1950s recruitment brochure for home demonstration.....................243
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS AND CITATIONS
SC University of Florida Special Collections
SL State Library of Florida
FSU Florida State University Strozier Library
NARA National Archives and Record Administration
SC-21-4 Special Collections, Series 21, Box 4
SL-32 State Library, Microfilm Reel 32
FSU-32 Florida State University, Microfilm Reel 32
NARA-33.6-54 National Archives, Record Group 33.6, Box 54.
Ethel Atkinson, Escambia AR 1935 Ethel Atkinson, Annual Report of Cooperative
Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics
for 1935, Escambia County
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
POWER IN THE LAND: HOME DEMONSTRATION IN FLORIDA, 1915-1960
Kelly Anne Minor
Chair: Jon Sensbach
Major Department: History
This dissertation examines the remarkably tensile nature, and eventual decline, of the
Cooperative Extension Service's home demonstration program during much of its tenure in
Florida. Lawmakers and reformers intended home demonstration, created by legislative act in
1914, to be a comprehensive system of rural uplift, via education among rural families. Home
demonstration functioned as one division of a three-pronged extension apparatus that also
included farm demonstration and 4-H. All extension workers utilized demonstrations as the
backbone of their educational mission. Rather than rely solely on traditional materials and
abstract ideas, however, home demonstration agents extended their own domestic science
education to women by conducting demonstrations in rural homes and communities,
organizing project clubs, and tailoring their work to community needs. Home demonstration
involved a wide range of programs for both women and girls, but participation in any program
or event was voluntary; information about new ideas, successful techniques, and agent
reliability spread largely by word of mouth.
Many historians studying home demonstration have characterized and dismissed it as
plagued by racism, sexism, romanticism, class and regional bias, and limited efficacy.
Though these conditions, to varying degrees, were persistent problems for home
demonstration, the program proved remarkably durable. Equally important as its longevity
was the impact of endurance on home demonstration's original sense of purpose. I examine
this relationship in light of home demonstration's dynamism, which fostered adaptability and,
in turn, durability in the face of internal and external change. The framework for this analysis
is home demonstration's evolution from a deeply focused, cohesive mission to an imprecise
collection of specialties. To demonstrate this dynamism-longevity-evolution connection, I
analyze home demonstration's rural reform lineage, its professional dynamics, its reliance on
technology and expertise, its cooperative health programs, and its expansive activism. The
key to home demonstration's vitality has been momentum, diplomacy, utility, and initiative,
and the key to its significance is its evolving place in the wider, international story of reform
in favor of rural women.
"CAST DOWN YOUR BUCKET WHERE YOU ARE": HOME DEMONSTRATION
ON THE GROUND AND AT LARGE
In 1928, home demonstration Home Improvement Specialist Virginia P. Moore issued
a provocative bulletin to rural women in Florida. Her subject was home sanitation, and she
tackled the potentially delicate topic with no hint of delicacy. Moore assailed her readers with
a series of disturbing images, facts, and warnings about the dangers lurking in manure piles,
privies, and wells. Flies, their legs coated with indescribable filth, routinely landed on tables,
dishes, and food, exposing entire families to debilitating and dangerous disease.
In 1947, home demonstration women across Florida put their collective knowledge
about food preservation and nutrition to use by processing, collecting, and shipping overseas
carloads of food for those left hungry in the wake of the Second World War. Decades of
experience in Florida combined with rural women's sense of activism manifested in a
concerted effort to provide practical, fundamental relief for those far away who were less
fortunate than themselves.
In 1961, the State Council of Senior Home Demonstration Work attended a lecture
regarding the role of poverty and corruption in fostering communism in Latin American
countries. The Council's International Affairs committee resolved to "better the situation by
sending pamphlets in various phases of home economics" to a university in Brazil.' The
'Virginia P. Moore, "Questions on Home Sanitation to Make You Think," Circular No. 987
(Gainesville: University of Florida, reprint 1931); Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and
Home Economics. Report of General Activities for 1947 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 104 1. Report ofState Senior Council ofFlorida Home Demonstration l";,rA 1961, 116. Home
demonstration was a program of comprehensive rural reform for women and families across the United
States that operated, officially, from 1914 until the 1960s, when its name changed to Extension Home
Economics, then to Family and Consumer Sciences, its current incarnation. Though it received its start
contrast in reform vigor represented in these stories is not illusory, but a marker of an
aggressive, focused force gradually collapsing into a flaccid, imprecise array of disciplines.
On their own, each of these manifestations of reform among Florida rural women is
arguably important. And clearly these cursory highlights tell only a dramatically simplified
story. But what is equally clear, equally important, is that these snapshots of home
demonstration's history in Florida, when taken together, reveal a disappointing trend. In the
little more than three decades represented in the examples above, home demonstration evolved
from a vigorous, mission-oriented program unified around a singular and ambitious goal of
rural rejuvenation into a placid, issue-oriented collection of advice and seminars. In 1928,
home demonstration programs were meaty, practical, and fundamental. In 1961, home
demonstration programs were hollowed out, superficial, and detached. Again, that is an
overly simple representation, but how did this happen?
In short, home demonstration sacrificed vitality for viability as it worked to survive
the changes in its demographic, economic, and social contexts. In its heyday, home
demonstration's durability only made it more vigorous, more substantial. But especially after
World War II, when changing demographics threatened the very existence of home
demonstration, it evolved rapidly into a more contemporary, but less ambitious, program.
And why is this important? Because when home demonstration was at its best, it
accomplished real good. So trading vitality for viability, usually unwittingly, cost not only
home demonstration, but the people it might have helped.
as informal gatherings of women and girls through canning clubs, Farmers' Institutes and the like, home
demonstration was formally created as part of the new Cooperative Extension Service by the Smith-
Lever Act of 1914 as part of a three-prong system of education for rural Americans; it also included
agricultural extension for men and 4-H for youth. Though there was much overlap between the
branches, home demonstration was compromised of female agents, agricultural extension of male
agents and 4-H of both. Funding, personnel, materials, research, etc. involved in home demonstration
came from three cooperating sources: the federal government via the USDA, state governments and
local, county sources including county commission, school boards and local businesses. Participation
in all programs was voluntary.
To evaluate the entire scope of home demonstration's evolution in this dissertation
would be impossible. Since the nature of home demonstration's evolution was determined in
great part by its efforts to remain relevant and durable, I will examine primarily the steps
home demonstration took to survive. Each chapter demonstrates both how home
demonstration secured its durability, and how its strategies either strengthened or weakened it.
The trend that emerges is that home demonstration reached the zenith of its influence,
importance, and spirit during the twenty years or so before World War II, and then began a
slow shift in the 1950s, toward a decline over the rest of the century. I am in no way
suggesting that home demonstration's declension was entirely HDAs' own doing, for quite
apart from what they could control, circumstances were changing that forced home
demonstration to either adapt or wither away. How HDAs adapted and the impact of those
choices is the focus of my thesis.
Though the bulk of the dissertation deals specifically with home demonstration's
strategies for longevity, those strategies are part of several much larger trends that are critical
for understanding home demonstration's history. First, as is most evident in Chapter 2, home
demonstration was a part of a much larger reform movement that extended back into at least
the 19h century and forward into the present day. Though early-20h century Progressives
articulated the woes that led to the call for home demonstration, the impetus for rural reform in
favor of women both antedated and outlived the Progressive's Country Life Movement. Most
historians dealing with home demonstration locate its roots within the Country Life Movement
and the subsequent Smith-Lever Act of 1914, but there is ample evidence that female agrarian
reform had been developing, slowly and fitfully, during the previous century.
Home demonstration's emphasis on practical education and demonstration, like its
agricultural demonstration counterpart, has much in common with the surge in agricultural
societies and universities that took place in the 19th century. Already by that point, women
were being included to some extent in agricultural interests and education, so that Smith-
Lever's official inclusion of female extension work in the broader extension program was not
unprecedented. And as the transition from the gritty work of sanitation to anti-communism
leaflets demonstrates, home demonstration did not suddenly stop evolving any more than it
suddenly started. This long-term picture of home demonstration is particularly valuable for
understanding how it matured and then declined.
My second major claim is that home demonstration did not accomplish the
comprehensive, socio-economic, racial and gender reform of the rural South that many
historians might have expected, indeed, what many have looked for. Moreover, home
demonstration did not intend to accomplish this. It is telling that as home demonstration
moved from more tangible, immediate efforts like sanitation into more social and moral
efforts like citizenship, it lost rather than gained a sense of purpose. As I will outline further
on, many historians critical of home demonstration base their critique on an assumption that
"reform" or "uplift" entails righting social wrongs. To these critics, it follows that home
demonstration did not "do" anything. Quite the contrary, home demonstration tackled serious
deficiencies in rural life.
Indeed, the dogged pragmatism apparent in Moore's sanitation bulletin is indicative of
home demonstration's early mission: practical improvement in daily living toward better
health, financial security, environmental comfort, and emotional satisfaction. Certainly,
conventions, regulations, and mandates from on high constrained home demonstration agents
(HDAs), but it is crucial to keep in mind that home demonstration had its own agenda, and
accomplishing that was the priority. For all their ideological talk about uplift and country life,
what agents set out to achieve was substantial improvement. Empowerment did not come in
speeches; it came in jars of canned fruit and improved privies.
My third contention is related to the second, and that is that home demonstration
accomplished tangible good in its time in Florida, particularly in the decades before World
War II. In the historians' quest for watersheds, revolutions, and paradigm shifts it is easy to
overlook the seemingly ordinary improvements in food preservation, home sanitation,
cchnolog\, clothing construction, etc. And to modem readers, the advent of the pressure
cooker or the sanitary privy hardly sounds impressive, but these mundane details were, in
many cases, the difference between life and death, want and plenty, burden and ease. At its
heart, the story of home demonstration is not about statistics, percentages, or even
ideologies-it is about people. Indeed, home demonstration's good works in the ordinary left
the most extraordinary mark; home demonstration did not leave a legacy of ousting
communism or ending segregation, but it did save lives ad ameliorate harsh living conditions.
As I emphasize in Chapters 4 and 5, that means that each improvement mattered.
HDAs advocated technologies like electricity, freezers, pressure canners, refrigerators, and
running water. In some cases, such technologies saved labor, in others they ensured better
health. Agents educated women about proper nutrition for themselves and their children,
helped install lunchrooms in community schools, organized Better Baby Clinics and
immunization drives with county nurses and the Red Cross. and encouraged families to be
tested for hookworm and tuberculosis. Agents assisted families looking for greater
convenience and comfort by distributing plans for sleeping porches to expand living spaces,
offered advice on native plants to beautify yards with minimal expense, and demonstrated
easy fixes for cosmetic aggravations. And though a plethora of services and organizations
later arose to meet a variety of community needs, HDAs were in the trenches when there were
few other allies capable of waging difficult and discouraging wars on disease, poverty, and
scarcity, and they did so on the most local levels.
My final major claim is that localism was one of, if not the most, significant
determinants of what home demonstration accomplished. Most evident in Chapter 3, HDAs'
relationship with locals was the most crucial and often the most difficult of any they formed,
but it was absolutely vital to their success. Of course home demonstration's original
manifesto was inspired by the domestic discontent "exposed" in the Country Life Movement,
and its methodology derived from Seaman Knapp's experience with the proven success of
demonstration as the ultimate teaching and reform tool. But throughout its tenure in Florida,
the home demonstration dynamic was most clearly defined by local circumstance. An
Extension Food Conservation specialist, Alice Cromartie, articulated this obligation: "A
program's only reason for existing is when those whom it serves can find a purpose for the
program to exist."2 Though funding originated with the federal Department of Agriculture,
and state governments also provided some financial backing, home demonstration ultimately
relied upon local funding to put and keep work in place. And because most home
demonstration work took place among local women and families, HDAs were dependent upon
a local audience. Historians have been inclined to cast localism as a deterrent to reform,
assuming that federal or state influences were naturally progressive and open-minded, but that
local people were inherently and arbitrarily suspicious of reform, reformers, and change.
William Link's work on Southern Progressivism embodies this argument. Link's evaluation
of public health and education campaigns, for example, reveals what one reformer called '"a
good law poorly executed.'" According to Link, "strong local opposition" limited the scope
and ruined the hopes of Progressive reformers.
2Alice L. Cromartie, Food Conservation and Production AR 1951 (SC-91B-12), 8-9.
In his larger work, The Paradox ofSouthern Progresivism. Link establishes a strict
dichotomy between traditionalists' individualistic localism and reformers' paternalistic
humanitarianism, the effect of which was to thwart positive goals in education, health,
women's suffrage, and child labor.3 Both portraits are overly simplified, and as Elizabeth
Hayes Turner points out, do not account for "the multitudes of women in small towns who
joined the woman's club movement to improve their communities."4 Indeed, Link's and
similar analyses consider reform from the perspective of federal agents in a battle with local
leaders who would not enforce reform agendas. But as Turner observes, there were other
levels of reform that operated locally, and home demonstration was a significant bridge
between federal commission reform and woman's club reform.
Home demonstration was a federal program in which most and the most important
reforms took place locally. True, in some instances local politics, social relationships, or
economics stymied home demonstration work. But in other areas, local influences were
positive and empowering for HDAs. The variation between counties' and communities'
response to home demonstration and HDAs is one of the most vital for this discussion. Not
only does it enrich the context of home demonstration work, but it helps explain why home
demonstration evolved as it did. The initial zeal of sanitation work, for instance, originated in
part from an effort to meet local communities' felt need. By the time HDAs were discussing
democratization and foreign policy, reform was less urgent and agents were scrambling for
ways to remain relevant. Without local support, home demonstration had little, if any, chance
of developing. In the effort to stay ahead of changing times, however, is where home
3 William A. Link, "Privies, Progressivism, and Public Schools: Health Reform and Education in the
Rural South, 1909-1920," The Journal ofSouthern History 54 (November 1988): 639; The Paradox of
Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press,
4Elizabeth Hayes Turner, "The Paradox of Southern Progressi im: Review," The Journal of Southern
History 60 (August 1994): 603.
demonstration lost some of its zest, and where it drifted away from local needs that it may still
The central dynamic in this study is the impact of local determinism. For better and
for worse, local interest, need, finances, politics, and social structures determined the shape of
home demonstration's evolution. But it is impossible to understand localism's impact without
studying home demonstration on the local level, from counties to the state. Florida's home
demonstration experience provides such a context, for home extension began in Florida before
1914, and steadily developed and expanded throughout the period of this study. Florida's
extensive and in-depth record of home demonstration, then, offers ample evidence of the
program on the ground, demonstrating first, the distinctive character of any home
demonstration agenda at the most local level. Second, the mingling of local character with a
regional and national reform ethos, organization, and methodology allows us to see home
demonstration at work broadly, as well. The particulars of home demonstration vary from
state to state, but how HDAs responded to those details is suggestive of the history of home
demonstration across twentieth-century America.
Florida provides a viable base for studying home demonstration because it is
distinctive, but not exceptional. Like the other Southern states where extension began early,
Florida's home demonstration shows a steady growth pattern in both the number of agents and
the counties in which they worked. Moreover, Florida's rural population, black, white, and
Hispanic alike, underwent the same dramatic changes that other Southern states' did, as urban
development rapidly eclipsed rural growth. Finally, though Florida's economy, heavily based
in tourism, was more diverse than much of the South's, it nevertheless was characterized by a
pronounced reliance upon agriculture. A brief history of home demonstration in Florida
demonstrates both an overall pattern shared by Southern and, to some extent. national home
demonstration programs, as well as a distinct story shaped by local individuals.
By 1961, more than one hundred HDAs were at work in Florida, but reaching that
level of entrenchment was a long process. As an overall trend, the total number of HDAs
increased over the years, though the number of black agents within that total remained steady.
Time, too, saw home demonstration's catalog of programs diversify considerably, so that
agents were covering more topics, but in less depth, than in the early decades of the work.
Though the Smith-Lever Act made home demonstration, and all extension work,
official in 1914, the work was underway in Florida as early as 1909. The evolution of
extension work from a relatively grassroots initiative to an enabling bureaucracy to a hefty
government program is itself indicative of home demonstration's own evolution from a
mission to a service. In 1909, a State Agent named A. S. Merhag reported on his work with
cotton farmers in North Florida. Anticipating that the boll weevil would reach Florida by
1911, Merhag, an assistant named A. C. Johnson, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture set
about establishing demonstration farms in five panhandle counties. Not unexpectedly, the
initial reception to agricultural reforms was not particularly enthusiastic. As Merhag noted,
"the people of this state have just begun to farm intensively," diversifying their typical
pursuits in cattle, lumber, truck farming, and turpentine. In 1909, Merhag reported
cooperation from thirty-seven demonstrators, using funding from the General Education Board
and the USDA. Merhag made no mention of work among women or girls, but that soon
In fact, demonstration work was already beginning to take the shape it would hold for
decades to come. As of 1912, funding would be a combined project of the USDA and the
A. S. Merhag, Report ofDemonstration Work in Florida. 1909 (FSU-1).
State of Florida, and "some co-operation from local sources is also expected." The number of
agents and demonstrators, too, were growing. As of 1911 thirteen agents had been added
(with a plan for nine more in 1912), and more than 800 demonstrators were participating.
Work had been extended into several southern Florida counties with rising interest in doing
more with the peninsula. Most significant for this discussion, boys' corn clubs were underway
and plans were in place to begin girls' tomato clubs the next year. Together with Farmers'
Institutes, corn and tomato clubs were the direct precursors to work with rural women.
In 1912, children's club work had been given a leader, Agnes Ellen Harris, who would
be the first State HDA in Florida.6 By 1913, Harris was surveying the women supervising
girls' club work to assess how many girls were participating, what procedures they were
following, and what plans they were making. In 1914, Harris issued her report of girls'
canning work in Florida, tracking the growth of the program. Harris noted that twelve
counties had active clubs in 1912, followed by thirteen in 1913, and twenty-four in 1914. By
1913, more than 500 girls were enrolled in canning clubs. On the eve of Smith-Lever, Harris
was looking beyond canning clubs, however. In her recommendations for the 1914-1915
program of work, the future home demonstration leader named two major needs to keep the
work moving forward. First, Harris argued it was necessary to continue Extension Schools,
not only in high schools, but through homes and women's clubs. Second, Harris called for a
series of bulletins addressing not only canning, but nutrition, home care for the sick, lighting
in rural homes, and home sanitation. Harris had outlined a significant home demonstration
program, even before such an initiative officially existed.7
"Bradford Knapp, Farmers' Cooperative Demonstration Work. State of Florida. Annual Report of
Progress 1911 (FSU-1); J. J. Vernon, Annual Report ofBoys' and Girls' Club Work in Florida.for 1912
7 Agnes Ellen Harris, Report of Extension Division. Department of Home Economics. Florida State
College for I1'., ,, 1914 (FSU-1).
As home demonstration matured, the number of agents employed increased steadily.
Not unexpectedly, there were spikes in appointments in certain periods, particularly World
War I, when emergencN funds made additional work possible. As the total number of HDAs
increased, however, the numbers of black agents remained steady, at around twelve. The
contrast in extension provided for white and black rural families was most pronounced after
World War II, when the total number of agents exceeded the total number of counties in the
state. Certain counties, like Hillsborough, Duval, and Dade, accumulated assistant agents,
often as many as four or five. But the number and distribution of black HDAs remained low
and concentrated in the Panhandle, where most of the state's African-Americans lived.
Nevertheless, home demonstration work was predominantly for white and black rural women,
but eventually there were other variations. During World War I and the 1918 influenza
epidemic, home demonstration added discrete urban agents to extend a massive canning effort
among city women and to treat flu victims at military bases in Jacksonville and Miami.
Though urban women would continue to play an increased role in home demonstration over
the next few decades, there were no other significant variations in home demonstration
clientele until the 1950s. Then, in 1958, home demonstration work among Seminoles began
in Glades County.
See the chart on page 25 for an overview of the number and type of agents working in
Florida between 1915 and 1960, with additional years in which agent numbers were
remarkably high. The total number of agents includes all work with white, black, Seminole,
and urban families by representative county and assistant agents. It does not include state staff
or specialists. Urban agents are noted when they are listed separately in the personnel roster
of each published report of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. After 1945, a number
of Florida counties were predominantly urban, so any agent working there would be, by
The administrative structure of home demonstration did not change substantially
between 1915 and 1960. Except for the addition of more specialists, the state home
demonstration staff consisted of a white State HDA in charge of all home demonstration work,
a black District HDA in charge of Negro home demonstration work, and a set of three to four
white district agents who oversaw directly all HDAs working in that district's counties. The
first major administrative overhaul came in 1963, when both the location and titles of home
demonstration staff were changed to reflect the impact of integration and the broader civil
rights movement. Home demonstration agents came to be called Extension Home
Economists, and all Negro home demonstration work was moved from Florida A&M
University to Florida State University to take the place of the white home demonstration staff
that had been moved from Florida State to University of Florida, the extension headquarters.
In time, the program became increasingly specialized and officious. Eventually, the Extension
Service was fully in integrated, and Extension Home Economics became Family and
Consumer Sciences. Generally, after 1960 home demonstration underwent tremendous
surface changes, but lost depth. Before 1960, the program remained relatively static on the
surface, but was characterized by great depth in the nature of its work.
To date, few histories concerned with home demonstration have dealt with the
program in Florida. In 1982, Barbara Cotton published a slim volume analyzing the work of
black extension work in Florida between 1915 and 1965. Cotton's work, The Lamplighters.
delved into the lives and work of individual agents in a way that emphasized both their
personal struggles and triumphs. Lynne Rieffs 1995 dissertation, "Rousing the People of the
Land," dealt with five states she termed the Deep South, including Alabama, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. Though Rieff touched on most of the important topics
related to home demonstration, her broad geographic base meant that Florida appears only
intermittently in her analysis. Still, Rieffs work remains important for its attention to a state
so often overlooked. The next work dealing with home demonstration was my own 1999
thesis, "To Make the Best Better," which focused upon three counties in the Florida
panhandle.8 Simply put, a full-length study based in Florida is tilling still-fertile soil.
In dealing with home demonstration, I am approaching it from the opposite direction
many historians have taken. Rather than faulting home demonstration for not having done
enough, or having pushed the "right" reforms, I contend that home demonstration did a great
deal, and great deal of good. It is because HDAs did so much that was worthwhile that their
subsequent evolution into something less hearty is disappointing. Thus, I am not seeking in
the dissertation to undo a certain argument, and though there are many studies whose
conclusions bear upon my own analysis of home demonstration, I am most interested in those
major works that have directly influenced my understanding, those that either I accept and
want to build upon or those that I will challenge.
Much of women's history has been written with an eye toward power inequities and
female protest. Rural women's history, so distinct from the experiences of urban women, has
been left out of feminist analysis, but a number of rural scholars have identified forms of
empowerment, protest, and even feminism within the rural woman's experience. Deborah
Fink has found in Nebraska that reform could be empowering, not limiting. Her 1992
8See Barbara R. Cotton, The Lamplighters. Black Farm and Home Demonstration Agents in Florida,
1915-1965 (Tallahassee: USDA in cooperation with Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College,
1982); Lynne Rieff, "'Rousing the People of the Land': Home Demonstration Work in the Deep South,
1914-1950" (Ph.D. dissertation, Auburn University, 1995); Rieff also has dealt with Florida extension
in essay form. See Lynne Rieff, "Impro% ing Rural Life in Florida: Home Demonstration Work and
Rural Reform, 1912-1940," in Making Waves. Female Activists in Twentieth-Century Florida. eds.
Jack E. Davis and Kari Frederickson (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003). Kelly Minor,
"'To Make the Best Better'": Home Demonstration in Escambia, Holmes and Okaloosa Counties,
Florida, 1920-1940" (Master's thesis, University of West Florida, 1999).
Agrarian Women examines women's unprecedented role in rural reforms. Fink deals with
actual extension work only intermittently, but her overall argument indicates that by the early
twentieth-century, women finally were being included in agrarian reform as vital actors, not
afterthoughts. Though agrarianism had long been a male-dominated philosophy, by the time
that the Country Life Movement developed its survey of rural America it was women's
satisfaction with farm life that reformers had come to see as the linchpin in rural revitalization.
Ultimately, the demand for women reformers to meet women's needs laid the groundwork for
the debates that culminated in Smith-Lever and women's extension as a discrete component of
the Cooperative Extension Service. Women's overt inclusion in reform was a definite good,
but Fink does not necessarily find that female extension work was welcome among Nebraska
families. In fact, where extension appears in Agrarian Women, agents often seem an
annoyance, like a nosy neighbor with too much time on her hands.9
Outside the Midwest, other historians have found evidence that reforms were at best
uneven and, at worst, damaging to the precarious balance of life in farm communities. Often,
historians have linked the impact of reform to the conditions of life for rural families. For
example, Rebecca Sharpless' study of Texas cotton farms, Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices
(1999), details the lives of women in a "reality that was bleak for many." Home
demonstration, Sharpless argues, failed to effectively serve rural Texas women because it did
not adequately address their needs. 0 Sharpless's argument is one of those with which I am
least comfortable, because it deals so heavily with absolutes. The absence of comprehensive
improvement does not necessarily mean comprehensive failure. And it is vital to consider
what home demonstration did accomplish, and, most importantly, what it could accomplish.
9 Deborah Fink, Agrarian 1I ,mare Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska, 1880-1940 (Chapel Hill and
London: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 11-24, 25-26.
io Rebecca Sharpless, Fc'ri, Ground, Narrow Choices. Women on Texas Cotton Farms, 1900-1940
(Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), xviii-xix, 4-5.
Local circumstances in the South also provide greater insight into the realm of
possibility within which extension agents worked. For example, black HDAs working in
Alabama enjoyed the financial and social support that proximity to and cooperation with
Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee afforded them, but that was not the case for all black
extension agents elsewhere. Texas extension, the subject of Debra Reid's 2000 dissertation
"Reaping a Greater Harvest," made its own way toward building a reputation and seizing
opportunities for reform. Though every agent was not in a position to realize just the reforms
she would have liked, Texas extension was part of a larger reform effort among rural African-
Americans that included private organizations like the Farmers' Improvement Society of
Texas. Reid argues that black agrarian reformers found they could make greater progress
because they "devised strategies that white progressives could support, but that did not
threaten engrained southern race relations." The result was that progress within the segregated
system was made, but progress in weakening the system itself was stymied. Part of what
constricted these reformers' work was their conscious choice to represent it and carry it out in
such a way that it did not draw undue attention from white critics, but that effort to get
anything done at all meant that all that might have been possible was severely curtailed."
Clearly, HDAs' and rural women's experience with reform-based empowerment was not
uniform. Such a condition only reflects the diversity of experience in the relationship between
the agents and the women. A case in point is the introduction, advocacy, and adoption of
In virtually all work on rural Americans in the twentieth century, and earlier for that
matter, technological change figures prominently. In the twentieth century, technological
change took on a more "official" tone, stemming from government programs rather than from
"Debra A. Reid, "Reaping a Greater Harvest: African Americans, Agrarian Reform, and the Texas
Agricultural Extension Service" (Ph.D. diss., Texas A&M University, 2000), abstract.
simple market innovation."2 The Extension Service, Rural Electrification Administration, and
Tennessee Valley Authority exemplify the kind of top-down technology drive moving into
rural America. Naturally, the acceptance or rejection of gadgetry for the home played a role in
rural women's relationship with HDAs. One of the most interesting questions is why women
purchased the appliances they did, what kept them from buying more, and what ultimately
convinced them certain items were "must haves." The record of home demonstration in
Florida suggests that women purchased what they could afford, and they prioritized those
purchases. Katherine Jellison might argue, however, that to whatever extent home
demonstration transformed rural homes, it was at the expense of much-needed income, and the
result of unrealistic and ill-timed pressure agents put on rural families. However, in Entitled
to Power, Jellison does argue that rural women rejected the brand of domesticity pushed at
them by home agents, and its electrical trappings. Whatever they did adopt was meant to
enhance their productive, rather than consumptive, roles.13 Though Jellison is more critical of
home demonstration's motives than I have been, her analysis of women's ultimate control
over what changes home demonstration wrought mesh with what occurred between Florida
HDAs and rural women.
Kathleen Babbitt's 1995 dissertation, "Producers and Consumers," deals specifically
with the ways that rural women in New York struggled to adapt to changes in their productive
roles prompted by industrialization in the dairying industry. Though many critics point to
conflicts between HDAs and rural women as a result of different standards of production and
12 For examples of the impact of technology in earlier eras, see Joan M. Jensen, Loosening the Bonds:
Mid-Atlantic Farm Women 1750-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), Sally McMurry,
"American Rural Women and the Transformation of Dairy Processing, 1820-80," Rural History 5
(1994): 143-53, and Catherine E. Kelly, In the New England Fashion: Reshaping Women's Lives in the
Nineteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
13 Katherine Jellison, Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963 (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
consumption, and generally assign responsibility to government intrusion, middle-class
snobbery or some such generalization, Babbitt locates the conflict in women's specific
attempts to continue providing for their families by seeking wage-earning opportunities.
Babbitt argues that, ultimately, rural women found ways to satisfy both HDAs' apparently
unrealistic demands for greater consumption and women's own need and desire to provide
more tangibly for their families.'4 Babbitt's interpretation of home demonstration and rural
women provides yet another local variation. The conflicts she finds between agents and
women regarding saleable production in New York is virtually absent in Florida, where HDAs
encouraged women outright to produce handicrafts, jams, baked goods and other tourist-
friendly goods to sell to the travelers flooding into the state. The relationship between women
and HDAs clearly was not uniform, and certainly more flexible than some critics have
contended, either because the women refused to be persuaded by an intractable agent, or
because the agent was not so intractable. Three studies highlight the same local determinism I
have found to prevail in Florida.
Rural historians have been quick to note that translating national, university-based
home economics into meaningful reform and information for rural women tested the education
as much as the women. Mary Hoffschwelle examines home demonstration's impact in
Tennessee in "'Better Homes on Better Farms"' (2001), finding that women's acceptance of
reform was a multi-step process; Tennessee women exerted the same selective resistance that
Midwestern women did. Agents could sell household changes more effectively when they
linked them to a broader consumer culture, and even then rural women adopted only what they
wanted and could use from the wide selection of reforms agents offered them. Hoffschwelle
" Kathleen R. Babbitt, "Producers and Consumers: Women of the CountrN ide and the Cooperative
Extension Service Home Economists, New York State, 1870-1935" (Ph.D. diss., State University of
New York at Binghamton, 1995), abstract. See also Babbitt's article "The Productive Farm Woman
and the Extension Home Economist in New York State, 1920-1940," Agricultural History 67 (Spring
also points out that domestic reform was not a uniform program once it moved into specific
communities, and she stresses that women forged a dynamic relationship with reformers in
that they found ways to utilize new techniques and maintain their relationship to household
and farm work.15
Ann McCleary's 1996 study of one Virginia County, "Shaping a New Role for the
Rural Woman," is remarkable not only for its attention to local reality rather than national
agendas but also her determined effort to compensate for what she argues are shortcomings in
earlier work on home demonstration. In particular, McCleary contends that historians critical
of home demonstration have depended on a top-down approach, favoring the "official"
message at the expense of any number of local ones. McCleary chronicles the relationship
between historians and their primary arguments against home demonstration, including its
constrictive gender ideals, its promotion of household technologies, its inattention to existing
communities, its use of "insensitive and paternalistic" agents to fix what never was broken,
and the hostility that agents created between rural women and themselves. McCleary differs
markedly from others in her interpretation by directly contesting the prevailing analysis of
home demonstration as social control. "What these stories overlook," she argues, "is why
rural women participated as club members and as agents."16 Indeed, women's deliberate
participation in home demonstration should be one of the key components of any analysis. As
a decisive local factor, women's voluntary participation in home demonstration in Florida
confirms what McCleary has discovered in Virginia. Indeed, as Chapter 3 will demonstrate,
" Mary S. Hoffschwelle, "'Better Homes on Better Farms': Domestic Reform in Rural Tennessee,"
Frontiers 22 (January 2001): 51-53. See also her Rebuilding the Rural Southern Community.
Reformers, Schools, and Homes in Tennessee. 1900-1930 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,
'6 Ann McCleary, "Shaping a New Role for the Rural Woman: Home Demonstration Work in Augusta
County, Virginia, 1917-1940," (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1996), 3-4, 7-12.
local women were conscious of the influence they had over installing, maintaining, or
eliminating home demonstration in their communities.
Lu Ann Jones' Mama Learned Us to Work i2((122) delivers perhaps the most nuanced
understanding of home demonstration so far. In her story of Southern rural women, she does
not discount the prevailing criticisms of home demonstration. But the everyday reality,
according to Jones, is that of a "protean" relationship, of top-down reform whose success
depended upon "support from the bottom up." Jones agrees with critics that HDAs promoted
apparently middle-class, urban, aesthetic styles, but contends that they did so in a way that
reflected rural realities of resources and economics (much like the orange crate furniture that
was so common in Florida). Most importantly, Jones reiterates a point that few other
historians dealing with home demonstration have made-women accepted and rejected home
demonstration as they saw fit. Moreover, "agents and club members collaborated in writing
the texts of lessons when they came together at club meetings. To foster interest and retain
membership, agents consulted with clubwomen as they set annual agendas of lessons to be
studied.""7 What I have studied of home demonstration in Florida bears out these three
analyses. Federal objectives were but a starting point, and they were hardly absolute. Thus,
the stream of thought on how HDAs and rural women interacted stretches from a relationship
in which women had little say except rejection to one in which women actively shaped both
the relationship and the wider home demonstration program. The best way to understand how
home demonstration worked, of course, is to study it on the ground.
What then can Florida tell us about home demonstration? Home demonstration was
still a national program that required the same reports of all its agents, arranged funding in
roughly the same way et ern \ here, employed county, district, and state agents in each state,
17 Jones, Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South (Chapel Hill and London:
University of North Carolina Press, 2(11C j, 18-22, 141.
and provided the overall annual objectives for agents nationwide. In every state, successful
agents were attuned to local interests, and the unsuccessful ignored or misjudged local
influence. In every state, relative wealth differed among counties, as did interest in reform.
Therefore, Florida HDAs' experiences were not necessarily exceptional. What Florida offers
is a convenient, appropriate, and rich local story to help illuminate the bigger home
demonstration narrative, particularly the experience and impact of localism. And Florida's
experience helps answer the questions underlying the dissertation-how did home extension
endure as long as it has, and what has been the price of longevity?
Uncle Sam wants YOU to hang curtains! That is the scenario I had in mind when I
first began studying home demonstration for my Master's thesis. Like many historians who
have examined HDAs' work, I approached it as evidence of a white, urban, middle-class
juggernaut steamrolling a distinct, superior rural culture until it was battered and softened
enough to remold into the faulty but preferred (i.e. white, urban, middle-class) form of
American family life. With such a presumption uppermost, the picture of home demonstration
that emerged was one of know-it-all, biased, uppity agents invading rural hamlets to impose
the will of the government, shaming good, middling folk into changing their lifeways and
dismissing good, poor folk as hopeless cases.
My opinion of these women has changed considerably over the years, however, and I
no longer subscribe to this thesis. I came to realize that there were significant contradictions
and complexities in the analysis I described above. For instance, one consistent criticism of
home demonstration has been that it ignored the poorest, most isolated people who stood to
gain the most from education and assistance. Even if that were true, what help could an
agency supposedly devoted to superficial standards of "uplift" possibly offer folks whose
primary needs were in health or finance? Other historians have argued that home
demonstration had potential value, but then essentially dismissed it because of its gender,
racial, or class inequities.
Home demonstration did what it did-not necessarily what it could have done, and
certainly not always what modem historians wish it had done. Attention to national standards
and local desires had to remain paramount. Because funds often were raised from local tax
dollars, it was rare that home demonstration could operate in a county where local support was
lacking. Second, all participation in home demonstration programs was 100 percent
voluntary. As Lu Ann Jones puts it, "women themselves were always free to vote with their
feet."'8 Indeed, home demonstration never did grow to the size it might have had participation
been coerced in some way. Third, there is ample evidence that even the particular phases of
work women and HDAs undertook year to year were determined by the participants'
preference, not a mandate from the USDA.
And to a degree, critics have been correct; home demonstration did have some serious
flaws. The program was segregated by both race and sex until the 1960s (a practical
hindrance as well as an ideological one); it was chronically under-funded (at all levels); agent
turnover typically was high; and pay was low. Assuming it had been better equipped to do so,
home demonstration might have reached and influenced a majority of rural women, of all
ethnic backgrounds. As it was, however, the majority of rural women were not involved in
home demonstration, though it is impossible to know how many learned something from a
friend who had learned it in home demonstration. On top of all these internal weaknesses
were contextual factors home demonstration could not control, such as poor transportation and
18 Jones, Mama Learned Us, 18.
Above all, home demonstration suffered most from the threat of obsolescence, in that
it had been created to improve farm life for women and children so that they would feel more
inclined to stay on the farm and thus reverse the swells of rural folk who were moving to more
urban areas. Even by 1920, that mission was slightly shy of a lost cause, for census data
indicated that, for the first time in American history, more Americans were urban than were
rural. Again, home demonstration might have made some demographic difference, but
possible and probable were well removed from one another, and home demonstration was
presumably working to correct a problem it had neither the time nor the resources to
effectively change. Given these conditions, it seems even more plausible that, like many
reform movements or programs, home demonstration would have collapsed decades ago. But
home demonstration's persistent efforts to adapt, negotiate, and evolve kept the whole home
extension machine going. Beyond the basics of improvement, that attention to change has
both benefited female rural reform, and cost it.
Though there were a number of reform efforts and agencies, including the Country
Life Commission, that acknowledged rural women's needs, it was home demonstration that
truly went out to meet rural women on their turf, and not just white women but also their even
more neglected black sisters. Ignored by urban-based feminists, slighted by agriculture -
oriented extension agents, and often misunderstood by historians with contemporary standards
and expectations, rural women have not had many options for expressing their voice. Home
demonstration was one way for them to do just that, because HDAs were in place precisely to
hear and speak for women when no one else would listen. Coverage and aid were neither
complete nor perfect, and seldom equitable, but home demonstration did a great deal more to
acknowledge and attempt to assist rural women than any other program or commission.
It was not necessary for home extension to change as it did in order to survive,
however, for today the world over there are grassroots endeavors that seek to build a place for
women in the modern context of rural reform. So as to recognize its accomplishments and
critique is failings, it is crucial to place reforms like home demonstration in a much broader
context than historians have been wont to do, not limiting rural reform to American Southern
history or American rural history. One of home demonstration's real strengths was not that it
was exceptional in the world, but that it was linked to similar important reforms worldwide, in
its infancy and today. The Associated Country Women of the World, founded in 1933, of
which home demonstration was a part, maintains its commitment to uniting and assisting rural
women in every corner of the world; it is today the largest international organization of rural
women. Selling Women's Stuff is one of several initiatives that focus on helping African
women farmers cope with lean seasons by coordinating the sale of their handcrafted items.
The woman who won 2004's Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathia, has focused her work on
facilitating peace by empowering rural women and preserving the environment they, and we,
The single theme that pervades this dissertation is dynamism, manifested as both
context and choice-local, state, national, and global trends, and how HDAs chose to respond
to them. That response, in turn, determined home demonstration's legacy. What emerges is, I
believe, an interpretation of home demonstration reminiscent of Rebecca Sharpless' apt title-
fertile ground, narrow choices. What HDAs were best at, however historians have interpreted
them, was making more out of a little. How they did so is what allowed them to endure in an
often imprecise role for nearly a century, and what initiated home demonstration's loss of
vitality. Home demonstration was adaptable and organic, both of its own accord and under the
influence of rural women's own autonomy. Agents came to rural counties trained in home
economics, hired by the federal government, and charged with a catalog of official reforms
and program procedures. But once they set up shop among their clients, their work was
anything but uniform or standard. Depending upon where they were stationed and among
whom they worked, agents contended with a variety of cultural, linguistic, environmental,
political, and economic pressures. Ever attuned to their own precarious position in a
community, HDAs shaped their ideals to meet local need. The eventual cost of such
adaptation is only more profound because, in the beginning, HDAs were so determined to
carry on a tradition that allowed them to do such good.
CoU rTI~, PRIhCIPAL CITIES, AND RIVER
Figure 1-1. Map of 1930 Florida and its counties. Source: United States, Bureau of
the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930. Agriculture (Washinghn.
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931-1932), 663.
YEAR TOTAL WHITE BLACK SEMINOLE URBA]
1915 23 23
1917 41 33
1918 64 44
1919 51 33
1920 44 35
1925 34 26
1930 33 26
1935 44 36
1940 49 41
1945 53 43
1950 66 54
1955 79 67
1960 101 88
Figure 1-2. Number and type of home demonstration agents employed in Florida, 1915-1960. Source:
Florida Cooperative Extension Service Annual Reports, 1915-1961.
ROOTS THAT RUN DEEP: HOME DEMONSTRATION'S REFORM PEDIGREE
In 1797, Finland recognized the Women's Agricultural Organization, making it the
first recorded organization of farm women. In the late nineteenth century, farm women in
Canada, Germany, Scandinavia and the United States organized themselves into simultaneous
but separate coalitions to address their own concerns. In Canada, the impetus for organization
was tragic-Adelaide Hoodless called for farm women to come together for domestic training
after her own baby died from contaminated milk. So, when O. B. Martin, an associate of
Seaman Knapp's and an early extension historian, explained in 1921 that women's extension
programs were "a new and developing work.... Perhaps a hundred years may elapse before
the novelty and freshness wear away," he was mistaken.' The Smith-Lever version of home
demonstration might have been new, but agrarian reform aimed at and led by women was
anything but novel. It is telling that HDAs themselves seemed to position themselves in time
by tracing their roots to a period well before anything we might assume as a starting point. A
pioneer HDA, Kate Hill of Texas, named the woman whom "tradition has established as the
first home demonstration agent," the Biblical Dorcas. In Dorcas, who sewed, and taught other
women to sew "under her skillful tutelage," Hill sees the "prototype of the modern home
demonstration agent, who sews and teaches others to sew, who helps to meet problems of
feeding the family, who assists in teaching how to beautify the home .. ., and who assists in
' An ()tli, ml History of the National Extension Homemakers' C, un, id Inc. 1930-1990 (Burlington,
KY: The Council, 1991), 171; 0. B. Martin, The Demonstration Work: Dr. Seaman A. Knapp's
Contribution to Civilization (Boston: The Stratford Company, 1921), 135.
problems of family living and of recreation so that all family members may be more adequate
citizens."2 Hill may be dramatic, but her point is well-taken.
The traditions that inspired and shaped home demonstration in the twentieth century
emerged long before. Indeed, home demonstration's durability, in part, came from its rich
background. Extension, and home demonstration with it, did not emerge in the early twentieth
century as a sudden, novel swell of reform fervor. Rather, they had been evolving over time,
and in many places, as agrarian reformers and innovators sought ways to get their message to
the farming population. An important feature in home demonstration's remarkable resilience
is an extended, fluid, dynamic tradition of agrarian reform spanning two centuries that
inspired, influenced and legitimized home demonstration, even before there was such a thing.
The world's agriculture has evolved through four broad stages: prehistoric, historic
through the Roman period, feudal and scientific.3 That last period, of scientific agriculture,
appeared late and has not waned; in fact, it has only blossomed further as a period of rapid and
marked change. The difference that prompted sudden and dramatic transformation after
centuries of impasse was not need, or conditions, or creative genius, but what Peter
McClelland calls a "willingness to innovate."4 That mindset and agricultural context is part of
2 Kate Adele Hill, Home Demonstration Work in Texas (San Antonio: The Naylor Company, 1958), 5.
3 Speaking of increasingly scientific agriculture, a general overview of these stages can be found at the
Advanced BioTech website, which has a History of Agriculture as part of its Soil, Plant and Crop
Enhancement information. See \\\ .dbin c'lm'-i-'nc.' :ri-hillrnn him (12 August 2005). More
traditional and thorough treatments of agricultural history that reach back beyond the Early Modem
period include Ralph Whitlock, A Short History of Farming in Britain (London: John Baker, 1965);
G.E. Fussell, The Classical Tradition in West European Farming (Rutherford, Madison and Teaneck,
Great Britain: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972); Norman Scott Brien Gras, A History of
Agriculture in Europe and America (New York: F.S. Crofts & Co., Publishers, 1925); and two more
recent and outstanding works, Chapters from the Agrarian History of England and Wales, 1500-1750.
Volumes]-5, ed. Joan Thirsk (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Mauro Ambrosoli,
The It ii and the Sown. Botany and Agriculture in Western Europe, 1350-1850, trans. Mary McCann
Salvatorelli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
4 Peter McClelland, Sowing Modernity. America's First Agricultural Revolution (Ithaca and London:
Comell University Press, 1997), 5.
the world that launched the Extension Service and with it, home demonstration. It is not
necessary to trace the home extension lineage as far back as Dorcas in Joppa, but it is
worthwhile to examine the evolution of agrarian innovation briefly in Early Modem Europe,
where science and agriculture coalesced into a period of potential revolution, the fervor of
which crossed the Atlantic into the colonies, through the Early Republic's agricultural
societies and into the nineteenth century when agrarian reform became increasingly
This extended process set an important precedent for Extension work, home
demonstration in particular. It was not that reform by and for rural women was underway in
the eighteenth century, but that as agrarian education evolved, it came closer and closer to
acknowledging, then addressing and finally accepting women as part of its structure. To put a
finer point on this chapter's contribution, let me enumerate some aspects of these antecedents
that have an important bearing on home demonstration in Florida, that emerge from these
antecedents: the democratization of agrarian reform, the continued presence of women
(implicitly expected even when not explicitly addressed) in agrarian ventures, and the
centuries-old relationship between science, experimentation and demonstration and the well-
lived agrarian life. This chapter is about the momentum in agrarian reform that built up before
home demonstration, as such, ever existed.6
51 say "potential revolution" because those scholars who debate the timing and conditions of an Early
Modem agricultural revolution have yet to come to an agreement on whether or not one took place, and
if it did, when and where it did so. For a brief overview of the revolution debate, see Kelly Minor, "The
principall and only means to ripen the fruit of new hopes': Husbandry Manuals and Parliamentary
Enclosure in Early Modem England," Alpata: A Journal of History 1 (2-114:-: 97-126.
6 This may sound like a terrible case of teleology, but I want to stress that I do not subscribe to the
panacea of inevitability. In this case, there is nothing to demand that home demonstration would
emerge as it did, when it did. What I want to stress is that once home demonstration did crystallize as a
formal extension program, it had a built-in durability because the ideas that ultimately promoted it-
better rural homes, women's direct involvement in rural well-being, rural efficiency, etc.-had been
maturing for some time.
Perhaps the official inclusion of feminized agrarian reform in twentieth century
endeavors like the Country Life Movement or institutions like the Cooperative Extension
Service seems less remarkable if we cannot call it a sudden inspiration on the part of the
reform leadership. However, placing home demonstration in the widest possible context helps
anchor it more securely in the history of agrarian education and reform, and considerably
improves our understanding of its longevity. Extension work crystallized in a dynamic, urgent
period of rapid change and ambitious reform efforts. It was then a relatively short time until
rural America ceased to be dominant in the national demographic. The combined force of
reform exhaustion and a pragmatic loss of consequence, exacerbated by racial inconsistencies
and often unrealistic goals, should have undermined, even collapsed, Extension work,
especially among women, who struggled continuously to maintain funding, support and
respect in a male profession plagued by limited resources. But Extension work did not
collapse, even among women. Indeed, it evolved and carried forth. Why? Part of the answer
is that home demonstration had been a long time coming.
The Early Modem period in Europe witnessed a dramatic infusion of science and
education into agrarian lives, fueled by the Scientific Revolution and political debates about
the future of the countryside.7 In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, husbandry was
a mix of custom, fashion, experience and ingenuity. Innovation was limited to those with
adequate financial security and time to absorb the risk of new methods advocated by strangers
who had conducted tests on strange farms. That education of those interested in and/or
7 A fine example of the sort of heated debate that agricultural change could inspire is that over
Parliamentary enclosure. The arguments sound familiar in the context of home demonstration;
proponents considered enclosure as an improvement designed to make the best use of agrarian
resources and keep the most promising farmers on the land while funneling others into alternate
occupations. Opponents decried enclosure as a blow to customary independence and access to the
commons, an incursion that alienated those most dependent on a farm living. The clashing sentiments
of Arthur Young and William Cobbett are roundly echoed among early twentieth-century reformers and
even amongst those who have composed scholarly study of Extension work and other federal rural
programs. On these debates, see Minor, "The principall and only means."
employed in farming was to be a centerpiece of reform is evident in the flurry of husbandry
manuals disseminated among learned men and profitable farmers. Over the course of the
period, custom and tradition in husbandry decisions gave up ground to experiment and
demonstration as learning and teaching tools.8 While most manuals dealt with bread and
butter topics like manure, timber and furrows, a number paid particular attention to the
sustenance of the rural home, if only to note sound architectural styles and orderly environs,
and commented upon necessary improvements.
An early, familiar example of total-farm advice is Thomas Tusser's oft-cited manuals,
Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, first published in 1537. The book is a compilation
of verse, a lyrical "to do" list for the farm and its surroundings. Tusser's advice is rare in that
it dealt with the "huswife's" role specifically, making it clear that her participation and
particular expertise were necessary for a farm's prosperity and security. Like HDAs four
centuries later, Tusser laid out a precise calendar for the huswife that included all her duties,
organized into monthly tasks. His aim was to prevent haphazard homemaking efforts that
inevitably would fail, threatening the stability of the whole farm enterprise. Certainly, the
pressure upon rural women to succeed as wives and mothers, bring honor upon a household
and prove herself worthy of her station did not fade with time.
In addition to advice for women, later agricultural writers like Arthur Young devoted
space to evaluating rural homes and outbuildings and calling for their uplift. In 1797, Young
remarked on the sorry state of dwellings for smallholders compared to the great trouble taken
to accommodate "men of large fortune." He admitted that the prior two decades had produced
8 As representatives of an evolving methodology in husbandry, good examples of the manual tradition
include, first, a wave of agricultural writers whose advice still maintained a strong sense of custom and
sentiment: Thomas Tusser, Conrad Heresbach, Gervase Markham and John Worlidge, writing between
the 1550s and 1690s. The next major round of husbandry writers were, as I once said, short on
philosophy, long on footnotes, and big on invention: William Ellis, Richard Bradley and Jethro Tull,
writing between 1733 and 1758. See Minor, "The principal and only means."
improvement in farm houses, but that "they are still very inferior to what, it is to be hoped,
the\ may become in some future period."9 Interestingl%, some advisors addressed specific
methods of improvements around the farmstead, not just in the fields. In fact, their
suggestions for garnering support for such campaigns are strikingly similar to those the
Extension Service would employ centuries later. The prolific and popular agricultural advisor
William Marshall named some means by which men of landed property could institute
improvements on their estates, namely "by IMPROVING the MINDS of his TENANTS. By
infusing among them a SPIRIT for IMPROVEMENT." The person best equipped for such a
task was one "who has a knowledge of rural affairs, and who possesses the goodwill and
confidence of its tenantry." He recommended that the trusted proprietor connect with tenants
through personal attention, conversation and, significantly, by seeking out what he called
"leading men," those with great promise or the respect of their peers and using their
improvements as examples to inspire or shame others into action.10 This is a significant
precedent for an agency like the Extension Service that relied on personal interaction to effect
Even as Marshall focused upon those with the most resources at hand, he already was
calling for a program that one day would extend education to the rural masses. In the late
eighteenth century, he made proposals for a "Rural Institute, or College of Rural Economy."
Marshall argued, "E ery other art, mystery, and profession, has the means of gaining initial
instruction ... while the art of agriculture,--more valuable, if not more difficult, than the rest
9 Arthur Young, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Suffolk (London: Macmillan, 1797),
0" \ illiam Marshall, On the Landed P o 'perti ofEnglal. An Elementary and Practical Treatise...
(London: G. and W. Nicol, 1804), 301-03.
united, -- has been left to accidental tuition."" Clearly, the foundation was laid and interest
aroused for democratized reform. Thus, these works and advisors are not peripheral to this
discussion. Rather, they indicate how much context existed for agrarian reform in the United
States and how much agrarian change was linked to increasingly scientific demonstrations
conducted by "experts." And it is necessary to remember that much of the debate surrounding
home demonstration work is a derivative of the same debates that dominated Early Modem
agricultural thinkers and scientists-the meaning of the farm, the farm home, the whole
countryside, in the grand scheme of national progress and posterity. Furthermore, colonial
agricultural writers had read, corresponded with, referred to and even critiqued some of these
men's works, importing and then shaping agricultural education and experimentation to meet
colonial agriculture's needs.
Reformers seeking to extend agrarian education to more people found their cause
travel-ready, especially across the Atlantic in the colonies, where notable agriculturists like
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson lauded the prospect of agricultural extension.
Washington wanted to see a national university with a chair of agriculture, and Jefferson
conceived of a network of local agriculture societies charged with disseminating
information.'2 Washington's and Jefferson's interests also were not novel, but were part of
two trends that emerged in the colonial and early Republic periods regarding agrarian
improvement, further democratization and discrete organization. Though neither would reach
then the levels of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the process of both was clearly in
motion. In 1748, Jared Eliot composed the first American husbandry manual, Essays Upon
Field Husbandry in New England, as a serial. Over six issues between 1748 and 1759, he
" Marshall, On the Landed Pir, 1,rti. 431-32.
12 Barbara Cotton, The Lamplighters. Black Farm and Home Demonstration Agents in Florida, 1915-
1965 (Tallahassee: United States Department of Agriculture in cooperation with Florida Agricultural
and Mechanical University, 1982), 9-10.
both emulated and departed from his contemporaries in England; he urged that husbandry
techniques be adapted to the specific resources and needs of the colonies. Like other
agricultural writers, he struggled to expand his audience, frustrated that so many learned folk
continued to dismiss agricultural writing as either mean or unnecessary. Eliot argued that
neither was the case. Intellectual pursuits about agriculture had been good enough for
Solomon, Cato and Virgil, and they were certainly worthy of the time and attention of the men
around him. Furthermore, he pointed out that the colonies were woefully behind in paying
due attention to agricultural improvement by establishing societies and journals for that
purpose. Not only England, but Scotland and Ireland, had established agrarian societies,
"Pens and Hands are set to Work ... and the whole Kingdom feel the Advantage of this fine
Institution." Eliot predicted, "if something of this Nature were set on Foot in this Country, it
might be of Advantage.""13 To that end, he sought to make his own work as accessible as
possible, so that men who were not members of the many learned societies that did embrace
agriculture might still learn of improved methods and benefit by them.
Eliot did not shy from critiquing other, well-respected agrarian writers, preferring to
laud experience rather than prestige. Though learned men interested in agriculture punctuated
their rhetoric with classical agrarian wisdom, Eliot demurred, calling Cato's work on Roman
husbandry "a better piece of Poetry than a Book of Husbandry."'4 This bold depreciation of
classical advice was not limited to the antique. Eliot reported having read all the English
husbandry manuals and having been familiar with a number of their authors. Though he
respected their work, he nevertheless believed that their style limited their effectiveness. In
3 Jared Eliot, Essays Upon Field Husbandry in New England... (Boston: Edes and Gill, 1760), 2, 3,
14 Eliot, Essays Upon Field Husbandry, 28. He did, however, add a footnote to his criticism: "The
above is not said to depreciate the Character or derogate from the Merits of that truly great Man; for a
great deal of our present Husbandry is justly called r irtilmg "
particular, he criticized Jethro Tull's language as serving only to exclude a good portion of
those who might benefit from his experience. Quoting a passage carefully selected for its
obtuseness, Eliot remarked "Mr. Tull has had but little Regard to the Capacity of his Reader:
Nor will it be much better understood than if it had been wrote in an unknown Tongue, here
being so many words used by him which common Farmers do not understand." The real
shame, Eliot continued, was that Tull "seems to me to have entered deeper into the true
Principles of Husbandry, than any Author I have ever read. Had he taken Pains to
accommodate himself to the Unlearned, his Book would have been much more useful than
now it is." In contrast to what Eliot called Tull's "pompous Parade of Learning," he
deliberately wrote in "plain Stile" to reach out to farmers beyond the exclusive circles of
leaned societies, "sensible, that the low Stile, the Plainness and Simplicity of these Essays, has
exposed them to the Centure of those who do not well consider for whom they are intended
and written.""15 Eliot was extending the circle of agricultural education to take in those whom
other writers had only assumed would benefit, in time, from the examples of their economic
betters. This sort of expanded access was a key component of all manner of agrarian
extension and education.
Examining this period of burgeoning extension work with a historian's hindsight,
Margaret Rossiter agrees that a shift was taking place in the manner of agricultural education
and reform. Through the 1830s or so, agricultural reform was slowly becoming both more
democratic and more organized. In fact, those conditions were mutually reinforcing. Before
1820, agricultural improvement was a consideration of the wealthy, men with time to spend
and money to risk experimenting with potential improvement. As a result, innovation came
to be linked with particular names, even regions-Samuel H. Black, John Taylor of Caroline,
"Eliot, Essays Upon Field Husbandry, 99, 4.
Stephen McCormick and, later, David Dickson, Wade Hampton and John C. Jenkins-rather
than movements.16 In the South and in the North, locally known estate owners used their own
lands to develop and test theories and then shared the results with their peers. In the rapidly
grow ing West, Hardy W. Campbell employed similar methods to develop what came to be
called "Campbell dry farming," and made Western farming viable.'7
Despite interest among such learned men and their existing societies, agriculture did
not yet have its own societies, though it was a regular topic of conversation and publication.
Such groups as the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences, founded in 1768 and 1780 respectively, offered the first "organized agricultural
improvement in the United States." Rossiter argues that though these societies may not have
revolutionized agricultural practice, they do reveal "a genuine interest in agriculture ., but a
very naive impression of how to go about improving it." Soon after, the first specifically
'"Margaret W. Rossiter, "The Organization of Agricultural Improvement in the United States, 1785-
1865," in The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic. American Scientific and Learned
Societies from Colonial Times to the Civil War, eds. Alexandra Oleson and Sanborn C. Brown
(Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 279; Roy V. Scott, The Reluctant
Farmer. The Rise ofAgricultural Extension to 1914 (Chicago and London: University of Illinois Press,
1970), 4-5, 6. All but Black were Southerners; not until after the Civil War did the North take the lead
in agricultural innovation (Scott, 7). It is worth noting, however, since we are discussing
democratization of agrarian reform, that the South was not a bastion of cohesive innovation prior to
1860. This was true for slaveholding areas in particular. Charles Steffen argues, regarding the South
Carolina Lowcountry, that Southern agricultural reform lacked precisely the element that I argue
sustained agrarian reform into the twentieth century "momentum." There were "many moves, but no
movement." Steffen explains the inertia as "a relatively limited circle of men ... [who] could agree on
what they wanted but not how to get it." The issue? Was leadership to come from "planter paternalism
or white democracy"? Real change depended upon mass education, but elite associations of men,
predicated on white supremacy, precluded inclusivity. Thus, the organizations, journals and advisors
known in the North never developed in the antebellum South beyond episodic fevers of reform efforts.
See Charles G. Steffen, "In Search of the Good Overseer: The Failure of the Agricultural Reform
Movement in Lowcountry South Carolina, 1821-1834," Journal ofSouthern History 58 (November
1997): 753-756. This phenomenon makes sense in light of the reforms I describe above, especially
those prior to 1820, when the South outpaced the North by producing a good many ideas and
innovators, but only as a series of swells rather than a steady wave. The North, on the other hand,
produced a steadier, if more concentrated, agricultural reform culture. This trend also contributes to my
sense that agrarian reform was continually evolving, moving toward an eventual inclusiveness, even in
7 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 8.
agricultural societies emerged, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1785 and
South Carolina Society for Promoting and Improving Agriculture, both in 1785, followed by
similar organizations in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Kentucky.18 But
these early societies still comprised an elite membership without an effective means of
communicating information widely.
The problem was two-fold. First, agricultural reforms and experiments were best
characterized as what Russell Lord calls "spontaneous agricultural extension."'9 Until the
mid-nineteenth century, agricultural education was haphazard, with neither the funding nor the
infrastructure to support an effective widespread movement. In 1760, Jared Eliot had called
for the publication of some sort of annual report compiling the successful improvements
farmers had undertaken, and in 1796, President Washington, himself an agricultural innovator,
urged Congress to establish an office to promote American agriculture. As the nation grew, he
argued, "the culture of the soil more and more [must be] an object of public patronage.'20 By
the turn of the nineteenth century, however, there still was no American counterpart to the
British Board of Agriculture and no far-reaching agricultural publication, so members of
learned societies simply reported their trials and successes to their respective peers.21 The
second problem is related to this organizational and communication deficit, and that is the
demographic composition of agricultural improvers.
8"Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 9-10.
'"Russell Lord, The Agrarian Revival. A Study ofAgricultural Extension (Nc\e York: American
Association for Adult Education, 1939), 20.
20 Wayne Rasmussen, Taking the I ri cr% itv to the People. Seventy-Five Years of Cooperative
Extension (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989), 17.
21 Rossiter, "The Organization of Agricultural Improvement," 284, Eliot, Essays Upon Field
As Jared Eliot supposed, the average society member and the average American
farmer were not the same man. Members of learned societies were, in the main, prominent
and wealthy men with an urban occupation and a country estate, both in New England. They
were educated and well-read (hence, the numerous nods to Cato and Virgil). However, certain
important factors were reshaping who improved and the information they expected. In turn,
the new kind of reformer propelled a shift toward a more distinct agricultural structure,
increased federal and state involvement in agriculture, and eventually, another significant
expansion of agricultural democracy. Basically, science launched this shift with the
introduction of new findings in agricultural chemistry and related subjects, creating a
grassroots demand among the agricultural public for "scientific expertise from its journals,
societies and government," which supported some new, but relatively few, positions for
agricultural scientists. This, Rossiter believes, promoted the enhanced "democratization and
'professionalization' of agricultural improvement," shifting the power base from gentlemen to
everymen, who in turn formed an "active self-interested lobbyist group." Since traditional
learned societies could neither keep pace with these changes nor meet the needs of an
expanded public, they were "bypassed" by those better suited to the new agrarian milieu.22
Peter McClelland's Sowing .\htdlrnity offers an important clue to the origins of
extension philosophy and expectations by demonstrating that the work of Jared Eliot and other
American agricultural writers preceded only slightly a boom beyond their most daring hopes.
In the 1810s, American agriculture began what McClelland terms the first of many
agricultural revolutions. Unlike historians analyzing such phenomena elsewhere, especially in
Britain, McClelland identifies revolution not with an implement or a crop, but with an attitude.
The revolution was a period in which "changes made in techniques and implements signaled a
22 Rossiter, "The Organization of Agricultural Improvement," 279.
departure from methods that for generations had been largely unchanged because their use had
been largely unquestioned." For McClelland, the revolution erupted when a single question
became "pervasive among American farmers"-"Is there a better way?" This "attitudinal
transformation," he says, occurred swiftly, in only two decades between about 1815 and
1830.23 His time frame is spot on, since the early nineteenth century witnessed a veritable
boom in agricultural education and a firm foundation for agricultural extension.
Agrarian reform became a hot topic in the nineteenth century because suddenly many
people were seeking a "better way." Agricultural societies flourished, agricultural literature
launched a whole genre in the American canon and an agricultural infrastructure finally
emerged to guide more steadily those in the throes of agricultural enthusiasm. In 1811, the
Berkshire Agricultural Society was organized, a prototype of the localized agricultural
societies most useful for mainstream farmers. It was succeeded by a number of new societies
and agricultural fairs, the brainchildren of Elkanah Watson, between 1817 and 1825.24 In
1838, proposals surfaced for the creation of a National Agricultural College (William
Marshall's ideas taking shape on this soil), and in 1852 the United States Agricultural Society
formed. By 1860, more than 900 agricultural societies were active nationwide. While they
remained largely a "boys' club," some sought to include women in their reform ideas. This
effort to address deficiencies or wants in the farm home proved a valuable opening for
including women in the coming Farmers' Institute movement. For example, Amasa Walker
outlined for the Worcester South Society in 1855 four basic goals for that organization as it
went about rural education. First, he suggested that weekly farmers' clubs should "discuss
agricultural matters among themselves;" second, they should buy, read and discuss
agricultural books; third, they should try to "establish a series of lectures on agriculture,
23 McClelland, Sowing Modernity, ix-x.
24 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 10.
agricultural chemistry and geology;" fourth, these clubs should conduct classes where young
farmers could study agricultural textbooks. Significantly, Walker told his audience that
women should be invited to all meetings and that some of the content should be aimed at their
needs, such as discussions of butter making.25
These groups were sharing their experiences with people and in ways their
predecessors had not. Husbandry manuals continued to appear; notable among them was
Edmund Ruffin's Essays on Calcareous Manures in 1832, based on his personal experiments
with marl fertilizer on his Virginia plantation.26 However, Ruffin's manual merged into an
already busy agricultural publication stream, again with prominent men at the helm. The first
American agriculture periodical, Agricultural Museum, appeared in 1810 and by 1840, a total
of thirty farm journals with a circulation of more than 100,000 signaled the permanence of
agriculture journalism in the United States.27 Moreover, these widely circulated journals
served as a vital conduit to carry information from experimental groups to farmers, exposing
them to new ideas in their own language, proven results of meaningful experiments, and even
examples from abroad, dwindling some of the innovation gap.28
Most significant for the future Extension Service and home demonstration, this
revolutionary period also accelerated the movement of two institutions into agricultural
25 Alfred A. True, A History ofAgricultural Extension Work in the United States 1785-1923
(Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1928), 5-6.
SScott, The Reluctant Farmer, 5; USDA, History of American Agriculture,
1.% u di daJ hiti or 2 Lt\ IIl hlim.
27 Many significant journals followed Agricultural Museum, including American Farmer and Plough
Boy in 1819, New England Farmer in 1822, New York Farmer and Southern Agriculturist in 1828,
Cultivator in 1834, and Union Agriculturist and Western Prairie Farmer in 1841. USDA, History of
American Agriculture. The thirty plus journals in circulation as of 1840 does not account for the many
more short-lived publications which marked the period. Typical of early agricultural reform, there were
many flares, but few long-burning developments. It is the steady stream, flares and otherwise, that
concerns us here.
28 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 20-21.
improvement the state and colleges. By 1862, these had united to create land-grant
universities, those that would serve as "base camps" for extension under the Morrill Act. As
early as 1766, George Washington had suggested that Congress establish a National Board of
Agriculture, but it was not until 1819 that such a body existed.29 That year, New York's state
legislature established the state's Board of Agriculture, the first of its kind. By 1820, as the
groundswell of those newly interested in scientific agriculture increased, their lobbying power
produced results in the federal government, first with an Agricultural Committee in the House
of Representatives and then in the Senate in 1825. More prominent federal initiatives did not
appear until 1862, but educational efforts continued to expand. Between 1825 and 1850, a
number of schools and colleges, including Columbia, Brown, and Harvard, began offering
science-based courses in agriculture, albeit unevenly, while in 1826, Maine launched the
Lyceum movement.30 The Gardiner's Lyceum was the first agricultural school, where farmers
enrolled in three years of instruction. It was a much-needed counterweight to the scattered
and usually unsatisfactory agricultural education offered at existing universities. However, the
Lyceum movement still could not overcome agrarian education's fledgling status, hampered
by farmer disinterest, academic snobbery and chronic underfunding.3" Then, in the midst of a
much greater struggle, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law initiatives which finally
would provide the support necessary to get agrarian improvement on firm footing, and extend
it to an even wider audience, including women.
Absorbed with war worries, Lincoln nevertheless put pen to paper for two agrarian
laws in 1862. One created the United States Department of Agriculture, as a cabinet-level
2' See Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 24-25 on early support for state agricultural initiatives.
3" USDA, History of American Agriculture, "Government Programs and Policy,"
31 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 24-26.
position, and the second approved the Morrill Land-Grant Act. On July 2, the federal
government granted eleven million acres of land to the states to create colleges for the purpose
of building a better agrarian machine, to "'promote the arts and industries for a peace not yet
in sight.'" Each college was to receive a $5,000 annual grant and 30,000 acres per each
Congressional representative.32 The idea was to stabilize and standardize the quality of and
access to agricultural education, but the colleges' early years were fraught with
disappointments, as they were "badly housed and miserably endowed."33 The number of
students actually enrolled in agriculture was abysmally low, and those that did attend to learn
about the newest and best agricultural methods were often disappointed there was neither the
staff nor the expertise, nor even the science, to meet demand.
To make matters worse, the hostility toward agricultural education that had plagued
earlier attempts to incorporate it into existing colleges continued. Farmers disliked the broad
curriculum that instructed their sons in both vocational and more classical pursuits; classical
professors at these "cow colleges" scoffed at anything as manually laborious as agriculture
and professed to see little value in teaching it.34 The faculty responsible for agrarian
education, regardless of competence, suffered from a particularly unfavorable balance of work
Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 30; Gladys Baker, The County Agent (Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1939), 2; USDA, History of American Agriculture, "Agricultural Education and Reform;"
Cotton, The Lamplighters, 10; Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 26-32, Donald B. Williams, Agricultural
Extension. Farm Extension in Australia, Britain and the United States ofAmerica (Melbourne:
Melboume University Press, 1968), 22..
3 Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 31.
4 Scon. The Reluctant Farmer. 27, 28-29. Part of the problem was a cultural divide. In one instance,
visiting agriculturists to Clemson University complained of the poor treatment they received from
faculty, and that "'. fr\ of the professors had shaved faces."' Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 29. Clayton
Ellsworth, recounting these early days of agricultural education in established universities, notes that
the Country Life Commission's chair, Liberty Hyde Bailey, experienced this same frustrating reception
at Comell University. Though Bailey was a renowned horticulturist by the time he joined Comell's
faculty, he faced opposition from both farmers and collegian, to agricultural education farmers
believed a college education was unnecessary to carry out their work and professors believed a College
of Agriculture was an oxymoron. Clayton Ellsworth, "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life
Commission," Agricultural History 34 (1960): 157.
and compensation. Many colleges attempted to maintain agricultural studies with but one
professor. Short on funds and students, colleges expected agricultural professors to be
multifunctional, supplementing their primary teaching duties with managing the college's
demonstration farm and teaching other courses more or less (usually less) related to
To correct some of these deficits and expand the student base of the land-grants,
Congress passed a second Morrill Act in 1890. There were some notable improvements in the
system, at least on paper. To alleviate some of the economic strain on the colleges, annual
grants were increased to $15,000 with a gradual increase expected of up to $25,000 per year.
The most significant change was the introduction of federal funds to support land-grant
education for blacks. In 1871, four Southern states had designated a portion of their grants for
use by black colleges, but in no meaningful way had black agricultural education previously
been provided for.36 Even so, enrollment remained disappointing.
A partial explanation for the slow start in land-grant enrollment was competition.
Farmers, and their wives, interested in learning more about their craft were attending in droves
the increasingly popular Farmers' Institutes, begun in Massachusetts in 1863 on the heels of
the Morrill Act. By 1899, all but one state offered Institutes, and most were sponsored by the
state department of agriculture or state land-grant college. That year, more than 2,000
Institutes were held and more than a half million farmers attended them. These intensive
seminars ran for two to five days, with morning and afternoons devoted to lectures on a
35 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 32.
3 Cotton, The Lamplighters, 11-12; Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 32.
variety of agricultural and homemaking topics. Evenings were a social time, filled with
amusements deemed uplifting, such as recitations and music.37
Throughout the Institutes' history, women participated. Though many farm women
were reluctant to attend lectures, many other women were eager to give them. Women's
speakers and sessions were not segregated from men's; female speakers shared the platform
with men, at times speaking not on homemaking, but on agriculture. It is not necessarily
surprising that male institute organizers welcomed, even encouraged, female participation;
they believed that women in attendance lent delicacy and refinement to the movement, a
perception once common in Victorian America.38 With Institute successes underway,
organizers looked for more direct ways to extend education to rural women, such as
concurrent but separate cooking schools. In these classes, women learned much of what
HDAs would undertake to teach similar women, including dietary needs and food analysis. In
the late nineteenth century, several states began establishing women's clubs, "domestic
science associations," to parallel their husband's societies. In patterns similar to home
demonstration, these clubs worked by gathering together rural women within their own
communities and working with them to improve some homemaking methods.39
37 Edmund deS. Brunner and H. Hsin Pao Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service. A History
and Critique of the Cooperative Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service (New York:
Teachers College, Columbia University, 1949), 7-8; Clarence Beaman Smith and Meredith Chester
Wilson, The Agricultural Extension System of the United States (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.,
1930), 28-31; The Cooperative Extension Service, ed. H.C. Sanders (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-
Hall, Inc., 1966), 13-14; Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, see chapters 3-4 for a detailed history of the
development and fulfillment of the Institute movement, including the participation of women and
youth; Cotton, The Lamplighters, 14; True, A History ofAgricultural Extension Work, 14.
3 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 117-119; True, A History ofAgricultural Extension II ,rA4 15, 17.
3 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 118-20; True, A History ofAgricultural Extension Work, 18, 35. On the
continued development of Institutes after 1900, including the increased attention to children, see True,
As they did for women, Institutes broadened agrarian education opportunities for rural
African-Americans. In many cases, blacks were officially welcome at white institutes.40
Black institutes benefited from a double source of funding and inspiration, for the legislated
support provided by Morrill was backed by the ingenuity and commitment of Tuskegee
Institute founder Booker T. Washington. Washington's concern that farmers who stood to
benefit from agricultural education were not always able to attend traditional institutes helped
launch his moveable schools, essentially institutes on wheels. The educators came to the farm
families, an important precedent for extension work.41 Meanwhile, traditional institutes
continued. In North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida they were
established specifically for black participants (both from segregated racial customs and the
need for expanded audiences).42 In Florida, white institutes were held in Gainesville at
University of Florida, while black farmers were required to attend the programs at the black
land-grant, the State Normal College for Colored Students (today, Florida Agricultural and
Mechanical University) in Tallahassee. Its first Institutes, in four counties, began in 1902 with
a $600 grant from the legislature.43
Parallelling but ever closer to intersecting land-grant colleges and institutes were some
other, not yet formalized, developments in agrarian edification. Among these were the
Chautauqua, founded at Chautauqua Lake, New York in 1874. Like Farmers' Institutes,
Chautauqua extended extension, approaching the daily, hands-on access that the Extension
40 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 115. Scott notes that resistance to black attendance tended to be based
in Southern enclaves, in those places where sharecropping was most deeply entrenched. There,
traditions of conservative agriculture based on a "'negro and mule"' prevailed and scientific farming
could make little headway.
41 Cotton, The Lamplighters, 12, 14; Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 115-116.
42 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 115.
43 Cotton, The Lamplighters, 14.
Service brought to rural families. Then, at the turn of the century, children's inclusion in
agricultural education grew into distinct clubs-corn for boys and, later, tomatoes for girls.
These clubs were the direct predecessors of the 4-H program, the oldest and most familiar
branch of the Extension system.4 Finally, reformers hit upon another key idea, the
agricultural experiment station. Though some agricultural colleges had been pursuing
experiments since the colleges' inception, experiment stations offered a concentrated solution
to a persistent problem-the dearth of science in scientific agrarianism. Experiment work
began abroad, in 1851 in Saxony, followed by experiment stations in England and France and
in some agricultural colleges in the United States.45
By the 1880s, experiment stations were operating formally in fifteen states,
developing the science that professors and demonstration agents later would take to their
respective students. However, as had been true before, funding and organizational issues
hampered progress. Educators and scientists looked to the state for funding and structure.
The state responded with the Hatch Act, which passed in 1887 with little fuss. In effect, the
Hatch Act enhanced the 1862 Morrill Act; it provided for the creation of a departmental
agricultural experiment station in each land-grant college, funded by a $15,000 annual grant.
The purpose of the stations was to "'aid in acquiring ... useful and practical information ...
and to promote scientific investigation and experiment respecting the principles and
applications of agricultural science.'" 46
44 Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 5-6; True, A History ofAgricultural
Extension H.; 'rk 65-68, 43; USDA History of American Agriculture, "Agricultural Education and
5 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 32. Once again, agrarian reform takes a transatlantic shape. In fact,
agricultural colleges here were derivatives of a University extension system that operated through
public libraries, a system which was itself inspired by similar ones in England, begun in 1866. True, A
History ofAgricultural Extension Work, 43.
4' Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 33; Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 5.
Agrarian reform through education seemed at the threshold of a comprehensive
system of extension. Thus far, improvement advocates had established "what" reform should
do: educate, experiment, extend. Long ago, the issue of"why" had been raised-talk of
national good, noble ploughmen, Jeffersonian democracy-but bureaucratic need long since
had taken precedence over ideological musings (those would be resurrected in 1908 with the
Country Life Movement). For centuries, reformers had been grappling with "how" to do what
needed to be done, and they were very close to the answer. When seventy-year old Seaman
Knapp crossed paths with a boll weevil in Texas, how to do the "what" fell into place.
To those connected in some way with the Cooperative Extension Service, Seaman
Knapp is only slightly short of a modern messiah. A sample of testimonials from such people
will suffice to demonstrate the extent to which Knapp is equated with rural salvation. In 1921,
Oscar B. Martin, a proponent of extension education among children and women, published a
work on Knapp detailing his "Contribution to Civilization." As one of the world's "great
benefactors," Knapp "loved the common man." A.F. Lever, co-author of the 1914 Smith-
Lever Act, introduced Martin's book with his own commendation. It was in the "fertile brain"
of the agricultural elder statesman that the demonstration method came to fruition, for which
Knapp "stands out toweringly among a bare half dozen really great agricultural leaders in the
history of our country." That he was so successful is little cause for wonder, for Knapp was "a
bold, aggressive, original thinker. His philosophy was tender and broadly sympathetic, filled
throughout with the true missionary spirit of service."47 Russell Lord has described Knapp as
a "practical man and a mystic," a reformer "who went South to make money, but he could not
47 Martin, The Demonstration Work, Preface, Introduction.
keep his mind on it... The men and women he directed literally worship his memory in the
South."48 Apparently so.
Behind the story of every giant, though, is a smaller creature, this one a bug. Without
the boll weevil, there may have been less urgency to propel Knapp's work or inspire his
followers' devotion. In 1902, Knapp accepted an appointment to the United States
Department of Agriculture, with the purpose of establishing some demonstration farms in the
South. While at Iowa State College, Knapp had helped run some similar farms with success,
but his experience in the South was less heartening. Demonstration farms were few and far
between, minimizing their impact on surrounding communities. Knapp suggested a
community demonstration farm, where that community chose its representative farmer. The
farmer agreed to pay his own way, though he was insured against loss. The first farm
established under this system was the Porter Community Demonstration Farm near Terrell,
Texas. There in 1903 Porter experimented with proposed controls of an increasingly
troublesome pest, the boll weevil, and the farm earned a sizable income from the advance
methods employed under Knapp's supervision.
The farm was a success and the publicity it garnered came just in time. That year, an
infestation of the Mexican boll weevil swept across Texas, savaging cotton crops and
threatening livelihoods as it went. The story of the Porter farm and its potential for wide-scale
control convinced the previously wary Secretary of Agriculture to fund an emergency
demonstration campaign. The purpose was to convince farmers to try newer methods by
proving to them that even in the midst of a weevil attack, cotton could be grown successfully
if Knapp's methods were in use.49 Knapp incorporated into his plan the "cultural methods" of
4s Lord, 54.
9 Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 8-9; Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 210-
212; True, A History ofAgricultural Extension Work, The Agrarian Revival, 58-64.
control the USDA and its Bureau of Entomology had proposed. These strategies (what we
now call Integrated Pest Management) were simple and effective. To retard the spread of the
weevil, Knapp and his agents encouraged farmers to plant early an early-maturing variety of
cotton, since the weevil itself did not mature into its most destructive form until late summer.
Additionally, Knapp and the USDA urged farmers to weed and cultivate thoroughly to remove
weevil habitats, bum all infected squares, and protect wildlife that preyed upon the weevil,
such as quail.50
The anti-weevil coup reassured Knapp that his ideas were viable and that
demonstration could work on private farms. Furthermore, though his immediate task was boll
weevil control, he saw farmers' vulnerability to the insect as a symptom of deep-rooted
debilitation in the rural South. Knapp long had been interested in extending agrarian
education beyond the farmer in the field, into the rural home. He saw ample room for
improvement in the rural South as a whole, where dilapidated buildings cast shadows on "the
same old mule ... hitched to a plow Adam rejected as not up-to-date."51 The whole-farm
approach would evolve into the marrow of Extension philosophy, so that the work reached out
in ever-widening circles.
Defining those circles was sticky at times. In 1906, Booker T. Washington launched
an idea formulated by his and George Washington Carver's experiences speaking with black
farmers. Since so few farmers had access to a car to attend institutes or other meetings,
Washington decided to bring the meetings to the farmers, via a moveable school. The Jesup
Wagon, named for benefactor Morris K. Jesup, began moving through Macon County,
50 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 212-215.
51 Seaman A. Knapp, "Farmers' Co-Operative Demonstration Work," Southern Educational Review 3
(October 1906), 50-51. See Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 216-221, regarding the early contests for
control and authority between Knapp's agents and the scientific crowd in colleges and the USDA.
Smith-Lever would diffuse much of this jealousy by basing agents at land-grant colleges.
Alabama, stopping in one community after another. Farmers, and their wives, gathered at the
homes of the sponsoring neighbors and spent several days learning and socializing together
The Jesup Wagon carried tools, seed packets, churs, milk testers and a variety of other
improvement-oriented equipment for demonstrating. The gatherings proved popular, and
demonstrated the efficacy, once again, of taking agrarian education to the people, on their
Washington saw an opportunity for expanding and enriching this sort of extension by
combining forces with Knapp. He approached Knapp with the moveable school and
suggested that black agents add their efforts to Knapp's cause, but he demurred. Aware of
Southern racial customs, he feared that a black agent would be confined to work with black
farmers, hampering his effectiveness and increasing costs; instead, Knapp intended his white
agents to seek out black demonstrators.5 The General Education Board later convinced
Knapp to reverse his decision and to employ black agents, the first being Thomas M.
Campbell in Macon County, Alabama. On the eve of Smith-Lever, thirty-six black agents
operated in nine Southern states.5
Similar provisions were underway for youth and women. Knapp became directly
involved in the boys' club movement, then the girls' tomato clubs. Like the Country Life
Commission that succeeded him, Knapp identified a fit and content rural youth as the key to
slowing the exodus from the countryside. Whatever his reservations about adults, Knapp was
determined that African-American children be included in boys' and girls' clubs. Again,
52 "Demonstrators" were those farmers who agreed to host a single crop demonstration on their
property. Initially, "demonstration farms" were those hosting the one crop, but the term later came to
indicate any farm employing improved methods for improvement as a public model. "Cooperators"
devoted most or all of their property to improvement under agent direction. True, A History of
Agricultural Extension Work. 61.
53 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 233; Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 114-
115; Cotton, The Lamplighters, 12; True, A History ofAgricultural Extension Work, 63.
custom drew some lines between work with white and black children, but prolonged work
with the children showed them to be just that, children, with little difference in their
enthusiasm for corn, pigs, chickens and other prized projects.54 Moreover, developing a good
relationship with children proved crucial in establishing a viable home demonstration
program. In five Southern states, the first home agents got their start with girls' tomato clubs,
for which they were recognized for their effectiveness and appointed as state and county
supervisors prior to 1914.55 In time, working with farm girls gave agents access to farm
wives, the most difficult group with whom to connect, and the foundation was in place for a
formal structure to tie the demonstration bundle together.
The 1914 Smith-Lever Act creating the Cooperative Extension Service was a victory
for agricultural reformers, demonstration pioneers and intellectual Progressives monitoring the
state of the rural union. Indeed, Progressivism indelibly stamped home demonstration and
extension work.56 Progressivism became a key source of home demonstration's longevity by
54 Scott, The Reluctant Farmer, 239-245.
55 The agents were Ella G. Agnew (Virginia), Susie Powell (Mississippi), Marie Cromer (South
Carolina), Jane McKimmon (North Carolina) and Virginia P. Moore (Tennessee). Scott, The Reluctant
Farmer. 248-49. Incidentally, McKimmon wrote an important early history of home demonstration in
North Carolina, When We're Green We Grow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1945).
And Moore became a leading home demonstration figure in Florida during the period of this
dissertation, spearheading the state's Home Improvement campaign and working for years as the home
demonstration home improvement specialist.
56I am not going to enter the progressivism terminology fray. Whether or not an "ism" is appropriate
here is not really the issue. I am emphasizing the Progressive era as a period that provided an important
context for extension and home demonstration, including much of its rhetoric, methodology and
assumptions. That said, I believe that the relationship between home demonstration and Progressivism
is not one-sided. Elisabeth Israels Perry has written a critique of Progressive historiography designed to
point to women's marginalization within it. When women appear, she argues, it is usually in the
context of social work or social justice "municipal housekeeping," that is. And one of Perry's
recommendations for a more meaningful historiography is to expand the periodization, to think of
Progressivism by more flexible standards. Elisabeth Israels Perry, "Men are from the Gilded Age,
Women are from the Progressive Era," Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era January 2002
hjup hAo, lr 'io.per.m ._,'r- i'tn kaljga 1.1 perrn hinl 18 S August 2004), pars. 10-11, 23. With
this critique in mind, I cannot help but suggest that an excellent way to expand our understanding of the
Progressive era is to consider more fully the role of rural Americans. Obviously, the Country Life
Movement figures in most discussions of Progressive reforms, but usually only briefly, and women
providing a contemporary impetus and framework for reforms, and helping to shape its
programs and style. When we consider home demonstration, it is difficult not to see
Progressivism's imprint-dynamic, sweeping and intensive. In fact, home demonstration and
Progressivism share many hallmarks. First was an expectation of and support for
professionalism; reformers were trained, systematically advanced and organized into
affiliations. Second, both home demonstration and Progressivism incorporated multiple levels
of government involvement. Though the government had maintained an interest in
agricultural affairs and a proportion of the leadership had been particularly interested in rural
life, the Progressives expertly blended government and agrarian pursuits via research,
beginning with the Country Life Commission in 1908.57 Third, these contemporary reformers
exulted and relied upon science and academics as fundamental tools of meaningful change.58
involved in rural reforms figure not at all. For example, Michael McGerr's 2003 analysis of
Progressivism, which begins in 1870, only discusses rural America in four pages devoted to the Country
Life Movement. Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent. The Rise and Fall of the Progressive
Movement in America. 1870-1920 (New York and London: Free Press, 2003), 104-107. Similarly,
Anne Firor Scott's study of women's associations deals with Progressive era reformers, but "rural" does
not even appear in the index. Anne Firor Scott, Natural Allies. Women's Associations in American
History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991). Steven J. Diner's Progressivism
history deals with the Country Life Movement briefly, but his analysis is not particularly fresh; his
criticism of the Commission and government-based agricultural reform reflects long-standing
historiography. The most recent treatment of Country Life work is a 2004 article by Scott Peters and
Paul Morgan, which examines the Commission in light of contemporary praise and historical criticism,
concluding that the Movement was, indeed, progressive. Scott J. Peters and Paul A. Morgan, "The
Country Life Commission. Reconsidering a Milestone in American History," Agricultural History 78
(t i(.4j: 289-316. The point is that more capacious treatments of Progressivism, reform and associations
can add some meaningful and fresh insights, especially in periods where rural and urban America were
equally in flux.
57 Harold T. Pinkett, "Government Research Concerning Problems of American Rural Society,"
Agricultural History 58 (Summer 1984): 366. Obviously, the Country Life Commission was not the
first large-scale government involvement in rural life; as I described earlier, the legislature had already
passed a number of acts aimed at rural education and reform. However, the Country Life Commission
was the first intensive, state and federally funded effort to study rural life as a whole to identify its
strengths and weaknesses and recommend improvements. Moreover, the long-term impact of the
Commission's work was to inspire even more government intervention in agrarian America like the
Cooperative Extension Service.
58 Robert Wiebe has an interesting take on this scientific validation. He argues that a new,
organizational approach to reform created status anxiety among community leaders. The professional
Though Progressivism colored extension work with broad strokes, one Progressive
initiative in particular, the Country Life Movement, lent important dimension to the ongoing
pursuit of agrarian reform for women.59 Progressives shared a general sense of foreboding
about the modern world; they harbored a terrible dread that the grimy, slimy industrial gilt
covering the nation would ruin its character, born in the country, completely. To make
matters worse, country people seemed increasingly determined to flee their supposed bucolic
repose in favor of the reported opportunity and variety of the cities. Those who stayed behind,
reformers worried, would be the dregs of a rural society laid to waste. Food prices would
skyrocket, American abundance would dwindle and urban problems, like poverty and labor
unrest, would spiral out of control. How to retard and then reverse this process was the critical
question. The answer lay in the country, with the people who lived and worked the rural life
reformers wanted to save.
Though President Theodore Roosevelt is the figure we readily associate with the
Country Life Movement, it, too, stemmed from a partly international initiative. Just like
reformer did not require the pedigree associated with old "status values," and so could usurp easily his
social betters in terms of influence. The logical response was to establish new values -- professional
values -- that rewarded measurable talent and ability. See Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1968). This means of establishing order out of chaos is part of what Daniel
Rodgers calls the rhetoric of social efficiency, one of the three "languages" which Progressives spoke
(including social bonds and antimonopolism). See Rodgers' "In Search of Progressivism," Reviews in
American History 10 (1982): 113-132. There is a clear connection between social efficiency and home
demonstration; much of the documentation agents submitted demonstrating their progress was in the
form of standardized, statistical forms which translated improvement into hard numbers.
5Despite the connection between Progressivism and reforms, many of which involved women,
Elisabeth Perry has evaluated the relative absence of women from Progressive historiography. Early
histories of Progressivism that did include women referred to all their work as "municipal
housekeeping." The term carried a gendered connotation, for men's work in sanitation, welfare and
other quality of life reforms were not referred to as any sort of housekeepers. Perry offers four
suggestions as a starting point for expanding and enhancing this historiography: consider not just the
history of woman's suffrage, but its consequences; rethink "moral reform" aspects of Progressivism,
including women's prominence within it; broaden the scope of "politics" to embrace women's activism;
"adopt a more capacious and flexible periodization" for the Progressive Era. See Perry, "Men are from
the Gilded Age, Women are from the Progressive Era," pars. 10-11,23.
earlier agrarian reforms had been, the Country Life Movement was transatlantic.60 An
intercontinental rural revival helped spark awareness in the United States; in the case of the
Country Life Commission. Irishman Horace Plunkett served as an important ambassador for
comprehensive rural improvement. In Ireland, Plunkett was galvanizing cooperative
organizations among ailing farmers. His desire for agricultural efficiency took shape in the
Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, itself inspired by a Danish example. Plunkett made
cooperatives an integral part of a larger rehabilitation philosophy: "Better farming, better
business, better living." To expand the reach of efficiency-based reform, Plunkett used his
seat in Parliament to push for an Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction,
through which he helped create a government program for agricultural extension.
Plunkett was popular at home and abroad; he had many friends in the United States,
including Theodore Roosevelt. Eager to create a transatlantic reform network, and with ready
access to the American president's ear, Plunkett convinced him to create "a blue-ribbon
commission on the ills and needs of rural life."61 Originally, Plunkett and Chief Forester
Gifford Pinchot tried to establish a bureau of rural life within the USDA, but when presented
with the idea in 1907, Agricultural Secretary James Wilson demurred. As he understood it,
his job was to oversee the farm, not the farm family. Disappointed but undeterred, Pinchot
61 As Daniel Rodgers argues, the international example helped Southern agricultural reformers like
Clarence Poe articulate a still nebulous agrarian reform urge. In fact, Rodgers points out, Poe saw
agrarian reforms not in terms of democratization, but much as Arthur Young had in England a way to
rid the countryside of "loose ends and ragged edges." For Poe, these were mainly African-Americans
and other rural poor. Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings. Social Politics in a Progressive Age
(Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 322-23.
6' Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 331-334. Indeed, the USDA's Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot,
remarked to Plunkett, "Some of these days it will be known that you are the man who stirred up the
whole movement in America." D. Jerome Tweton, "Progressivism Discovers the Farm: The Country
Life Commission of 1908," North Dakota Quarterly (Summer 1971): 58. Indeed, the connection
between American extension and global extension remained strong from the Early Moder period
through the modern era. Once home extension was in place in the United States, it expanded to Puerto
Rico and established far-flung friendships via the Associated Country Women of the World. Moreover,
the model of American extension moved to developing nations in the twentieth-century, though the
precise experience of extension workers and clients differed from place to place.
took his cue from Roosevelt's own methodology and suggested an investigatory commission
to study rural life. Impressed by the "organization" model, and aware of the need to address
rural ills in the home and community as well as the field, Roosevelt created the Commission
on Country Life in 1908 and placed Liberty Hyde Bailey, Dean of Cornell's College of
Agriculture, at the helm. Other distinguished figures rounded out the Commission: Kenyon
Butterfield, the President of the Massachusetts College of Agriculture, Walter Hines Page,
editor of World's Work and a Southern Progressive, Gifford Pinchot and Henry Wallace,
editor of Wallace's Farmer.62 In order to gather data on the status of American country life,
the Commission traveled rural America, surveying and taking testimonials from thousands of
folks. It engineered a nationwide meet-at-the-schoolhouse forum on December 5, and it
mailed over 500,000 circulars with twelve questions to households, as well as to newspapers
to encouraging those without the circulars to write in with any concerns and suggestions they
The twelve circular inquiries were relatively broad, leaving ample room for
respondents to specify concerns:
I. Are the farm homes in your neighborhood as good as they should be under
II. Are the schools in your neighborhood training boys and girls satisfactorily
for life on the farm?
III. Do the farmers in your neighborhood get the returns they reasonably
should from the sale of their products?
62Bailey was a wise choice for the Commission, for both his interest and experience. As early as 1896
he had expressed concern for the quality of rural life and, in 1906, conducted a Country Life
Commission-style study of a New York county, investigating a variety of farm life factors, including
the role of farm women and the education of children. See Tweton, 59. Tweton's article is a valuable
discussion of how the Commission was established and how its internal dynamics played out. He relies
heavily on correspondence between Commission members, revealing details left hidden by other
histories. On the Commission composition, see Olaf F. Larson and Thomas B. Jones, "The
Unpublished Data from Roosevelt's Commission on Country Life," Agricultural History 50 (1976):
"3 Larson and Jones, "The Unpublished Data," 584; Ellsworth, "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life
IV. Do the farmers in your neighborhood receive from the railroads, highroads,
trolley lines, etc., the services they reasonably should have?
V. Do the farmers in your neighborhood receive from the United States postal
service, rural telephones, etc., the service they reasonably should expect?
VI. Are the farmers and their wives in your neighborhood satisfactorily
organized to promote their mutual buying and selling interest?
VII. Are the renters of farms in your neighborhood making a satisfactory living?
VIII. Is the supply of farm labor in your neighborhood satisfactory?
IX. Are the conditions surrounding hired labor in your neighborhood
satisfactory to the hired man?
X. Have the farmers in your neighborhood satisfactory facilities for doing
their business in banking, credit, insurance, etc.?
XI. Are the sanitary conditions of farms in your neighborhood satisfactory?
XII. Do the farmers and their wives and families in your neighborhood get
together for mutual improvement, entertainment and social intercourse as
much as they should?
"Why?" and "What suggestions have you to make?" followed each question. The circular
concluded with a final inquiry: "What, in your judgment, is the most important single thing to
be done for the general betterment of country life?" This question surely produced some
fruitful responses, but they had not been tabulated when D.F. Houston, Woodrow Wilson's
Secretary of Agriculture, had the circulars destroyed in 1915.64 Even without the answers, it is
clear that reform-minded people in positions to follow through on good intentions were
interested in the quality of life in rural sectors.
64 Report of the Commission on Country Life, with an Introduction by Theodore Roosevelt (New York:
Sturgis and Walton Company, 1911), 51-53. Larson and Jones explain briefly the internal politics that
ultimately claimed the rich, raw data upon which the Commission based much of its report. Roosevelt
allowed the Commission four months to complete its work and make its report. Feeling rushed, the
Commission never had time to delve deeply into the circular responses. Indeed, Bailey complained that
the wealth of information in the responses could never be fully analyzed, and so would have to yield
only suggesti e summaries. The report, brief and general, was published as Senate Document No. 705,
60'h Congress, 2d session for use by Congress in 1909 (Congress refused to fund a popular publication
of the Report, but in 1911 the Spokane Chamber of Commerce and a private firm in New York City
each published it for distribution in their respective regions. In 1944, the University of North Carolina
Press published the Report for wide-scale popular consumption). Before any of the Commission could
pen a fuller document, the circulars went to Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, a man not friendly
toward the Commission or its work, which had conducted itself independently of the USDA. Taft's
administration did not continue the Commission's work, and Agricultural Secretary Houston, believing
the circulars no longer valuable, ordered them destroyed. What remained intact were papers in
commission members' private possession, the report submitted to Congress and twelve brief,
unpublished reports which summarize the findings from each of the twelve main circular inquiries. See
Larson and Jones, 586; F lls\ortnh "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Movement," 171.
Several of the circular inquiries are particularly notable in light of the home
demonstration program to come, including that related to farm homes, rural services and
sanitary conditions. Notably, the lead question addresses the whole farm home, a clear
indication that reformers, all men in leadership positions, were cognizant at last of the
necessity of total rural well-being. The Commission concluded its report with "The Young
Farmer's Practical Library," a bibliography the Commission believed useful for invigorating
and maintaining the countryside. Among the works was Virginia Terhune Van de Water's
From Kitchen to Garret. Housekeeping and Home-Making. The book's description does not
refer to rural homes as opposed to urban ones, but it describes a methodology for instruction
and reform that home demonstration would mirror very closely:
From Kitchen to Garret does not deal with ideal or impractical decorations, but with
the everyday care of each room in the ordinary home. It is written in simple language,
as if the writer were face-to-face with her reader and explaining to her how to conduct
her household and how to do so with the greatest comfort and least friction for all
concerned.... As one accompanies the author on her tour of the house and listens to
her advice ... one finds the care of the home simplified and the duties of the house
systematized into an harmonious whole.65
Had this description been written in 1915, and been for the rural home, it might have been
describing a HDA, and her language of "everyday good housekeeping," "systematic
housework," "comfort and convenience." This book offered advice as though the reader and
writer were "face-to-face;" HDAs and rural women were face-to-face. Home demonstration's
lineage obviously was long, but its immediate forebears, domestic science and the Country
Life Movement, clearly combined to instigate, propel and legitimize home demonstration as a
reform measure by locating it at the juncture of two dynamic and immediate movements that
both emphasized the fundamental good of the home in the greater good of the nation.
SReport of the Commission on Country Life, appendix.
Indeed, much of the motivation for the Country Life Commission was a growing
sense that rural America was decaying from within. Michael McGerr argues that seeing rural
America as less than idyllic was not easy as the century opened. Progressive-minded middle-
class reformers were absorbed with urban blight, and they tended to look to the countryside as
a moral and cultural cure. The realities, though, of farm tenancy and depopulation disrupted
the illusion of an agrarian wonderland; caught up in the fever of the time, reformers took up
the additional mission of saving the countryside. Scott Peters and Paul Morgan take a
different tack, for they see the Country Life Movement as truly progressive; its work
demonstrates "not an arrogant, technocratic agenda or a backward romanticism," but "an
emerging ecological sensitivity and a variant of Progressive Era reform devoted to key civic
and economic ideals." Of course, there is always the customary explanation, that the whole
Country Life Movement was "a complex and ambiguous concern for individualism, social-
mindedness, nostalgia for the past, morality, national integration based on science and
efficiency, and distrust of materialism and special privilege."66
Whatever motivated Country Lifers, most importantly for our story, they evaluated the
problem expansively. It was clear that overburdened, isolated women and restless children
were as critical in the formula for rural rejuvenation as transportation costs and crop yields. In
his 1960 evaluation of the Country Life Commission, Clayton Ellsworth articulated its long-
term significance. The Commission and Roosevelt "realized that merely to increase the
physical productivity of agriculture by the wonderful wand of science would not automatically
solve the great problems of farm life."67 Several of the Commission's specific findings speak
S66 Nlc.err. Fierce Discontent, 104-105; Peters and Morgan, 292, 289; Historical Dictionary of the
Progressive Era. 1890-1920, eds. John D. Buenker and Edward R. Kantowicz (New York and London:
Greenwood Press, 1989), 96.
to this holistic approach and address just the sort of battles that HDAs would wage in the near
future. These acknowledgments were not always welcome news to those affected, but they
stand out among the Country Life Commission's successes, especially as they informed what
extension would take on as significant reforms.
A key Commission alert related to rural health-respondents' evaluation of
neighborhood health was resoundingly negative. Problems prevalent in urban settings, such as
water pollution and inadequate sanitation, were also common in the country. One of the long-
term victories for the Commission was that its exposure helped launch a network of health
reformers, including the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission and home demonstration, that took
seriously the devastating impact of diseases like typhoid and hookworm and acted to bring
about meaningful improvement. Frederick Stiles, the distinguished physician responsible for
hookworm education, worked with the Country Life Commission as medical attach, then
took his findings to John D. Rockefeller's General Education Board, upon which Rockefeller
devoted $1,000,000 to establishing the Sanitary Commission for the purpose of eradicating
hookworm in the South.
The lingering problem was a pervasive ignorance about the disease. One Georgia
newspaper scoffed at Stiles' reports, crowing "Where was this hookworm or lazy disease,
when it took five Yankee soldiers to whip one Southerner?"68 Education via newspapers and
other media, newly formed county health boards and, critically, on-the-ground reformers like
HDAs was the only effective means for bringing hookworm under control. Once the
Commission faded away, Extension moved in to take up the mantle of rural rejuvenation,
especially in health. From the outset, HDAs acknowledged and tackled obstacles to rural
67 Ellsworth, "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Commission," 172. Of course, the "wand of
science," as I noted above, continued to be an important tool for reformers, because some of what was
wrong, like sanitary deficiencies, required hard-fact change to make a difference.
68 Quoted in Ellsworth, "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Commission," 171.
\\ ell-heing, making the most of the Commission's revelations. In this regard. the Country Life
Movement provided home demonstration with more than inspiration; the Commission's work
gave home demonstration a mandate, a legitimacy that went beyond pretty curtains and tomato
The report the Commission laid on the President's desk borrowed from Horace
Plunkett's rhetoric and concluded that "'better farming, better living, and better business"'
were the foundation of rural rejuvenation, and that rural people themselves were the linchpin
in the whole process. Improved farming, home beautification, school consolidation and
church revitalization were the Commission's central reform themes.69 Its report called for
three interrelated measures to initiate comprehensive uplift: first, an "inventory" of all rural
resources, including soils, plants, animals and people; second, "'some way [to] unite all
institutions, all organizations, all individuals, having any great interest in country life, into one
great campaign for rural progress;'" and third, "the thorough organization and nationalization
of extension work through colleges of agriculture." Finally, the Commission recommended
that within each state agricultural college there be a discrete and comprehensive extension
department directed to deal with not only agriculture, but also "'sanitation, education,
homemaking and all interests of country life."'70
69 In fact, questions dealing with the rural church were part of a separate report, omitted from the main
circulars in deference to Wallace's wishes. Though he agreed that the rural church was in decline,
Wallace demurred at the idea of a government investigation into the matter. Similarly volatile issues
also did not make it into the Commission's official agenda, including those dealing with race relations
and immigrant labor. Ellsworth, "Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Commission," 163.
7o Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 53; David Danbom, Born in the Country: A History of Rural America
(Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University, 1995), 167-173; Brunner and Yang, Rural America
and the Extension Service, 11-13; Report of the Commission on Country Life, 127. The Commission
noted that some extension work was going on via agricultural colleges, "although on a pitiably small
scale as compared with the needs." Only a nation-wide, funded and systematic approach to extension
could effectively accomplish what the Commission saw as the crux of rural revitalization, "the arousing
of the people ... in terms of their daily lives." Report of the Commission on Country Life. 126. Several
historians have drawn direct connections from the Commission's recommendations to the establishment
of the Cooperative Extension Service, including Scott Peters and Paul Morgan in the most recent
For centuries, women had been an assumed part of the agricultural dynamic; likely no
serious agricultural reformer expected that a deficient home would not hinder in some way
bounty in the field. Yet, few agrarian thinkers and innovators had devoted much, if any,
attention to reforms for women, even fewer to reforms led by women. Finally, around the turn
of the century, reformers concerned with rural rejuvenation considered women and the home
to be integral to the process, and acted upon that understanding. The coalescence of home
economics' knowledge, Seaman Knapp's methodology and the Country Life Commission's
recommendations made the time right for the rural home, and feminized agrarian reform, to
come into their own. Urged to action, Congress provided official provision for rural domestic
reform and education under the Smith-Lever Act.
In 1912, the growing popularity of some plan for federally supported extension work
prompted at least sixteen bills in Congress for that purpose. Of these, a bill authored by
Representative Asbury Lever seemed most promising, and after some modifications, he and
Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia introduced what passed as the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. The
gist of the bill was that it set up the Cooperative Extension Service, a body for agricultural and
home economics extension work carried out by agents, men working with farmers, women
working with farm women, and both men and women leading children in 4-H work. The most
localized work was at the county level, then up to districts, states and finally to the national
level. Extension agents worked under the cooperative direction of state land-grant colleges
evaluation of the Country Life Movement-a 1958 call for a second Country Life Commission noted
that the first Commission had been successful partly because it had "stimulated the formation of the
Agricultural Extension Service; Peters and Morgan, 290. Even so, historians have not neglected to
point out the weaknesses in the Commission's report. Peters and Morgan offer a tidy historiography of
these criticisms, including arguments that the Commission represented the views of nostalgic outsiders
operating on little more than Jeffersonian theories. More than one critique has focused upon the
Commission and the Country Life Movement in general, as feeding the interests of an urban nation.
Peters and Morgan try to refine the critiques a bit by delineating the difference between the Country
Life Movement and the Commission on Country Life. See Peters and Morgan, "The Country Life
Commission," 294-301, 301-313.
and the USDA. The exact nature of the work was contingent on the will and need of the local
people, for extension work was entirely voluntary. The primary purpose of extension was to
disseminate to rural people information gleaned from agricultural bodies like the USDA,
agricultural colleges and experiment stations-the "collecting and diffusing [of] information"
George Washinglon had recommended in 1796.71 In the case of home demonstration, this
information represented the combined work of agricultural colleges and home economics.72
The leading principle of extension education, prior to and under Smith-Lever, was "to help
these rural families help themselves by applying science, whether physical or social, to the
daily routines of farming, homemaking, and family and community living." As Edmund
Brunner and Hsin Pao Yang describe it, Extension is "out-of-school, roadside education.... It
dares to put its teaching to the acid test of practical workability on the land and in kitchens,
home and communities."7
71 Some evidence of Extension's tensile fluid strength is its organizational development. Extension
work before Smith-Lever was carried on jointly between three offices: the Office of Experiment
Stations (USDA) from 1888-1915, the Office of Cooperative Demonstration Work and the Office of
Farm Management (Bureau of Plant Industry) from 1904-1914 and 1906-1915, respectively. Smith-
Lever, passed May 8, 1914, expanded the USDA's cooperative role and precipitated the consolidation
of all extension work in the States Relations Office (SRS), established in 1915 by the Agricultural
Appropriations Act. SRS operated out of Offices of Extension Work, one for the South and one for the
North and West, until these were combined in 1921 with the Exhibits of the Secretary's Office and the
Office of Motion Pictures, Division of Publications. These separate entities formed the Office of
Cooperative Extension Work, SRS. In 1923, this office became the Extension Service. In 1954, the
Extension Service became Federal Extension Service, then the Extension Service again in 1970. All
this time, the Service continued to operate out of the SRS. From 1978 to 1981, the Office became the
Extension Staff, Science and Education Administration. Finally, in 1981, the Agricultural Secretary
established the Extension Service once again, this time as part of the USDA. The details for all this
organizational office shifting is in Correspondence of Alfred True, National Archives and Records
Administration (NARA), Record Group (RG) 333.1 and Publications of the Extension Service and
Predecessors, NARA, RG 287.
72 Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 13; Williams, 23-31; True, A History of
the Agricultural Extension Service, 100-114; Lord, The Agrarian Revival, 88-97; Scott, The Reluctant
Farmer, Chapter 11. Brunner and Yang and Williams offer detailed summaries of the Act's main
provisions. The full-text of the Act is in True, Appendix, 195-197. Williams provides, too, an
overview of post-1914 Extension development and legislation, including the Capper-Ketcham Act,
1928, which increased funding, especially for women and children's extension work. Williams, 31-34.
73 Brunner and Yang, Rural America and the Extension Service, 1.
In Florida, the first major political booster for Extension was Governor Sidney J.
Catts. Though part of a demagogic cadre of Progressive politicians who, as Wayne Flynt puts
it, were "characterized by their emotional appeals to irrational issues," Catts espoused the very
rational benefits of agricultural extension for the state. Part politics and part inspiration, Catts
supported higher learning in Florida, expanding both Florida State College for Women and
University of Florida. Specifically, Catts advocated an extension system for Florida,
encouraged by both his friendship with UF's director of Extension, P. H. Rolfs, and the
popularity of the extension idea among Floridians. In 1919, the Florida legislature approved a
state-wide extension system, and work began in earnest.74 As later HDAs would discover,
however, state-level support did not always smooth the edges from local politics.
By the time it fully blossomed in the twentieth century, home demonstration had
collapsed traditional domestic advice and agricultural improvement into one fertile seedbed of
agrarian domesticity. Home demonstration agents' work not only helped democratize agrarian
reforms, it feminized them, by putting substantial power for improvement in the hands of
women agents and women clients. Expertise was no longer the purview solely of men or elite
women. 1919 is a long way from Thomas Tusser, not to mention Dorcas but only in years.
The quest for the "better way" has been ongoing, and though women have not always been at
the center of it, they have been swept along in its wake with their fathers and husbands. Yet,
even as reform by and for women moved into the spotlight, albeit alongside their male
counterparts, agents found that challenges were only just beginning. High ideals and lofty
sentiments aside, agents had to be hired, paid, housed, transported, equipped, introduced, and
accepted-no easy task when many farm communities were isolated or farm women were
74 Wayne Flynt, Cracker Messiah. Governor Sidney J. Catts of Florida (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1977), 196-197.
distrustful of strangers toting books which were not the Bible or an encyclopedia. 5 Perhaps
this was the greatest challenge of all, finding acceptance, gaining trust, earning respect. Over
nearly a century of service, HDAs found that negotiation, compromise and solidarity were
indispensable survival tools.
7 Kate Hill recalls the experiences of Edna Trigg, an early Texas home demonstration agent, who
encountered skepticism and mistrust in her first years of work. The problem was overcoming ingrained
perceptions among rural men and women. Hill writes, "Farm women of the day knew that they needed
many things to improve their living conditions, but for a woman to ride around and teach them how to
can or prepare food was a strange conception. ... The biological process of producing a child was
supposed by many to endow a woman simultaneously with the halo of motherhood together with the
knowledge and skill to feed, teach and care for and rear the child to successful maturity." Husbands
scoffed at "book learning" for their wives and women balked at an outsider's critique of family
homemaking methods passed from mothers to daughters. Hill, Home Demonstration Work in Texas. 7.
INSPIRATION TO INSTITUTION: NEGOTIATING THE PROFESSIONAL HOME
Just a sampling of the Extension Worker's Creed reveals the ideals that powered the
home demonstration machine: "I believe in the sacredness of the farmer's home; in the
holiness of the country woman's love and the opportunity that home should assure to culture,
grace and power." Inspirational? Certainly. But even such moving sentiments cannot tell us
the whole of what it meant to be an extension worker. We are forcibly reminded that these
women and men were more than mere reformers and educators by another sentiment, gleaned
from agents' 1927 suggestions for Florida extension conferences. Farm agent J. Lee Smith
concluded his recommendations with a potent P.S.: "Get cushioned seats for auditorium."'
Inspirational? Not exactly. But Smith's plea serves to remind us that extension work was a
job, well-grounded in the daily grind.
The Smith-Lever Act did not just make extension official, it allowed it to become
formalized, even codified, into career work for thousands of men and women, both white and
black. It is unlikely that more than a few agents ever lost sight of the idealism that inspired
their jobs the pay and benefits alone did not warrant going into extension work if it did not
have another, more lofty, appeal. But educating farmers and their families in rural
communities throughout the United States and its territories was a massive undertaking, one
that required considerable institutionalization to keep extension operating effectively. More
important for our purposes here, the formal creation of the home demonstration agent, and her
' Flavia Gleason [FG] to Members of Epsilon Sigma Phi, 29 March 1934 (SC-21-6); University of
Florida Extension Agents Conference, 1927. Recommendations for Improvement (SC-91a-3).
male counterpart, meant that extension was evolving from mere inspiration into a formidable
institution with long-term viability.2 This chapter highlights home demonstration's durability
in terms of HDAs' dynamic professional world. The most salient feature in the process of
professionalization was negotiation; dealing with other agents, superiors, clients and local
governments taught HDAs an important lesson in bargaining, a skill that served them well
throughout their tenure in Florida, a skill that averted termination.
To a considerable degree, the rigors of day-to-day negotiation and professional
development promoted longevity by forcing home demonstration to be flexible, energetic and
committed. Without these qualities, HDAs never could have made demonstration viable in the
short term, or secured support for long-term development. The realities of an HDA's position
demanded the negotiation that promoted survival. An HDA was not simply the overbearing
representative of a white, urban, middle-class bureaucracy intent on bending the rural woman
to the government's will. Neither was an HDA a local spokeswoman for hamlet autonomy
and traditional customs. It is true there was a nationally constructed plan for home
demonstration work. However, home demonstration lived on the ground, not on high. Every
HDA worked as an intermediary between national agendas and local needs.3
2 The bulk of sources for this chapter is correspondence, because no other source reveals daily battles
and victories in so uncensored a way. For example, a report might indicate that someone had been
hired or fired, but the correspondence tells us why. Most importantly, letters and telegrams reveal
personal opinions and private conversations that would not be a part of more formal public records.
SJeannie Whayne has analyzed black extension workers' position as intermediaries in the context of
subaltern theory. Though Whayne is dealing exclusively with black farm and home agents, her point is
applicable throughout the Service. She writes, "The negotiation between agents and local populations
described by [county agent Otis] O'Neal in 1916 also continued and evolved throughout the first half of
the twentieth century. Black agents occasionally tested the limits of their authority, pushing the
perimeters as far as they could and then backing off when required to do so." Jeannie Whayne, "'I
Have Been through Fire.' Black Agricultural Extension Agents and the Politics of Negotiation," in
Afrli anv-.4-lrican Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950 ed. R. Douglas Hurt (Columbia and London:
University of Missouri Press, 2003): 164-165. I argue that Whayne's analysis for black agents can be
applied broadly to not only black HDAs, but to white HDAs, as well, who worked within a male-
dominated profession. This chapter will explore the intermediary role among HDAs dealing with both
local people and colleagues. I thank Melissa Walker for bringing Whayne's essay to my attention.
For better or worse, HDAs were governed not by decree, but by context. Every
county, every community, ultimately held the power to accept or reject home demonstration.
The State HDA in 1948, Mary Keown, reminded attendees at an Extension workshop,
"Extension work is very human; it is more than an organization chart and paid personnel.
Extension work consists of living relationships between the people who carry it on and the
individuals who benefit by participation."4 Local acceptance only created new reasons HDAs
had to be sensitive to local context-conditions such as a county's rural-urban orientation,
economic strength, infrastructure quality, racial make-up, county commission personality,
existing community organizations, school attendance and physical well-being all shaped what
an HDA did and how she did it within her county. For example, whether an HDA worked in
Hillsborough County, anchored by Tampa and active in home demonstration from the start, or
Franklin County, an undeveloped coastal county that did not even have extension until the late
1950s, is no insignificant factor. Or, consider this; Florida has sixty-seven counties, so it
seems particularly disappointing that only eight or ten counties had a black HDA at any time
during this period. However, the vast majority of Florida's African-American population
lived in the Panhandle, so it is those counties that matter when considering the extent of black
home demonstration in Florida.
Even within their own offices (those who had them), HDAs negotiated with
colleagues and superiors for travel time, equipment and clout. Those working in counties that
had both a county agent and an HDA for an extended time faced less intraoffice resistance
than those who began work with a county agent not accustomed to sharing space, resources or
authority. None of this struggle, however, should be dismissed as simply the workings of a
new agency seeking stable ground. In fact, we should be alert to the reality of home
4 Mary Keown, "Leadership-Selection, Training and Use," in The Extension Specialist. Evaluation of
the Job, Program Development, Materials and their Use, Teaching and Relationships. Report of
Workshop at University of Florida; Gainesville, Florida; March 22 April 2, 1948.
demonstration as a profession. HDAs did their job in an official capacity, with the same
expectations of expertise that Progressives had demanded of themselves. Though there was
some resistance to HDAs as government workers preaching book-learning among rural
families, many other women accepted agents precisely because they could prove they knew
what they were doing, and do so with grace, respect and, of course, diplomacy.
Home demonstration was career work, with all the attendant committees, paperwork
(a lot of paperwork), training, salary battles, resignations, transfers, appointments and
promotions.5 Moreover, though most of the relationships formed around home demonstration
were positive, there were periods of serious contention and misgiving, too. Sex, race, class
and community biases each played a part in sometimes slowing the momentum of reform.
The elaborate bureaucracy of extension work at times only heightened the need for constant
negotiation within the Service and between agents and their communities. The more home
demonstration pushed out into the countryside and nearby towns, the greater the opportunity
for contestation and power struggles. 0. B. Martin rightly observed "It requires a high order
of diplomacy to get women to improve their own condition and environment by impressing
upon them the importance and dignity of the situation in which they are to help somebody
5 A visual example of the career orientation in home demonstration work is a brochure designed to
attract women to home demonstration as a career. The brochure does mention briefly benefits such as
"help promote better individual, family and community living." But the vast majority of statements
reflect home demonstration as a job: "If you want a good salary in comparison with other careers for
women, ajob which will challenge your ability, an opportunity to use your own initiative and
originality, continuous professional improvement, satisfaction in your own growth, then you will like
being a Florida Home Demonstration Agent." See such brochures in SC-158-8. More to the point, the
job responsibilities for District Agents includes "Maintaining efficient county personnel who are
interested in Agricultural Extension Service work as a career." "Home Demonstration Work in Florida.
Duties and Responsibilities of Personnel" (SC-158-6).
6 0. B. Martin, The Demonstration Work: Dr. Seaman A. Knapp's Contribution to C,\ It-ali:,nn (Boston:
The Stratford County., 1921), 152.
Furthermore, the Extension Service itself evolved as home demonstration grew within
it, as women at every level carved out arenas of increased responsibility and leadership. At
times, they came into direct conflict with their male associates, but pushed on nevertheless,
even if it meant leaving Florida. As home demonstration grew, rural reform for women grew
with it, so that rural women had ever more say in the quality of their home and community
lives. Where women's concerns had once been peripheral at best in the agrarian reform
agenda, home demonstration made them a priority, even if male supervisors did not always
agree. Even after the number of farm women declined in the wake of a rural exodus following
World War II, HDAs shifted to accommodate the changing needs of agents and clients alike,
reinventing home demonstration as a career choice for ambitious, concerned women and its
programs as practical, uplifting advice for women in a new and busy world. Negotiating this
transformation, however, was not a simple task.
As a federal, state and county program of considerable breadth, the Cooperative
Extension Service eventually embodied a bureaucracy that would hardly surprise modern
Americans. At its inception, though, the Service was merely a formal version of the
agricultural extension and education mechanisms that had been evolving since the colonial
period. Once it became national and official, Extension had to develop standardized
evaluation techniques, secure local financial and social backing, and maintain state and
national political support. District and State agents absorbed much of the responsibility for
keeping Extension education operative and effective, supplementing their educational duties
with political, social and financial wrangling. Even Seaman Knapp's loftiest sentiments about
rural rejuvenation and the all-important farm home could neither supply agents with the
clerical help they needed nor put new tires on an old car. Putting qualified demonstration
agents in the field on a regular basis, and keeping them there, created a bureaucracy of its
Basically, the Extension system was composed of a network of information and
authority flowing between the United States Department of Agriculture, state colleges of
agriculture, county school boards, boards of commissioners and others of local influence. The
final link-the men, women and children who participated in the extension work that agents
offered-was also the most important.7 Without them, there was little practical use for
extension. The simplest way to grasp the structure of the Extension Service is to see it.
The complex representation of Extension organization on page 109, as it appeared in 1966,
demonstrates the degree to which Seaman Knapp's emergency idea evolved into a fully
articulated organizational network. It is necessary to remember, too, that this arrangement
was replicated in every state, every territory and within the USDA itself. Interaction between
these levels is not insignificant. For example, in the 1960s, in-service training conferences for
agents in the Southeast often included not only Florida, Georgia and Alabama, but Puerto
Rico.8 Home demonstration was always equally local, regional and national. Within Florida,
the extension apparatus maintained the national flow-chart structure, headed by a Director,
who, during most of the period covered here, was Wilmon Newell. Both the Director and the
Vice-Director, A.P. Spencer, maintained their offices in Gainesville at the land-grant
University of Florida (UF). UF served as the official hub of extension activity, but it was then
an all-male university, so home demonstration operated out of Tallahassee's Florida State
7 Lincoln David Kelsey, Cooperative Extension Work (Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publishing
Associates, 1955), 54.
8 See, for example, The Extension Specialist. Evaluation of the Job, Program Development. Materials
and Their Use, Teaching and Relationships. For Specialists from S. Carolina, Georgia, Florida and
Puerto Rico (Gainesville: University of Florida, March-April 1948).
College for Women (FSCW). Also in Tallahassee was Florida Agricultural and Mechanical
School (FAMU), the home base for Negro extension.
So it was that one system operated out of three schools, segregated by sex and race.
The resulting headaches were not inconsequential, since everyday discussion was slowed by
the necessity of mailing almost all communication (telephone and telegraph were considered
too expensive for regular use), or by waiting until one party could drop in on the other. The
inadequacy of such an arrangement was not lost on Extension leaders. In 1927, District HDA
Lucy Belle Settle wanted to move her office from Tallahassee to Gainesville, closer to her
work in South Florida. Though there was some concern that this would cause a disruption in
communications between home demonstration staff, Director Newell acknowledged that
Settle's plan made real sense. Writing to State HDA Flavia Gleason about Settle's request, he
commented, "all of the Extension work, Home Demonstration included, is a part of the
activities of the University of Florida, and, if we were following out a logical plan in regard to
headquarters, the official headquarters of all the Extension workers would be at Gainesville."
Newell believed that the separation of extension staff was a "temporary arrangement," but
segregated policies proved persistent. In 1963, the home demonstration state staff moved
from FSU to UF, and Floy Britt came from FAMU to FSU to head up Negro home
demonstration. All three groups of staff did not share space at UF until the 1970s."'
The woman in charge of all home demonstration state-wide maintained her office at
FSCW. The State HDA answered to both the Vice-Director, with whom professional contact
was frequent, and to the Director, as situations warranted. Subordinate to the State HDA were
three white District HDAs and one black "District" HDA, as well as state subject specialists.
Wilmon Newell [WN] to FG, 15 September 1927 (SC-21-5).
"' Florida Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Handbook 2' i.2-2003.
uT.P_11 -i\" .Is i il1i ull cdu pdIf-J.d,,'TT \FCSi laiJhi.lk pdJ (15 September 2005).
The black agent, in fact, oversaw all Negro home demonstration work in the state, but her
relationship to the State HDA was equivalent to her white counterparts. Each white district
agent oversaw roughly one-third of the work in the state, serving as an intermediary between
the state and county home demonstration agents. Each county HDA served under her District
HDA, though each might as easily contact the State HDA for assistance, advice, complaint, or
praise regarding her county.
Within the counties, a further delegation of duty took place. The HDA conducted the
program, but she often was supported by local leaders, clubwomen from the community who
demonstrated a clear grasp of program principles and skills and who could successfully teach
others. These women were not only helpful for the HDA, but provided vital time and
manpower during periods of crisis. Some local leaders also joined the Senior Home
Demonstration Council for their counties, and served as county delegates at the annual state
Council meeting. Comprised of members of county home demonstration clubs, the Council's
responsibility was to be the voice of Florida home demonstration nationally, in Washington,
D.C. or at national Council meetings. Within the state, the Council guided the course of home
demonstration work for the coming year by formally recommending programs, activities and
themes. Made up of both HDAs, serving as advisors or consultants, and local home
demonstration women, serving as members and delegates, the Council represented a truly
cooperative effort between home demonstration personnel and club members. These adult
positions were replicated for girls, who manned a Junior Home Demonstration Council and
served as 4-H club leaders. Maintaining this elaborate system was not cheap, however, and
the Service had to be creative, patient, and persistent when it came to funding its operations.
Everything from typewriters to travel to paychecks was a potential aggravation for an agency
which was consistently\ cash poor.
At least in theory, extension funding sounds harmonious enough; Lincoln David
Kelsey describes it as a cooperative endeavor reflecting the nature of the work itself. Indeed,
extension coffers filled with the combined resources of federal, state, county and private
funds, and each were necessary to keep the whole operation afloat." Wayne Rasmussen
provides a basic overview-the federal government provided a "base fund," state financing to
the agricultural college or other college responsible for coordinating extension work provided
about one-third of the costs, and counties or other local governments, including private
contributors like farmers' organizations, made up the remaining third of funds.12 But
especially at the county level, funding was no certainty.
The amount of money allocated for extension increased considerably between 1914
and the 1960s, and the sources for funding increasingly balanced. In 1915, a total of
$3,597,000 supported extension services; by 1954, the total allotment had climbed to
$100,617,000 for the states, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. By 1962, the combined
allocation had reached $159,227,000. In 1915 the federal government provided more than
forty percent of the funds, the state twenty-nine percent, and the counties twenty-two percent;
by the 1960s, the burden of finance had leveled out to thirty-seven percent federal, thirty-nine
percent state and twenty-two percent county. Over time, the money shifted from a heavy
" Kelsey, Cooperative Extension Work, 57.
12 Dorothy Schweider, 75 Years of Service. Cooperative Extension in Iowa (Ames: Iowa State
University Press, 1993), ix. Under Smith-Lever, federal grants-in-aid were to be distributed based on
four factors: 1. a flat amount to every state with a minimum extension apparatus, 2. a portion based on a
state's farm population, 3. a portion based on a state's rural population, and 4. a separate fund for the
Secretary of Agriculture to distribute according to "relative need." Local funding was less
straightforward. State legislatures released funding to the land-grant institution under the direction of
the state director of extension. At the county level, either the county government or a county
sponsoring board administered funds, though in some states the county appropriations moved to the
state extension office for administration. Finally, private funds were an integral part of the extension
budget, a tradition established with the General Education Board. Those interested in c\pjnding
educational programs, as well as industrialists, local businessmen, and farm advocacy orjgni/.atins.
gave to extension as a means of furthering education among the rural populace. Kelsey, Cooperative
Extension Work. 59, 61-62.
investment in agricultural demonstration work toward building the 4-H program, farm and
home dee lopment, marketing, rural area development and forestry.'3 As extension
diversified, its personnel requirements and public accessibility had to expand, as well.
One critical impetus for planning and securing funding was the original county
budget. First, agents and local leaders devised a county Plan of Work, and constructed a
budget to match. They submitted the budget to whatever county board governed extension,
and once approved, the budgets and plans of each county traveled to the state offices, where
state directors composed a statewide plan of work and accompanying budget based on the
county plans. Once settled, the state plan and budget moved to the land-grant institution for
approval, after which they came under state legislative review. Funds agreed upon there were
set aside for the state's portion of the total extension financing. The state budget and plan then
went on to the office of the Secretary of Agriculture, and approval released federal funds for
that state's use. Once funding was in place, there were still more options for paying agents'
salaries. In some states, agents' pay came entirely from federal and state funds, while other
states required that the county sponsoring board contribute to salaries from county resources.
Thus an agent's salary depended on who signed the check federal and state salaries were set
by the state extension director, and county-inclusive salaries varied, depending upon the
discretion of the county sponsoring board.'4
So crucial was county support that its absence could forestall home demonstration
altogether. In fact, state HDA Agnes Ellen Harris in 1917 remarked, "Until a community can
make sufficient appropriations to support an efficient agent, it is probably better not to
1' H.C. Sanders, ed., The Cooperative Extension Service (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
1966), 46; Kelsey, 60; R. L. Reeder, The People and the Profession. Pioneers and Veterans of the
Extension Service Remember How They Did Their Jobs (Epsilon Sigma Phi, 1979), 99-100.
14 Kelsey, Cooperative Extension Work. 63.
undertake home demonstration work in the county."15 Appropriations varied widely,
depending on the relative wealth of the county and its attitude toward home demonstration.
Where county appropriations lagged, state money compensated, to a certain extent. This was
especially true for black agents. For example, in 1927 the best paid black HDA was Olive
Smith, in Duval County. The county provided $68 per month for her, the state $22 and the
federal government $25, so that she made $115 each month. Other counties, like Leon,
appropriated only $20, so that the state paid $85 to offset the lack.'6
Salaries tended to increase every year, though they continued to reflect the inequities
in the pay scale and the variables based on county appropriations. In 1927, the best paid white
HDA was Pansy Norton in Dade County, who earned nearly $5,000 per year, compared to
Ethyl Holloway in Santa Rosa, who earned $1,700 annually. Though black HDAs' salaries
were less than their white counterparts', the difference was not always as stark as we might
expect. For example, in 1927 Olive Smith in Duval still earned $1,035 per year, though Alice
Poole in Leon now earned more than $1,100 annually. The next year, when Negro District
Farm Agent A. A. Turner's wife Susie was hired as an HDA, she began working for $1,440
and later that year Julia Miller was hired for $1,500 annually." For many agents, white and
black, if salaries failed to compensate for the particular stresses of their jobs, they might begin
to consider more attractive offers as they came up.
The most serious consequence of low salaries was the very real threat of losing good
agents who left their positions for greener pastures. In most of these cases, state staff
negotiated aggressively to prevent personnel loss. Sometimes an agent could be saved by a
1' Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics. Report of General Activities for
1917 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1918), 62.
"' Flavia Gleason, Recommendations for appointment of Negro Home Demonstration Workers, 1926
7 FG to APS, 29 May 1928; WN to FG, 13 March 1928; 18 December 1928 (SC-21-5).
timely salary boost. Dairy and nutrition specialist Mary Stennis seriously considered leaving
Florida for a better-paying position elsewhere, but Flavia Gleason alerted her that talks were
underway to raise Stennis' salary by $200-Gleason's pro-active stance kept Stennis in
Florida after all.'8 Stennis' value as a specialist made her a good candidate for financial
intervention, but not all agents could be saved this way, especially where counties just would
not support them any longer. In 1931, Okaloosa County HDA Bertha Henry alerted A. P.
Spencer that the county was planning to terminate its appropriation for her because it could
afford to support only one agent.19 As usual, Gleason and Spencer batted about potential
solutions, but none looked promising. The county offered to pay Henry's salary with land, but
Spencer rejected the idea because of its irregularity and the danger that any such land could be
worthless. Henry asked Spencer about the advisability of sending to the board letters from her
club women and girls, but he advised her against "anything that would indicate a political
action on her part."20
Henry's popularity was not in question; an article in the Okaloosa News Journal two
years before, when talk first circulated of ending extension appropriations, applauded her
work with rural homes. "Her value to the county," supporters argued, ".. has been decidedly
greater than her cost." Though the pro-Henry camp regarded severance as "a backward step,"
their opponents saw no choice but to terminate at least one agent in order to avoid raising
taxes to pay her salary." In the end, the termination went through. Henry's appointment
ended in 1932, and Okaloosa County did not have another HDA until 1955.
18 FG to WN, 8 December 1926 (SC-21-5).
'9 FG to APS, 27 November 1931 (SC-21-6).
2) APS to FG, 2 January 1932; 2 May 1932 (SC-21-6).
2' Okaloosa News Journal, 8 August 1930.
By no means were these salary woes isolated among women in Florida's Extension
Service. HDAs simply did not receive pay on par with county farm agents, and the
discrepancy was even more apparent among black home agents. The tenuous position
between subordination and authority was only exacerbated by inadequate financial
compensation. Expenditures for county agent work versus home demonstration work were
unequal, though the gap narrowed over time. In 1933, for instance, Florida extension spent
nearly $125,000 on white county agents, $78,000 on white home demonstration work,
$13,800 on black farm agent work, and $13,400 on black HDAs. There obviously were
discrepancies between agents based on both race and sex, but considering extension spending
overall, almost $47,000 more was devoted to agricultural work than to home work, and this
does not take into account work among girls and boys, or that extension expenditures covered
twice as many specific phases of work, such as Citriculture and Home Improvement, for men
as for women, of either race or any age.22 Excluding Service-wide expenditures, like Farmers'
Week or Publications, the difference in financial commitment between extension men and
women in Florida in 1933 was about $77,000.23
Rooted in boll weevil eradication and crop diversification, the Extension Service
remained an agriculture-driven agency. It recognized, and embraced, the need for
revitalization in the rural home and community, but in the event of a financial tug-of-war, the
weight of improved agriculture toppled the perceived lightweight needs of the family. Alert to
this reality, State HDA Flavia Gleason worked hard to secure better salaries for her agents,
especially those she believed excelled at their work, and she kept alert to equity between male
22 I do not mean by "men as for women" that these programs benefited only that group. All extension
programs were of benefit to entire communities, but at the time there was a far more distinct division of
labor and programs than would be true in later decades. So, a program like Citriculture was, for all
intents and purposes, men's work.
23 Annual Report of Director of Extension, 1933 (SC-91a-1).
and female agents. For instance, when she recommended salary increases for several agents in
1929, she noted that it had been three years since the last salary increase for the women,
though she "didn't know how these salaries compare with those in Gainesville who have
worked so faithfully in similar positions ... for the past 12 and 10 years."24 Her attitude did
not waver on the issue of race-a good agent was a good agent. Talented and devoted women
ready to work %w ith Florida's black rural families were an asset not to be wasted. For instance.
when black agents Diana Hartsfield's and Nancy Henderson's salaries were up for increases,
Gleason wrote A. P. Spencer to encourage his approval. Nancy Henderson, in particular, "is
doing a lot of work for the people of her county and she is carrying the expense of paying for
the office which was built for her use." Like many HDAs, especially black agents, Henderson
paid for many of her own materials and transportation. And when Hartsfield's salary looked
in jeopardy from shortfalls in the Negro extension budget, Gleason advised Spencer that the
white home demonstration budget could cover it.25
The complicated process of securing and administering extension funds seems an
inevitable byproduct of bureaucracy, but there was a more noble aim-accountability. Losing
the support of the local people tolled the end of extension in that area, so it was critical that the
system appeared credible and efficient, especially where taxpayers contributed to agents'
salaries and incurred expenses of their own while acting as local extension leaders. Both
professional and volunteer extension workers were, as KelseN puts it, "public servants [who]
live in a goldfish bowl." Their position depended upon the continued support and trust of the
people, for "in a democracy, it is not long before the public communicates its impressions to
24 FG to WN, 17 May 1929 (SC-21-5).
25 FG to APS, 29 January 1925; 26 October 1925 (SC-21-5).
its legislative representatives. This is democracy in action ... but it means accountability to
the people in a very direct way which asserts itself every time a budget is submitted."26
Earning credibility also required hiring and placing skilled, personable agents. Good
will and reformative fervor were useful tools while in the field, but once agents had exhausted
their battery of inspirational verse, they had to prove they were offering something
worthwhile, something tangible. As one Kentucky agent put it, "You didn't dare go out
without lead in your pencil."27 Administrative personnel in particular were well-educated. In
the 1920s, official state reports did not even include the educational background of supervisors
in its roster of extension staff. By 1958, nearly every member of the home demonstration
supervisory staff held at least a Master's degree, and some of the agricultural supervisors a
doctorate, in their field.28 Clearly, as extension settled into Florida and the demand for
professionalism increased, the Service responded by publicly advertising its agents' apparent
expertise, moving the work closer to a career orientation.
County agents typically had a B.S. in Home Economics, though some simply had
significant experience in rural reform and education.29 So it was with Beulah Shute, a strong
candidate to fill the Negro District Home Demonstration position in 1936. Flavia Gleason
believed Shute showed great potential because "she is a woman of considerable ability, has
excellent leadership qualities and excellent subject-matter training as well as good experiences
26 Kelsey, Cooperative Extension Work, 64. Other extension personnel recognized the need for a job
well-done. In a taped interview in 1975, some extension veterans commented upon the challenges of
establishing demonstration work that the people could trust, then and later. Said one veteran, "We build
on the good will of our predecessors through 50 years of Extension, and those who follow us can do the
same thing if we don't screw it up." Reeder, The People and the Profession. 13.
27 Reeder, The People and the Profession. 85.
28 Compare Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics. Report of General
Activities for 1920 and 1958 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1921; 1959).
29 For an overall job description and responsibilities review, see "Roles and Responsibility of
Personnel" (SC- 158-6).
that will be well for us to inject into the negro home demonstration program." Shute had
taught home economics courses for six years prior to her application, giving her a practical
advantage over some other candidates. Gleason was concerned, however, that Shute had
never served as a county worker, the kind she would be supervising if hired. "However,"
Gleason assured Director Newell, "she made me feel that she would be perfectly willing and
anxious to do so at any time and had been eager to go into the extension field for quite a while.
She has, too, had considerable contact with extension work in South Carolina She
impresses me as having a good understanding of the purpose of our work and the way it is
Sometimes the most important rationale for placing an agent was that a county wanted
one. Several counties lobbied actively for a HDA. Though not all were successful, the
women who demanded home demonstration demonstrated their commitment to it and their
willingness to speak up on behalf of their own wishes. Some county requests were more
promising than others. In 1927, A. P. Spencer wrote to Flavia Gleason that he had a request
from Hemando County officials for both a county agent and an HDA. Indeed, they were
interested enough to begin collecting information on potential salaries and financial
responsibilities.3" However, either because of misunderstanding or limited funds, many
counties appropriated for only one agent. Bradford County commissioners, when they wanted
the services of a county agent to assist with hog vaccinations, decided they would have to
terminate their contract with Bradford's HDA.32
Seldom were women involved with home demonstration pleased by such decisions,
and their dissent could be quite vigorous. During the Depression, especially, county boards
3( FG to WN, 29 January 1936 (SC-21-7).
31 APS to FG, 18 June 1927 (SC-21-5).
3 FG to APS, 13 June 1933 (SC-21-6).
became more cautious to safeguard already limited resources. But Flavia Gleason remained
determined to keep home demonstration afloat in as many locales as possible, even if one
agent worked two counties. She believed firmly that the either-or policy many counties took
toward agricultural and home demonstration agents was unnecessary and she encouraged the
Director to remedy this common problem. "I believe it would be beneficial all the way
around," she wrote him, "if it were understood in the counties that the Extension Service
includes both county agricultural agents and home demonstration agents." Home
demonstration, she intimated, was not some peripheral, throwaway program of garden clubs
and sewing circles. As she explained to Spencer in 1932, "Our work has just gone through a
very unpleasant experience in Palm Beach County where the commissioners retained ... the
county agricultural agent and a Smith-Hughes worker but did not include an appropriation for
home demonstration women work until pressure was brought to bear from the women." Until
then, the commissioners and the school board had each tried to force the other to take on the
home demonstration appropriation, so that "home demonstration work is batted around from
one to the other in a most unsatisfactory way and certainly not because of any failure on the
part of the agents to render splendid service resulting in work evidently very much appreciated
by the people.""
Women stepped in to demand respect and funding for Palm Beach home
demonstration, and they followed suit in Hillsborough and Liberty, though with varying
degrees of force. In 1933, Hillsborough County's Wimauma Home Demonstration Club
wrote to Wayne Thomas of the "Budget Board" expressing their support for home
demonstration work in general and their particular approval of HDA Clarine Belcher. Their
testimony was brief, but pointed: "We ... deeply regret your action in cutting down the Home
" FG to APS, 27 July 1932 (SC-21-6).
Demonstration work in our county... Each member feels that much of the instruction and
information given to us on Home Management, Home Improvement, etc. has been very
practical and very helpful, and it is with genuine regret that we learn it is to be cut down."34
The following year, a similar situation arose in Liberty County, but the response was less
polite-at least as the commissioners understood it. In October, A. P. Spencer wrote to State
HDA Gleason that he had just met with Liberty's agricultural agent, who delivered the news
that the county had discontinued all extension work. Spencer believed the severance was "a
result of a demand on the part of the women's club that they [commissioners] also employ a
home demonstration agent," but without the funds to do so, the board decided "with all the
controversy" it would be better to have no agents at all. The Vice-Director was rather
dismayed, for it seemed that without some additional funding, or a change of heart from the
women's club, no extension work could go forward in Liberty.35
As was often the case, the original information was not entirely accurate. District
HDA Ruby McDavid visited Liberty and assured Gleason that no one there had demanded
either a home agent or no agent, but that several men and women had indicated that, if only
one agent could be supported, they preferred an HDA, to continue the work agent Josephine
Nimmo had been doing. Indeed, as Gleason heard it, funding was not the issue. Rather,
"several reliable sources" had told McDavid that the county apparently had imposed some rule
that all agents, as county workers, had to relinquish part of their salaries to certain members of
the Board, in return for it appropriating for extension work. Not surprisingly, neither Nimmo
34 Mrs. H. R. Lightfoot and Mrs. D. M. Dowdell to Wayne Thomas, 9 October 1933 (SC-21-6).
35 APS to FG, 5 October 1934 (SC-21-6).
nor McDavid were pleased with this idea and refused to cooperate. Gleason surmised, "It may
be that this has something to do with no appropriation being made."36
Though disappointed that Liberty County looked to lose any benefits of extension,
Gleason simply shifted gears and moved ahead. Liberty had been worked along with Calhoun
County, so that each county was only required to make a small appropriation. Calhoun readily
agreed, so when Liberty balked Calhoun received the full measure of extension staff and
support for its benefit. In fact, Calhoun was so interested in keeping the work that its board
approached McDavid about securing financial arrangements so that even if Liberty decided to
appropriate after all, Calhoun could maintain its agents full time, rather than sharing them
again.37 The Liberty situation illustrates the sort of power dynamics inherent in extension
work. Local women's collective voice could coax home demonstration work from a reluctant
board, or it might cause such stir as to eliminate extension work entirely. And, though home
demonstration could not easily operate in a county which refused to appropriate for it, home
extension staff were not crippled by a certain board's disinterest. Someone else surely wanted
the work and agents were easily transferred to more welcoming counties.
These problems were frustrating, but not usually serious. There were, however, some
troubles of considerable significance in the professional life of HDAs, troubles that required
every negotiating skill to navigate and resolve with minimal damage. Most internal tension
was played out in terse letters, rather than open hostility. But that was not so for A. A. Turner
and at least two Negro District home agents. The root of the discord appeared to be about
power and control, a battle for authority.
Until 1925, Turner had directly supervised all black extension workers in Florida,
home and agricultural alike. As Negro extension work expanded, it became clear that a
36 FG to APS, 11 October 1934 (SC-21-6).
37 FG to APS, 2 November 1934 (SC-21-6).
female district agent, akin to the white district agents, would be an asset to the work. At the
same time, Turner's wife Susie accompanied him on some trips out into the country. She
talked with the women she met, informally demonstrated some ideas to them and discussed
club formation. Susie came back enthusiastic and ready to do more. Flavia Gleason was all
for it, encouraged by Susie's ideas and sense of commitment.'8 Spencer likewise approved, at
least for the time being, and in March advised Gleason to give Susie some concrete instruction
in what to discuss with the women.39 Though he did not specifically recommend officially
appointing Susie, just a few days Gleason later made a suggestion for Susie's monthly salary,
and Spencer agreed to a six-week appointment, soon extended by another few weeks.40 Over
the next two years, Susie worked through incremental appointments as the budget allowed,
establishing herself as a leader for Negro home demonstration work.4' When the state staff
began looking seriously for a more permanent replacement, Turner recommended that Susie
stay on so as not to disrupt the work. Spencer insisted, however, that Turner try to find
someone with more official qualifications, and he grudgingly agreed. The search began within
the state, but no one seemed fully ready for the job.42 In the summer of 1928, Turner enlisted
the aid ofT. M. Campbell, a field agent at Tuskegee, and he came up with Julia Miller, a HDA
Trouble began almost immediately. Turner was uncertain how to share responsibility
with Miller; her formal position and attendant authority were very different from his relaxed
38 FG to APS, 3 March 1925 (SC-21-5).
39 APS to FG, 5 March 1926 (SC-21-5).
4" FG to APS, 8 March 1926; APS to FG, 12 March 1926; 13 April 1926 (SC-21-5).
41 FG to WN, 16 January 1928 (SC-21-5).
42 A.A. Turner [AAT] to FG, 16 July 1928; APS to FG, 19 July 1928 (SC-21-5).
43 AAT to T. M. Campbell, 18 October 1928; FG to WN, 24 November 1928 (SC-21-5).
relationship with his own wife. The territorial dispute did not abate with time, but grew more
intense. In boxes of correspondence, no other situation demonstrates the power struggles
within extension so well as that between Julia Miller and A. A. Turner. Miller's position was
an awkward one, holding a relatively new post, struggling to define its boundaries and
establish herself as a supervisor apart from, and equal to, Turner. Spencer commented to
Flavia Gleason that Turner had a habit of critiquing every small thing which Miller did that
irritated him, as though she were his subordinate.44
Miller believed that she was not receiving the respect or the responsibility that came
with her job. She wrote a personal letter to A. P. Spencer in June 1929 expressing her
commitment to her work, but her dissatisfaction with the way she had to carry it out. She
assured Spencer that she welcomed the direction and assistance of the State HDA, but "it
would be very hard for me to work under a man's supervision, who had no experience and no
training in my particular line of work. I don't feel I could get the sympathy, support and
encouragement that I could get otherwise." Echoing Flavia Gleason's plea that every county
should know home demonstration was a part of the Service, Miller stressed that everyone
should know about her appointment and that when it came to Negro home demonstration
work, she was in charge. "I have been patient and considerate," she wrote, "realizing that I am
new and that others have spent long years of service, I have given over and compromised in
many things." But, and she was as clear as possible, "I have refused to allow the District
Agent to control my work and personal affairs."45
In discussions with Gleason over the next few months, Spencer advised her that he
had promised Miller the state staff would back her up and work to resolve the problems with
Turner so that work could progress. Work did go on, though by February of the next year,
44 APS to FG, 8 April 1929 (SC-21-5).
45 Julia Miller [JM] to APS, 22 June 1929 (SC-21-5).
Miller was again complaining to Spencer that Susie Turner was -ha\ ing a little too much to do
with things right on," and that too many of the home demonstration women were devoting
their time to farm exhibits rather than home demonstration exhibits.46 Gleason remained
steadfastly behind Miller throughout her tenure, affirming her qualifications and excellent
record of service in Florida to the Director. Miller had her faults, but she was a skilled and
devoted leader, and Gleason felt "very much better about the type of work which the negro
women are doing than I have ever felt and I know this is due to Julia's work with them."47
Nevertheless, the situation only grew tenser. Her frustration mounting, Miller received a
welcome offer of relief in June 1931.
The same day that Gleason wrote to Newell assuring him that Julia Miller was the best
person to fulfill the District HDA position, Miller received additional confirmation of her
skills from another source-a job offer from the Oklahoma Extension Service, for exactly the
position she held in Florida. The Oklahoma position promised a better salary and, by the tone
of the offer letters, considerably more freedom to do her job.48 Perhaps comforted that an
alternative was available, Miller delayed any decision until the legislature made salary
announcements, for she did not want to leave Florida without achieving goals she had set.
The competition was fierce, though. For every doubt Miller raised to Oklahoma, its extension
director had a reassuring answer and the Service there remained persistent in pursuing her.49
The odds for Florida did not look good, but Gleason was determined not to lose Miller without
exhausting every resource to keep her on. As she told Spencer that fall, "It is not an increase
46 APS to JM, 24 June 1929; APS to FG, 1 July 1929 (SC-21-5); APS to FG, 19 February 1930 (SC-21-
47 FG to WN, 22 April 1930 (SC-21-6).
"\orma Brumbaugh to JM, 22 June 1931 (SC-21-6).
49 JM to APS, 18 July 1931; D. P. Trent to JM, 1 August 1931 (SC-21-6).
[in salary] for Julia that I am so concerned about but the expensive loss it seems to me that it
would be to Florida to let Julia go."50 For a brief time, it looked that Gleason's own
persistence paid off. Miller wired Oklahoma that she was officially declining their offer. But
some time over the next month, something changed, and Miller resigned her position to accept
its counterpart in Oklahoma. Spencer believed that Oklahoma must have made a last-ditch
attempt to secure her and won her at last, but her devotion to Florida extension suggests that
only the combination of financial and emotional strain induced her to leave.5
The search for her replacement began in earnest, but this time the state staff was
mindful of prior problems and tried to avoid the sort of power struggle which had crippled
Miller's work and driven her away. The Director was anxious that Miller be replaced as soon
as possible to avoid the Board eliminating the Negro District Agent position entirely or
turning that supervision over to a white agent.52 But finding a suitable candidate was difficult.
In December, Rosa Ballard assumed the post as District Agent. Gleason was especially
pleased that, because of her long experience, Ballard "may be more aggressive than Julia."53
Here was a woman Gleason believed could hold her own against Turner. Sadly, tragedy
struck just as Ballard was establishing herself. In the summer of 1933, she drowned while
swimming in a lake near Tallahassee.54 Soon after, the hunt was on once again to fill the
Negro District Agent position. After a delay of nearly three years, Beulah Shute took the
helm, her experience outweighing the appeal of Floy Britt, the woman Gleason believed was
50 FG to APS, 16 September 1931 (SC-21-6).
5 APS to FG, 16 October 1931 (SC-21-6).
52 WN to FG, 30 November 1931 (SC-21-6).
53 FG to APS, 15 December 1931 (SC-21-6). For correspondence leading up to Ballard's appointment,
including recommendations for other candidates, see SC-21-6 for 1931.
54 FG to WN, 26 June 1933 (SC-21-6).
"the best qualified negro home demonstration agent in Florida." But Gleason feared that an ill
feeling between Britt and Turner would handicap her, and that she would not be so readily
accepted as a supervisor as Shute.55 Ulimaiel), Floy Britt did become the District Agent, a
post she served with great success and longevity; assuming the position in 1943, Britt was still
there in 1960, with no plans to leave in sight.56
The strain upon the Negro District Agent, especially in relation to A. A. Turner as her
agricultural counterpart, is evidence of the strain put upon the entire Service by its segregated
policies, causing logistical and personal confusion. Assuming that Florida's extension work
had been integrated from the start, the Negro District Agent role might never have been
created because the work for that position would have been covered by a regular district agent.
Alternatively, had the segregated Service created Turner's counterpart when it created his
position, much of the unpleasant mess that followed Julia Miller's appointment might have
been averted. Turner never would have been in charge of women's home demonstration
work, so he always would have shared an office and he would have been accustomed to
working on extension projects jointly. For the good of black rural Floridians, it was an
undisputed boon that Susie Turner was interested in working among them and proposing the
creation of a supervisory position akin to a white district or state agent. But for the
professional women who manned the position, the frustration of having their responsibility
and authority thwarted by internal boundary disputes was both disheartening and
Like so many other battles in the service of extension, this one was won by
persistence and experience in a joint effort among HDAs to see home demonstration for black
55 FG to APS, 29 January 1936 (SC-21-7).
56 As in this case, the easiest way to track service in Florida's Cooperative Extension Service is to use
the personnel roster in each annual Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics.
Report of General Activities. Floy Britt first appears as Negro District Agent in 1943.
women succeed and flourish. When naming allies, home demonstration workers of both races
sided with one another against their male counterparts. This was not necessarily a feminist-
style protest for equal pay, but these were career women with training and experience who
shared a common concern for the state of the rural home. They believed their work was vital
and they responded to challenges accordingly. Even so, HDAs could not expend all their
energies negotiating professional borders within extension, for some battles had to be won
within the wider home demonstration community. In such cases, HDAs at every level were
called upon to be what O. B. Martin called "an ambassador extraordinary."57
In some cases, a dispute might flare up between an agent and her county. One such
"unwholesome situation" was in Volusia County with HDA Orpha Cole. In May 1932, A. P.
Spencer wrote to Flavia Gleason that he had heard rumors that Volusia County was
terminating its home demonstration appropriation.58 In the cash-poor Thirties, this was not
surprising, but over the next few months more details emerged that revealed an uglier
situation. By July Gleason was recommending to Director Newell that Cole's service in
Volusia be discontinued. Gleason cited a steady stream of "petitions and counter-petitions to
remove [Cole] from office," creating "what I consider undesirable publicity especially at this
time." Despite Gleason's and district agent Mary Keown's efforts to smooth the waters, the
situation had only grown worse. Cole's own "unsound" attitude toward the women in her
county and her superiors seemed at the heart of the conflict. One of the simplest, but most
fundamental requirements for home demonstration work, the ability to "work with people,"
seemed beyond Cole's reach.59
57 Martin, The Demonstration Work, 152.
58 APS to FG, 27 May 1932 (SC-21-6).
59 APS to FG, 27 May 1932 (SC-21-6).
Gleason composed two letters then, the first to Orpha Cole advising her to either
resign or take an indefinite leave of absence. Gleason did not mince words in her rebuke.
Since home demonstration work had become the "source of a wrangle in the county," and
"harmony, good will and confidence are essential factors in all home demonstration work,"
Cole's performance in Volusia and her professional attitude toward the state office had been
"unsatisfactory to us for some time." For whatever reason, Cole seemed "unable to make the
adjustments which I had hoped you would do following my several conferences with you."60
In a subsequent letter to the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners Ben Thursby,
Gleason focused on damage control. She carefully expressed regret for her decision regarding
HDA Cole, acknowledging her long service in Volusia, but remained firm in her conviction
that this was the best course to preserve the long-time and "pleasant" relationship between the
Extension Service and the county.6' Regardless of the immediate fallout of the "Volusia
situation," Gleason was most concerned with the long-term impact of ill will in the county
toward home demonstration.
Whatever, or whoever, had caused the trouble, Gleason believed that removing Cole
from the county was the surest way to maintain the confidence of the people. Or maybe not.
Soon after she notified the Board of her decision regarding HDA Cole, Gleason received a
visit from a committee of Volusia women, Orpha Cole in tow, requesting that home
demonstration not be terminated and that Miss Cole be kept as home demonstration agent.
Though the Board had already sent Gleason a copy of the resolution abolishing home
demonstration work in Volusia, she assured the committee that she would discuss the matter
with the commissioners, with her first priority to encourage them to make another
appropriation for home demonstration work in general. Only after that had been secured
6" FG to Orpha Cole, 30 June 1932 (SC-21-6).
61 FG to Ben Thursby, 2 July 1932 (SC-21-6).
would she approach the possibility of Orpha Cole staying on as HDA, and that matter was the
As the summer wore on, the "wrangle" grew more tangled, to the point that some of
the commissioners favored re-instating home demonstration, but only with Miss Cole as agent,
and Gleason back-pedaled to assure them that if that was their desire she certainly would work
to ensure such an arrangement was successful. But ultimately, the Board did not appropriate,
and home demonstration work ceased in Volusia for two years. Finally in 1934, "some of the
leading women in Volusia County" met with the commissioners to discuss re-installing home
demonstration. Once Gleason had forwarded her recommendation for a new agent,
Marguerite Norton, to Director Newell, the Service was encouraged that the Volusia Board
was again willing to "cooperate actively in the home demonstration work," and hopes were
high that "the work will proceed under more agreeable circumstances and in a better
atmosphere than was the case some months back."63
Other disputes within counties arose from circumstances based on the Extension
Service's segregated policies. The resulting confusion not only hampered work, but created
discord within counties where work otherwise was welcome. Because so many counties were
cash poor, and were less likely to subsidize the salary for a black agent, black HDAs usually
received pay almost entirely from state and federal funds. On the one hand, this shortchanged
an agent in terms of her salary. On the other hand, it facilitated putting home demonstration
into counties where it could reach black residents whom commissioners were not willing to
support in this way. Such was the case in 1933 Suwannee County, where the Service had
installed a black HDA, Miss Mackenzie, for what the county regarded as "free." However,
2 FG to Ben Thursby, 8 August 1932 (SC-21-6).
' FG to WN, 19 September 1932 (SC-21-6); FG to Ben Thursby, 23 September 1932 (SC-21-6); FG to
WN, 18 July 1934 (SC-21-6).
maintaining a white home agent in a county demanded that its board help support her work
because, as Gleason explained, "no white home demonstration agent, of course, could work
for only the amount which state and federal funds provide for our county workers." Suwannee
County commissioners, however, did not understand why they could not have a white agent
for freeee" as well, if that was the case for Mackenzie.64
The resulting confusion created an uncomfortable situation for Mackenzie, the county
agent N. G. Thomas, and Negro District Agent A. A. Turner. Moreover, it threatened the
ongoing presence of Mackenzie or any other black HDA in Suwannee. Unfortunately, the
county made this a reality, deciding that if it could not have a white HDA as well as a black
agent, even if a black HDA worked at no cost to the county, it was better to discontinue her
work entirely.65 Of this decision, Vice-Director Spencer remarked, "it seems like an unusual
viewpoint they have."66
A.A. Turner took the opportunity of Mackenzie's transfer to make his own
recommendation for her new post in Alachua County. Hoping that "this will die out in
Suwannee and not spread to other counties," he emphasized the real value of supporting home
demonstration in other counties. In particular, "the Suwannee county affair" bolstered his
argument for continuing home demonstration work in St. Johns County; "the fact that the
county commissioners there will contribute to the Negro work will be good assurance that no
racial handicaps will likely occur."67 In a segregated agency in 1933, it is not especially
surprising that "racial handicaps" existed, but Turner's choice of words was spot on racial
assumptions and the resulting complications indeed could handicap otherwise valuable work.
4 FG to N. G. Thomas, 5 October 1933 (SC-21-6).
65 FG to APS, 11 October 1933 (SC-21-6).
66 APS to FG, 13 October 1933 (SC-21-6).
67 AAT to FG, 2 November 1933 (SC-21-6).
Finally, there were rare, but bitter, contests between women's groups. Normally, women
from the various clubs around Florida got along swimmingly. So it was rather unexpected
when some perceived grievance launched an exchange of rather sniffy letters between Mrs.
Von Hofen of the Englewood Women's Club and several extension staff during most of 1932.
State staff concluded the affair with the assertion that Mrs. Von Hofen was a snooty
troublemaker, but the incident does demonstrate the sort of power certain people wielded in
shaping a community home demonstration program. According to Von Hofen, Duval HDA
Pearl Lafitte had informed the Englewood Women's Club, presumably part of the Federation
of Women's Clubs, that no member could belong to both that group and a home
demonstration club. Von Hofen promptly resigned her post as secretary of the Duval County
Council of Home Demonstration Clubs and began a one-way correspondence with various
extension staff, including State HDA Flavia Gleason and Vice-Director A. P. Spencer.68 She
came armed with two main, if peculiar, charges: Pearl Lafitte had caused dissension in the
Englewood community and had misrepresented certain preferences for canning jar styles and
brands. In a letter to Gleason, Von Hofen accused Lafitte of denying her stated preference for
Kerr jars, which Von Hofen felt was "rather peculiar, don't you think? especially when, I dare
say, the majority of us would not know the kerr jar if we saw one." That grievance aired, she
launched into her next, that Lafitte had divided the Englewood women over club allegiance.
She demanded that Gleason conduct an investigation into the matter, then waited for the
expected apologies.69 None came, so she took her case to a higher power.
In an angry letter to P. K. Yonge, the Chairman of the State Board of Control, Von
Hofen repeated her charges against Lafitte, whom Von Hofen considered in violation of her
duties as public servant. I have included the text of the letter on page 110 because, aside from
68 Mrs. Louis Von Hofen [VH] to Grace Pillsbury, 16 February 1932 (SC-21-6).
69 VH to FG, 20 February 1932 (SC-21-6).