In 1913, the West Virginia legislature met the long-recognized need for educational programs for farm families with the passage of an act that provided for the employment of agents to disseminate practical information relating to agriculture and domestic science. That same year, Nell M. Barnett was hired by West Virginia University to take charge of extension home economics.
Four-day extension schools began to be held in West Virginia communities, taught by local home economics teachers. In addition, correspondence courses in the domestic sciences were started, as were classes for women at the popular farmers’ institutes held at Jackson’s Mill and elsewhere. In 1914, extension home economics agents were placed in certain counties to further these efforts, with the organization of farm women into groups primarily to assist with the girls’ tomato and canning clubs. By 1915, there were 16 registered groups made up of these women.
The outbreak of World War I accelerated the promotion of home food production and preservation. The homemakers clubs participated in Red Cross drives and the sale of Liberty Bonds. This intensified wartime effort was repeated during World War II, with particular emphasis on food preservation and participation in a nationwide mattress-making project, designed to provide decent bedding for low-income families. By this time extension home economic agents had been provided for almost all of the counties and the Farm Women’s clubs, as they were now called, had increased accordingly.
As the population became less agricultural, extension programs were broadened to include home furnishings, health and nutrition, money management, and leadership development. With the change of emphasis the names of the clubs also changed: from Farm Women’s clubs to Home Demonstration clubs in 1954, to Extension Homemaker clubs in 1968, and Community and Educational Outreach Service clubs in 1999.
During the segregation period, a separate system of African-American extension homemaker clubs was organized by agents employed by West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University). In 1954, West Virginia State’s land grant status was transferred to West Virginia University, and in 1965 the black State Farm and Homemakers Council voted to join the West Virginia Homemakers Council.
The guiding hand during most of these years of homemaker education and service was that of Gertrude Humphreys. Her entire professional career was spent in West Virginia University extension work, from 1919 to 1965, including 35 years as state leader.
This Article was written by Margaret Meador
Humphreys, Gertrude. Adventures in Good Living. Parsons: McClain, 1972.