Browse Exhibits (3 total)

DRAWING THE LINE: Segregation in the NC Extension Service

The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service was, and is, an organization based out of North Carolina State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.  The Extension Service was responsible for training agents to go out into rural communities in order to teach farming families better farming practices and help the families become more self-sufficient.

The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service was segregated along two different lines throughout the greater part of the twentieth century. This meant that not all people were allowed to work side by side as equals. 4-H Club MembersAdditionally, not all people were able to receive the same kinds of services and training from the Extension Service agents.  Women were not allowed to participate in the same activities as men, and African Americans were not allowed to participate as equals to whites.  

Like many other public and private services during the years of Jim Crow laws in the South, the Extension Service operated as a racially segregated operation. That meant that African American and white people were not treated equally as agents or farmers receiving training. In general, white agents assisted white families, and African-American agents assisted African-American families. Additionally, the African American branch of the Extension Service operated out of North Carolina A&T, a historically black college, because NC State University was a racially segregated institution at the time.

Besides just being segregated by race, the Extension Service was also segregated by gender. Female and male agents were required to teach very different skill sets to those that they helped. Men focused on farming and agricultural techniques, while women were delegated to roles such as canning vegetables, baking, and sewing clothes. These gender-based roles were then passed on to the youth participating in 4-H programs. Rarely did men and women participate in the same types of Extension Service activities. 

The Extension Service was designed to change the eating activities of rural North Carolinians into patterns that university researchers and government officials thought was more productive and healthy. Often, communities were resistant to what they saw as efforts of middle-class reformers to change one of their most basic daily activities: eating. However, patterns of segregation meant that, before 1965, agents usually worked with audiences of the same race and gender, thus creating points of commonality beyond class.  This exhibit will discuss in more detail what the North Carolina Extension Service was and what it did between the 1910s and the 1960s.  Additionally, it will describe how segregation affected participants in the Extension Service differently, and how segregation affected the way that all North Carolinians consume and produce food. 

BECOMING SHOPPERS: NC Food Consumption and Production

Between the 1910s and 1960s, there was a cooking revolution in America. At the beginning of the century, many rural families, especially those living in poverty, had very little money to buy food. Because many of North Carolina's farmers grew tobacco rather than edible crops, they had trouble purchasing food bought from out of state. Moreover, only certain foods could be shipped long distances without spoiling, and even when these foods could be bought, they were still a long way from being ready to eat. Thus, many things available in grocery stores today were usually made at home from raw ingredients grown at home or bought at the store: jam, mayonaise, peanut butter, bread. Whether the ingredients came from near or far, once they arrived in the kitchen, there were still hours of labor to be finished before the food was ready to eat. This task usually fell to the women of the house. Without refrigerators or good canning methods, most foods kept for only a few days, and most women had to spend several gruelling hours each day cooking.

Through the Great Depression and World War II, home demonstration agents from NC State helped teach North Carolina women how to preserve foods and prepare meals efficiently at home. They were determined to change the eating habits of rural North Carolinians and teach families to survive without having to rely on national food markets. Commercial and technological developments, such as the electric refrigerator and stove, helped to make food production at home easier, but such advances were usually only affordable to middle-class and elite families.

After the war, food technologies boomed and reached many more homes. At universities like NC State, scientists made chemical, mechanical, and biological breakthroughs that transformed the way food was made and delivered. Now, food could be prepared on a massive scale at corporate farms, farther away from buyers than ever before. The food could be shipped and preserved for increasingly long periods of time, and many North Carolina families started to buy not just some but most of their foods pre-packaged at the grocery store. Still, many rural North Carolina families did not have access to this new food market because they were so isolated and had little money. 

The NC State home demonstration agents, who once focused on teaching families to grow and preserve food at home, now also advised families about how to best shop at the grocery store, how to make a food budget, and how to use modern kitchen appliances like the freezer and the toaster. At the same time that they began focusing on this "consumer education," they also began to focus more attention on the eating and food-purchasing habits of the poor.

EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: Nutrition & the NC Extension Service

In the years leading up to the founding of the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service in 1914, the way that Americans understood the relationship between food and their own bodies changed. It became increasingly scientific. Food became measurable. Calories could be counted. Diets became something to balance.

In the 1890s, nutritionists refined their understanding of calories and reimagined food as fuel. In the 1910s, the discovery of vitamins produced a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between food and health. Even after these major discoveries, the science of nutrition evolved. By 1941, all of the currently known vitamins had been discovered.

At the national level, the United States Department of Agriculture, often called the USDA, funded research into this new science of nutrition and its Office of Home Economics, established in 1915, translated scientific discovery into dietary advice. In North Carolina, the Home Demonstration division of the Agricultural Extension Service played a similar role, incorporating an evolving knowledge of nutrition into food preparation and meal planning circulars, as well as the corresponding lessons that an expanding network of home demonstration agents taught across the state. These agents became an integral part of the communities they served as they shared with farm women how to use new scientific information in their everyday lives.

Messages about healthful eating have changed over time, incorporating evolving scientific ideas about nutrition and responding to social and economic pressures, sometimes at a very local level. This exhibit explores how the Home Demonstration division of the Agricultural Extension Service adapted its nutritional messages to meet the needs of North Carolina residents between the 1910s and the 1950s.