The now-defunct Cancer Institute of Lumberton, N.C., located on N.C. 72 just west of Lumberton, N.C., served many patients from Robeson County and beyond during its years of operation.
In the early 1950s local residents realized that family members staying with loved ones at the Institute needed a place to spend the night. (This was before the days ofI-95and motels galore.)
So the “home demonstration” ladies of Robeson County went to work. They cleaned out unused rooms at the Institute, refinished furnitureand purchased other items to create three visitors’ rooms.
This is just one example of how Robeson women,with the guidance of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, have responded to community needs to improve their own lives and the county.“Home demonstration”work in Robeson officially started in1917,but its roots go back to the1860sand our nation’s Congress.
In the early1860s Congressrecognized that only the wealthy were able to attend college, and the typical subjectslike Latin did not help anyone earn a living.So in1862Congress passed the Morrill Act, setting up land-grant colleges in every state. Thesecolleges were to provide affordable education in practical professions such as agriculture,home economics and mechanical arts. North Carolina received two land-grant colleges: N.C. State in Raleigh and The Agricultural and Technical College, which is now N.C. A&T State University, in Greensboro.
In1914, a partnership was formed betweenthe land-grant colleges and theU.S. Department of Agriculture to provide research-based,practical information to the people.The partnership was referred to as the Agricultural Extension Service.In NorthCarolina our land-grant colleges set up officesin every county.The colleges conducted research, and“agents”of thelocal offices delivered the results to county residents.
Through the years Extension has experienced name and organizational changes.The Agricultural Extension Service becamethe Cooperative Extension Service.Female agents were originally called home demonstration agents and, later,homeeconomics agents.
Today they are known as family and consumer science agents and even have a few males in their ranks.
There was separation by race until the 1960s, when Extension integrated its offices,organizations and programs for participants.
Now back to those home demonstration women and their part in Extension’s history.
In the early 1900s, State College and the N.C. Department of Agricultureconducted classes, called Farmers Institutes,across the state for farmers.Farm boys joined “corn clubs,” each raising an acre of corn and pocketingthe money from the yield. (These clubs were the forerunner of today’s4-H clubs, which include boys and girls from rural and city areas.)
Butthere were no educational opportunities for farm women who wanted to learn the best ways to feed and raise their families.Farm girls wanted to make money for clothes and books, as their brothers were doing. Whenthose needs were expressed totheExtension Service a quiet revolution began— one that would improve the lives of families and strengthen communities.
In 1906wives were invited to attend those Farmers Institutes with their husbands. They attended special classestaught bytwo women lecturers, including Jane S. McKimmon.
Seaman Knapp,with the U.S. Dept.of Agriculture, began to consider projects for farm girls. He decided that raising a garden and canningits produce could allow girls to market their products,both fresh and canned.It was determined that girls would growa tenth of an acre of tomatoes.
So,inNorth Carolina, Ira Schaub,leader ofthe boys’ corn clubs,established two tomato clubs in Guilford County. Results were only somewhat satisfactory.
Then a position was createdfor afemale home demonstration agent to workstatewide with tomato clubs. Jane McKimmon, of the Farmers Institute, was hiredin1911 and the revolution shifted to high gear, fromthedining room of her Raleigh home.Soon she was moved tothe state agriculture building and given a clerical staff.
From this start, McKimmon would create the home demonstration program, a college of sorts, for rural women. The idea was simple: Give women the opportunity to learn new skills to provide their families with ample food andto earn additional income that could provide necessities for the entire family and educate the children. Along the way, the women banded together to improve the standard of living for all North Carolinians.
McKimmon began by explaining tomato clubs at the annual meeting of countyeducationsuperintendents. Fourteen superintendents liked what they heard and talked to their county boards. Each of thosecounties matched a$75grant and hired a local home demonstrationagent for two months during the 1912growing season to teach canning.
The agentswere not givenoffice space or supply money for their classes.Another challenge was transportation.Many agents traveled by horse and buggy. Some rode horses with their canner tied to the saddle.One agent’s horse died before she had paid for it.
Mothers often helped their daughters with theirtomatoclub projects. Soon these women were asking the demonstration agents for help with homemaking problems such as how to make better biscuits and breads.In response, agentsbegan toform home demonstration clubs, which are now called extension and community associations.
By1915 there were home demonstration clubs in31counties. One popular item demonstrated to members was the fireless cooker, a lard stand surrounded with sawdust and placed in a wooden box.Two soapstones were heated. One was placed in the bottom of the stand.A covered pot of food was placed on top of it. The second stone was placed on the pot and left forseveral hours. By containing heat in a small space,cooking would continue for hours.Thus,a tough old hen could become a tender meal while the homemaker helped in the field or did other chores.
Home demonstration work began in Robeson County in1917under Lula Cassidy.According to a1922article in The Robesonian,Cassidy and her work were fondly remembered, but official records of her work were incomplete.
America’s entry into World War I that year moved home demonstration from farm to city. When the government realized how important food production and conservation would be to the war effort,it turned to the already organized forces of farm men and women.The number of home demonstration clubs grew. Cities like Charlotte and Durham called so insistently for help that seven “city” agents were hired.
Home agents worked with home food preservation/conservation andrationing programs.They developed new recipes to make thechanges in diet more palatable, such asusinghoney and molasses instead of sugar.
The great influenza epidemic hit in 1918.Home agents and home demonstration club members dropped their current projects and organized help for influenzasufferers.
That was the scene that greeted Robeson’s nexthomedemonstrationagent, Martha Andrews.Upon her arrival in1918,Andrews worked for two months in the diet kitchen of the emergency hospitalset upin Lumberton for very ill patients.
She then worked through the local schools to organize a biscuit contest for students. About 500children learned to make biscuits and received prizes from the local committee members.
Andrewsorganized home demonstration clubs for local women and demonstrated cookery, easy laundry methods, soap making and food preservation.
By1920there were 14 home demonstration clubs in Robeson County.Andrews helped formthe firstcountywide home demonstration council in the state. The council held special group meetingsof all clubs with demonstrations in making clothing and millinery.
The Robesonian reported that1922 was a year of greater accomplishment than any other year in the history of Extension work.Thebiggest for the home demonstration club ladies was their poultry work. According to thatRobesonian article, “There is not a county in the state that can present a more excellent record in poultry work.” Members tried to do away with mixed chickens and keep purebred poultry and learned to keep chickens as a paying business.
Andrews reported driving8,529miles in1922. Meanwhile, Andrews’ counterpart in Moore County was sworn in as a deputy and given a gun by the sheriff in that county because hewas worried about“Miss Gracie” traveling alone over lonely sand roads. Fortunately,she never had to use it.
In the early ’20s many women and their daughters were selling surplus commodities toincrease family income.Extension folksacross the state wondered if weekly markets selling farm produce and home baked goods in convenient locations in towns would be good business risks.
Robeson was one of the first counties to trythe idea. The Lumberton Curb Marketopened in July1922under the supervision of Andrews farm agent O.O.Dukes. TheRobesonian describedthe success of opening day in great detail,noting that “cleaned-up” eggs sold better than dirty eggs.
No location for the market was provided but, based on other news articles, the market probably started on Elm Street, where the current farmers’ market is located. It later moved tothe armory on Cedar Street,now the Bill Sapp Recreation Center.
Robeson home demonstration club members were responsible for installing the first public water fountain in the state, which was near the courthouse in Lumberton.
During the lean years of the Great Depression, Extensionworkers helped farm families cope.Home agents put special emphasis on growing year-round gardens and preserving food. One homemaker in Robeson County displayed some of her canned foods at the Robeson County Courthouse in Lumberton,telling her audience she always had a dollar or two in her pocket,thanks to selling her canned goods in winter and fresh produce in summer.
As the Depression deepened, the government began relief programs.Realizing that farm families were different from the industrial unemployed of towns,farm relief programs focused on helping farm families support themselves.
One such relief program was the Farm Security Administration (FSA). As part of this program,local farm womenwere hired to teach otherfarmwomen survival skills, such ascanning food and making clothes. County home demonstration agents typically supervised these workers.
From 1938 through 1947,Marietta native Sallie Harrington Atkinsonworked with FSA in Robeson.Her daughter Sally remembers her mother owning two large pressure cookers that she usedfor teaching women to safely preserve food.
The women supplied jars,lidsand produce, andAtkinson would stay all day as the food wasprocessed, because many peoplefeared that pressure canners would explode and injure them.
The1940s found families still dealing with the Depression.One federal relief program supervised by Extension was teaching families to make their own mattresses.Extension home agents and club members assisted with World War II by saving scrap metals,selling war bonds,rolling bandages,etc.
One bright spot in the ’40s was the new point system formembers of Robeson’shomemaker clubs to earnannual awards.This was started by home agents Evelyn Caldwell and Veronica Warner.According to aRobesonian article their system was “borrowed” by other counties, with Cumberland County reported “to be using the Robeson plan practically word for word.”
As the yearsrolled by,Extensioncontinued to addresscommunity needs. In the1970s, physically handicapped people often found it difficult to purchase suitable clothing.Specialists at our land-grant colleges designed clothing for those with handicaps, and local agents across the state shared the clothing with the public through fashion shows. In Robeson County, home agent Mollye Briley decided that men should be included in the clothing program and recruited the livestock agent as one of her models.
With heart disease, strokeand cancer becoming major causes of death in the1990s, Extension home agents focused on teaching residents to eat healthy and move more.One such program,Color Me Healthy,trained child-care providers to incorporate these topics into educational activities for their children.I was privileged to serve on a statewide team that developed this program.
Also during this time, I taught a weight-reduction course, Noonliting,to factory workers during their lunch breaks.I remember being greeted bythe strange mixed“aroma” of burning rubber and fried chicken atthe former Converse plant in Robeson County on my first visit.
The arrival of the new century found more than1,900Robeson County grandparents serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren.To help these families with the unique challenges they face,agent Christy Strickland began a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group in2005.
Home canning has come back into style but today’s younger homemakers lack the skills to do this properly.Current Robeson County agent JaniceFields has met this need with hands-on food preservation classes.And you can count on the home agents and club members of the Cooperative Extension Service to continue to serve the needs of Robeson County as we go forward in time.