A Woman's Role is in the Home
In 1911 Jane S. McKimmon became the first Home Demonstration Agent in North Carolina, and in 1920 the Home Demonstration branch of the Extension Service was formed. Beginning with Tomato Clubs and evolving into other clubs such as Canning Clubs and Bee Clubs, McKimmon’s ideas simultaneously enforced common stereotypes about gender roles within a family, while also transforming the way North Carolinians thought about their food.
Masculine and feminine roles within farming families were prevalent at the time. It was generally expected that the men in the family would do the physically demanding chores and provide the crops for the family. Women, on the other hand, were expected to be homemakers and care for the house and children, as well as cook the food grown by the men. On farming families there were never strict lines drawn between the roles of men and women because every member of a family had to participate fully in order for the family to survive. However, the general idea of men outside and women inside usually existed. This meant that while male Extension Agents were teaching farmers how to grow better crops, women Home Demonstration Agents were teaching wives and young girls domestic skills. These often included child-rearing skills, sewing, and baking.
Additionally, canning fruits and vegetables became the responsibility of women as well. Canning was a relatively new, but very important, concept when Home Demonstration Agents first began visiting rural communities. When done properly, canning allowed food to be preserved for extended periods of time, making it much easier for a family to gather enough food to feed them through the winter months. However, improperly canned foods could easily become tainted and toxic to people. The role of canning quickly became a very important one within a household, and women took the job seriously.
The Home Demonstration Agents positively influenced the lives of women within farming communities. The agents taught them how to better provide for their families, giving them a sense of pride and security. However, the roles assigned to both men and women at the time enforced gender stereotypes that were prevalent for many decades before and after the Extension Service began work in North Carolina. These stereotypical ideas were passed down onto the next generation through 4-H and various agricultural clubs, which you can read about in the other sections of this exhibit.