Farming for Masculinity
During the first half of the twentieth century, a large portion of North Carolina was rural and consisted primarily of farming families. Within a farming family, the responsibility of planting and caring for the crops, and therefore providing food and financial support for the family, rested on the shoulders of the men. Men usually spent their time outside doing the physically demanding tasks, while women and girls helped in other ways by milking the cows, caring for the gardens, and taking care of the household chores.
When different chores or tasks get assigned to a person just because they are a man or a woman, they are usually referred to as gender roles and fall into the category of gender stereotyping. These ideas have dictated American society for many generations. Through the distinctly different skills that it taught to men and women, the Extension Service enforced conventional gender roles from previous generations.
As stated above, men’s roles on a family farm usually involved outside tasks. This could include anything from planting and maintaining the crops, to plowing fields or fixing fences. One of the main goals of the Extension Service was to give instruction and demonstrations about new and improved agricultural techniques, so when the North Carolina Extension Agents began traveling to rural communities, these are the types of skills they taught men. In contrast, the Home Demonstration Agents at the time were teaching women how to bake, how to can food, and other tasks usually done inside the home.
The North Carolina Extension Service provided a way for new information about the best farming practices to travel amongst farmers. This allowed farming families to produce a greater crop each year, and during both World Wars and the Great Depression the Extension Service taught farmers how to take care of their own families and aid the nation through greater crop yields.
At the same time that the Extension Service was providing invaluable resources to farmers throughout the state, it was also pushing traditional gender roles onto the next generation of farming families. By encouraging boys to participate in corn clubs and girls to participate in clubs for canning and baking, the Extension Service was dictating the roles they would take on as adults. You can learn more about these clubs in the next sections of the exhibit.