Power in the land


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Power in the land home demonstration in Florida, 1915-1960
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viii, 271 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Minor, Kelly
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kelly Anne Minor.
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University of Florida
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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.


ACKNOW LEDG ENTS................ ...................................... .....................ii

LIST OF FIGURES.................. ...... ..... .. ...... ........ ...................iv

KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS AND CITATIONS................ ............................ vi

A B STR A C T .......................... .. .......... ....... .. .. .. ........................ vii


LARGE.................................. 1

REFORM PEDIGREE................................................. 26

PROFESSIONAL HOME DEMONSTRATION AGENT...............................64

TECHNOLOGY AND HOME DEMONSTRATION ................................111


FLORIDA........................................... 219

7 EPILOGUE: THE PRICE OF DURABILITY........................................244

REFERENCE LIST.................. .......................................... .... ..... 258

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................... 271


Figure page

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


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



Kelly Anne Minor

December 2005

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.


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

have met.

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

default, "urban."

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
1993): 83-101.

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

communication resources.

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,

depend on.

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.


.4c -

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.




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.



































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
the South.

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
Husbandry, 17.

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,"
www.usda.govi/history2/text 10.htm.

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
existing conditions?
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
Commission," 163.

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.


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

carried on."30

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

in Arkansas.43

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

Board's choice.62

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).