“To fashion from simple everyday materials a house of comfort and cheer, to create through tolerance and wholesome interests a home of peace and pleasure; to inspire respect for the lowly duties of daily life; and to kindle love and understanding of people and all expressions of beauty – this I would do.” Homemakers Creed by Mrs Clarence Melson
What could be more representative of social life for women in Sussex County in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s than Home Demonstration Clubs. Home Demonstration Clubs taught good farm and homemaking practices to the women of Sussex County. Using 1954 as an example there were 91 clubs in Delaware with 3,500 members. Since this was mostly a white woman’s club and the population of Delaware in 1954 was only about 325,000 this was a fairly high percentage of the population for this type of club. Most clubs had a membership of about twenty members. The clubs usually would meet once a month and the Home Demonstration agents would try to attend as many meeting as possible. With 91 clubs they were busy people.
The Home Demonstration Clubs served many purposes, they served as a class in which homemaking practices were taught, they were a clearing house for women expressing their common interests and problems, and they were social gatherings. They were not designed to be a community civic club, although they did do many community and social projects.
They were among the first groups that the federal government experimented with by giving direction under the disguise of education. Food production, conservation nutrition, civil defense, salvage and rural health were all programs directed by the Federal Government and taught at Home Demonstration Clubs via the Extension Service.
The University of Delaware Extension offices would offer educational training courses on home making topics. Each club would send one to two members to the courses, referred to as short courses, the members would returned to their clubs and teach that subject to the other members.
So how did this outreach of the University Of Delaware come in to being? The Cooperative Extension Service developed out a system of Federal Acts. The 1862 Morrill Act established land grant agricultural colleges. In the act, the purpose is stated in the following words:
. . . the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.
Besides agriculture you will note it also included military education. Since this act was passed during the civil war the United States needed officers in the military so they included this catch line in the act they passed. The Morrill Act was one of the first steps of the Federal Government telling the states what they would teach in college. They did this by giving money to the colleges by way of passing on the income the federal government obtained from public lands to the colleges. Each Representative and Senator was to receive the income from 30,000 acres of federal land for these colleges. Because the income came from public lands these colleges became known as land grant colleges. Each state was to have at least one land grant college. Most have two because in 1890 they also established a Negro land grant college in each state also. In Delaware the University of Delaware and Delaware State University are land grant colleges. In Maryland the University of Maryland is a land grant college (Maryland State College in Princess Anne was the Negro land grant College in Maryland but it was swallowed into the University of Maryland College system).
The Hatch act of 1887 created the agricultural experiment station program for these colleges. To spread the word about the research information obtained from the experiment research stations the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the agricultural extension service (later in the 1960’s it became the Cooperative extension service). Each county ended up with an extension office. This office usually consisted of a basic staff of three people; a county agent, a 4-H club agent, and a home demonstration agent. The Home Demonstration Agent assisted with creating and educating the Home Demonstration clubs.
The early 1900’s was a period of great change in rural America. The use of motor vehicles came into wide spread use. The increase in better constructed roads allowed the farmer to a wider range for the sale of his products. Rural electrification was made available to the farms and with that came lights, refrigeration, radios, telephones, electric irons and fans. The Home Demonstration Agent was there to inform women on gardening practices, poultry raising, Civil Defense, the use of the pressure cooker to preserve meats, fruits, and vegetables, preparation of nutritious meals, sewing clothing, and household sanitation.
The first Sussex County Home Demonstration club was started in 1915. In 1936 there were 51 home demonstration clubs in Delaware with 1,373 women as members. They continued to grow, reaching their peak in the 1950’s, by the 1960’s they had started their decline and today there is only one Home Demonstration Club in each county. In Sussex County the last club is the Harberson Home Demonstration Club. Today the Sussex County Home Demonstration Agent from the extension service is referred to as a Family and Consumer Science Educator and her name is Anne Camasso.
Using 1957, as an example of the number of Home Demonstration Clubs, we find there were 24 clubs in Sussex County. They were; The Atlanta Club, The Bacons Club, The Broad Creek Club, The Columbia Club, The County Seat Club, The Delmar Club, The Ellendale Club, The Georgetown Club, The Greenwood Club, The Hollymount Club, The Indian River Club, The Merry Homemakers Club, The Millsboro Club, The Mt. Pleasant Club, The Nanticoke Club, The Nassau Club, The Omar Club, The Piney Grove Club, The Rehoboth Beach Club, The Reliance Club, The Shawnee Club, The Shawnee Evening Club, The Slaughter Neck Club, and the Wesley-Cannon Club. The one Home Demonstration agent for Sussex County was a busy person with 24 clubs.
Those were of course, in that time period, the white Home Demonstration clubs. The Negro Home Demonstration Clubs are less known and didn’t seem to start until the early 1950’s. They also seemed to be handled on a statewide basis instead of by county. Some Negro Home Demonstration Clubs were; Owen’s Corner, Harrington, Milton, Trinity Community, Bridgeville, Greenwood, Cheswold, and Milford.
Let’s look at three Home Demonstration Clubs in the Delmar area; Delmar, Bacons and Columbia. If you are a native of this area you may notice in the member names that the Delmar, Bacons, and the Columbia home demonstration clubs were made up of members that were related to one another. Most of the information came from newspapers of the 1950’s and 1960’s time period. Since this was still a time when married women didn’t have first names but went by their husband first name (Mrs. Paul Dickerson) some members may be repeated.
The Delmar Home Demonstration Club would meet on Tuesday afternoon usually at the American Legion home, or a member’s home. The Home Demonstration Agent attended the meeting usually every other month.
Some member names of this club, I picked up from newspapers of the 1950’s period were; Mrs. Elin Sullivan, Mrs. Dora Layfield, Mrs. Marie Adkins, Mrs. Sallie Baker, Mrs. Dallas Gordy, Mrs, Ella Nichols, Mrs. Frances Arbogast, Mrs. Beulah Littleton, Mrs. Elnora Whaley, Mrs. Elsie Parsons, Mrs. Lillian Phoebus, Mrs. Helen Sullivan, Mrs. Isabell White, Mrs. Annabel Cordrey, Mrs. Charlotte Acker, Mrs. Rose Baker, Mrs. Marie Collins, Mrs. Dallas Hitchens, Mrs. Erma Beauchamp, Mrs. Metha Hastings, Mrs. Buelah Littleton, Mrs. Lucille Alsop, Mrs. Annabelle Sahre, Mrs. Ethel Gordy, Mrs. Anna West, Mrs. Sallie White, Mrs. Mamie Gordy, Mrs. Josephine Jackson, Mrs. Emma German, Mrs. Myrtle White, Mrs. Nora Bailey, Mrs. Lizzie Littleton, Mrs. Blom West, Mrs. Grace Whitley, Mrs. Mazie Hudson, and Mrs. Pearl Brumble.
In 1962 The Delmar Home Demonstration Club elected as their president, Mrs. Carlton Adkins, Vice-President Mrs. Floyd Hastings, Secretary Mrs. Medford White, and Treasurer Mrs. William Layfield.
A smattering of topics taught would be; Planned Recreation for Teenagers, Stool Making, Interior Decorating, Use of Patterns and the Care of New Fabrics, Wrapping and Preparing of Food to be Frozen, Gourmet Cooking, Civil Defense, and Picture Framing and Hanging.
The Bacons Home Demonstration Club was formed in 1947 and would meet on Thursday afternoon usually at the St. George’s Community Hall. In looking at newspapers from the 1950’s some of the members that were in the Bacons Club were; Mrs. Mildred Gould, Mrs. Bernice Brittingham, Mrs. Paul Dickerson, Mrs. Alan Culver, Mrs. Charlotte Gould, Mrs. Margaret Ann Nicholson, Mrs. Lottie Masten, Mrs. Helen Elliott, Mrs. Beatrice Ralph, Mrs. Maggie James, Mrs. Joyce Culver, Mrs. Lillian Messick, Mrs. Ethel Workman, Mrs. Carlos Elliott, Mrs. Ruth Hearn, Mrs. Ethel Elliott, Mrs. Elsie Brittingham, Mrs. Bernice Brittingham, Mrs. Ethel Foskey, Mrs. Sarah Jones, Mrs. Alma Smith, Mrs. Grace Nichols, Mrs. Minnie Jackson, Mrs. Mabel Elliott, Mrs. Pauline James, Mrs. Elizabeth Workman, Mrs. Carmelia Porter, Mrs. Susie Wilson, Mrs. Lorence Campbell, Mrs. Irene Culver, Mrs. Irene Adams, and Mrs. Alice Tull.
In 1957 the club President was Mrs. Albert Brittingham, the Vice-President was Mrs. Elijah Elliott, The secretary was Mrs. Arba Culver, and the treasurer was Mrs. Joseph Elliott.
Topics talked about were; International Relations, Table Linens and Table Settings, Pruning Shrubbery, Proper way to brush hair, Sharpening knives, Easy Ironing, How to Iron, Quick Sandwiches, Dressings for salads, and Civil Defense.
The Columbia Home Demonstration club would meet on Wednesday afternoon at the Columbia Grange Hall or the Mt. Hermon Community House.
Some of the members in the club mentioned in 1950’s and 1960’s newspapers were;
Mrs. Ralph Ellis, Mrs. Paul Kenney, Mrs. George Moore, Mrs. Everett Calloway, Mrs. Frank Collins, Mrs. Edgar Hastings, Mrs. Doris Twilley, Mrs. George White, Mrs. Nema Beach, Mrs. Althea Kennedy, Mrs. Ruth Rider, Mrs. Erma Rider, Mrs. Helen Owens, Mrs. Harry Beach, Mrs. Charles Smithy, Mrs. Elva LeCates, Mrs. Victor Beach, Mrs. Mac Dickerson, Mrs. Florence Stephens, Mrs. Marilyn Cooper, Mrs. Isabel Wright, Mrs. Dorothea Ellis, Mrs. Ruth Phillips, Mrs. Agnes Johnson, Mrs. Anna Tomlinson, Mrs. Myrtle Wilkinson, and Mrs. Anna Hudson,
In 1961 the Columbia Club president was Mrs. Levin Twilley, the Vice-President was Mrs. Holland Twilley, the Secretary was Mrs. Marvin Bradley and the Treasurer was Mrs. Paul Kenney.
Some of the topics taught at the Columbia Club were; Care of the Skin, Color in the Home, Picture Framing, Selection and use of patterns, New Trends in Frozen Foods, How To Cook the cheaper cuts of meat.
Some Sussex County Home Demonstration agents were; in 1940 Miss Gertrude Holloway, in the 1950’s Nancy (Nan) E. Ratliff Shelton, in the 1960’s Miss Frances Shoffner, and today, Anne Camasso.
In the 1960’s the decline of the Home demonstration Clubs started. The decline can be seen in the newspaper columns written by the Home demonstration agent. In the 1950’s Nan Ratliff Shelton wrote a weekly newspaper column. In the column there were household hints and discussions of activities of the individual Home Demonstration Clubs and state activities. In the 1960’s when Miss Frances Shoffner wrote the column there was no mention of individual clubs. Today there is no column written at all. I think the home extension service itself helped with the decline in clubs by not giving them the support and publicity they had in the 1950’s. As the membership in the clubs decreased they would merge with other clubs, sometimes this created conflicts and more members dropped out. The wife instead of staying home went to work and didn’t have time for afternoon clubs. There was less emphasis in Sussex County on farming and more on the modern office job. There was also a social outlook in the 1950’s that farming was very uncool. The end result is there is one Home Demonstration Club in Sussex County today.
The information in this post came from newspapers of the period and help from Anne Camasso – University of Delaware, Lisa Dennis and Dan Tabler – University of Maryland.