Home Demonstration Clubs: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Since Faulkner County was predominantly agricultural and rural, most of the women who lived in the area were occupied with managing the family farm, raising children and putting food on the table.

Although the first home demonstration-type work in Faulkner County was done by boys and girls in tomato, poultry and pig clubs, women started forming Home Demonstration Clubs in 1912, when Faulkner County was one of ten Arkansas counties assigned a Home Demonstration (HD) agent. Blanche Wilson, who worked two months out of the year, was paid from a grant made by the general education board.

In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act which provided adult education for women. Agents were initially hired for six months but that was increased to eight months by the following year. Later money became available for them to work as full-time agents.

The Centerville Tomato Canning Club, organized in 1916, was the first Faulkner County organization to come under the direct supervision of the Agricultural Extension Service. Canners were set up under a shade tree in one of the yards of a farm family. Other women would gather there, bringing their vegetables and fruit. The agent, complete with corset and high top shoes, would supervise the canning. It was a festive occasion enjoyed by all.

Canning clubs were soon renamed Home Demonstration Clubs (HDC). Myrtle Smith was assigned to Faulkner County in 1915 followed by Ella Posey who served from 1918 to 1920. Posey organized the first HDC at Enders in 1920 with Mrs. Ira Clark serving as president.

These early HD agents laid the groundwork for later HD clubs. Mrs. C.D. Turner, HD agent from 1921 to 1929, organized the clubs at Guy, Mt. Vernon and Rowlett. Other clubs were organized at Martinville, 1921; Enola and Greenbrier, 1922; Wooster, 1924; East Conway, 1929; and Black Fork,

Mary Buechley was the HD agent from 1930 to 1931 and Agnes Compton served from 1931 to 1934. In addition, school girls were provided training by Ruth Powell, County Superintendent of Home Economics from 1929 to 1935, who supervised nine Homemaking departments in county high schools in the mornings and taught adult classes in the afternoons at the centers.

More HDCs were established in the 1930s and 1940s. Dora Stubblefield, who served as the HD agent from 1935 to 1946, taught rural housewives how to use the resources they had more effectively. This was necessary for the war effort as well as the fact that certain resources were very scarce at home during World War II. For example, she taught women how to make pie crust from cornbread because cornbread was more readily available in the area.

Mrs. Stubblefield is the agent who came to my great-grandmother’s house to teach her and her sisters how to use the new pressure cooker. She taught them how to can corn and even pork and beef. She also brought her books and recipes about how to can. My great-grandmother and her daughters learned how to can practically everything except fruit in that canner.

Mattress making also became a major project among home demonstration clubs when the price of cotton plummeted in the 1930s. Mrs. Stubblefield taught Faulkner County women how to make cotton mattresses and comforts under her supervision. Each community made a supply, using government surplus cotton. Hundreds were made statewide.

Eva Abel was the HD agent from 1946 until 1949 when Addie Barlow took over. Beatrice Bryson served as the HD agent from 1950 until her retirement in June 1969. Under her supervision, Faulkner County had 25 active clubs. Betty Holman served until 1975 when Relda Washburn came to the county.

State and County councils guided the activities of the various HDCs. The state council was set up in 1929 and the Faulkner County council was set up in 1936. The county HD council met four times a year to plan projects and train leaders who in turn took the information back to their local clubs.

In the fall of 1966, HDCs were renamed Extension Homemakers Clubs (EHC) after the state council changed its name to Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council. HDC activities expanded to include programs on budgeting, nutrition, clothing, home furnishings, home management, health and safety, recreation and group discussion. Faulkner County still had 15 EHCs with 216 members in 1976.

Note: Information in this article came from two articles written by Corinne H. Robinson. One article appeared in the Fall, 1976 Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings while the other was found in Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986).

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