Corn Clubs for Boys!
While corn clubs may seem like a strange activity by today's standards, a large percentage of the North Carolina population lived in rural areas and were part of farming families until well into the 1900s, so it made sense that their activities were largely agriculturally themed. These clubs, and the contests associated with them, began to spread across regions towards the Midwest and the South throughout the late 1800s. However, the first corn club in North Carolina was not formed until 1909.
The boys that participated in corn clubs were each given a one acre plot of land in order to grow corn and learn new agricultural techniques. In addition, the boys participating in corn clubs were allowed to keep any profits they were able to make from their plot of land. Prizes were often awarded to the boys who had the greatest increase in crop yield and the best quality of corn. Corn clubs also promoted good record keeping skills and adapted lessons learned in schools to real-life situations that boys faced on farms.
The money that boys earned through the crops they produced in corn clubs were often used to buy things their families could not afford otherwise. These included school supplies, clothes, and extra treats. Corn clubs became so productive that in some counties the clubs were providing seed corn to local farmers to help boost local economies. Eventually corn clubs grew to include other crops and livestock, such as calves, poultry, peanuts, cotton, and potatoes, but the concept of teaching young boys important farming and agricultural skills was maintained through the growth of these clubs.
In farming families during this time men and women had distinct roles based on their gender. While it was inevitable that some overlap between roles would exist, especially in the busiest times of the year for growing crops, roles within farming families were usually dictated by gender stereotypes of the time. Men and boys were usually responsible for the agricultural work that took place outside the home, such as planting crops and plowing fields. Women, on the other hand, were mostly responsible for homemaking activities such as cleaning and cooking, as well as some less physically demanding roles, like milking the cows and gardening.
Growing corn, like most other agricultural tasks, was considered to be an activity only appropriate for boys, not for girls. Although some girls were allowed to join in the very first corn clubs, this was quickly discouraged as the clubs grew in popularity and the girls were pushed out. Corn clubs were representative of the masculinity of farmers that young boys should emulate. Girls soon found other ways to make use of their skills with the formation of tomato and canning clubs.