BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Woman teaching women

Bryan County Genealogy Library

Women’s farm clubs existed shortly after statehood and gradually evolved into Home Demonstration Clubs. In 1914 Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, mandating that state and local governments match federal funding to “establish agricultural extension work by trained men and women agents.” Their mission was to provide information on agricultural and home economy topics to citizens who had not attended college. Emma A. Chandler, an A&M graduate in domestic science, was selected to direct the state's program.

By 1918 seventy-three Oklahoma counties had home demonstration agents. Most were trained at Oklahoma A & M College (now OSU). They traveled throughout the state and conducted lessons in gardening, raising poultry, using a pressure cooker, cooking nutritious meals, sewing, and household sanitation. Each year a major topic was chosen, such as “Live at Home” (1931). Nina Gordon Craig was the Bryan County agent from 1927 to 1957.She began with seven clubs and 98 members. When she was honored at a dinner in 1947, there were forty clubs in attendance.

Many of the demonstration clubs established in the twenties were co-educational “junior” clubs sponsored by schools. Girls were taught to sew and boys raised poultry. Clubs were also involved in community service projects. When their mothers saw the impact of the youth, they formed adult groups. Yarnaby organized in 1922 with 30 charter members. Others with junior or adult groups were: Busnell, Cobb, Pirtle, Silo, Bokchito, Colbert, Achille, Albany, Kemp, Connally, Pritchard, Veach Grove, Keirsey, Blue, and Sealy. Later Banty, Craig, Ft. Washita, Yuba, and Impson formed clubs.

Home demonstration clubs held monthly or bimonthly meetings in local schools, church buildings, homes or club houses. Plans were discussed, presentations were made by the agent, and then activities such as quilting or canning were enjoyed by the group. The clubs were a great social outlet for isolated rural women.

Many entered their work in local fairs. At the 1931 state garden contest, sponsored by the Extension Division in the Oklahoma Farmer Stockman, Bryan County led the state by having the largest number of garden demonstrators enrolled- 365. Clubs with winners included: Achille, Bray, Banty, Bushnell, Cobb, Carrols Chapel, Craig Workers, Dodson, Eager, Hendrix, Impson, Liberty, Kemp, Kenefick, Mead, Matoy, Platter, Reynolds Chapel, Smith-Lee, Tomlin, Utica, Wade, Veach Grove, Yuba, and Yarnaby. Hendrix won second in the Southeast District contest.

During the depression club members were taught how to make mattresses. In 1944, Miss Craig taught the Pleasant Hill club how to care for the sick. During both world wars they worked in cooperation with the Red Cross on a variety of projects. They held bond drives and saved cooking grease to be used for making explosives. They had “white elephant sales” to raise funds.

Although the work of the clubs was serious and aimed at improving the lives of women and children, some topics of discussion seem amusing to us now: “…the proper way to place underwear in dresser drawers, the planning of closets for use and convenience, and directions for making a shoe rack” were discussed at a 1952 meeting of the Caddo Club.

Women remained active in demonstration clubs for many decades and by 1954 Oklahoma had 1,935 clubs with 36,916 members. As family needs changed, so did the topics of meetings. Women learned more about freezing foods, managing finances, building family relationships, and balancing work outside the home.

Home Demonstration clubs became “Extension Homemakers Groups” in 1968 and the “Oklahoma Association for Family and Community Education” in 1992. Women’s clubs still exist in many forms and we still benefit from women teaching women. 

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.