Women on the Farm
In their roles as wives and mothers, women typically shouldered the responsibility for feeding the family. When the nutritionists and home economists at the Home Demonstration division of the Agricultural Extension Service prepared circulars and lessons, they kept “women on the farm and in rural communities” in mind. Seeking to transform women into the family’s keeper of nutritional knowledge, the Extension Service saw women as their primary audience, though they also prepared information and lessons for young girls, the future wives and mothers of America.
In the first decades of the 1900s, making a meal was tough work. Many of the modern conveniences that we now take for granted were just beginning to find their way into American homes. Electricity and indoor plumbing were rare luxuries in the countryside, where 80% of North Carolinians lived according to the 1920 census. This meant there was no refrigerator, no oven, no sink. The food itself most often came from the ground, not a grocery store. Starting from scratch, women spent hours preparing just a single meal. While the Extension Service offered advice to streamline food preparation and other tasks around the home, home demonstration agents also aimed to help women meet their families’ nutritional needs.
Home demonstration agents worked closely with women in the communities they served. Sometimes agents offered demonstration lessons at community centers, but they often visited women on the farm. This built a network that not only connected rural women to new information related to their roles as wives and mothers, it also connected the Agricultural Extension Service to the challenges and concerns of those they sought to help. It also created flexibility in the Extension Service’s organizational design, making it easy for home demonstration agents to adapt to the needs of their local community.