The idea that instead of scraping their yards clean to keep snakes away, Arkansas farm women should plant trees, flowers and a vegetable garden didn’t occur to folks until 1912.
Marked by diseases like hook worm and pellegra, barefoot children living on the farm were slow to learn and doomed to a dreary, sickly life.
Along came the government.
Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 creating the Extension Service. Its goal was to improve farm life.
"Prosperous Farms and Happier Homes," a history of the Extension Service in Arkansas by D. Clayton Brown, has this quote:
"Unless the farmer has an increased earning," wrote M.T. Payne, state director of the Extension Service, "he cannot support education, and he cannot purchase for his family the necessary comforts of life."
Improved farming would increase income, which, Payne said, "may be used to promote higher developments in our course of civilization."
It was a noble cause.
County agents spread throughout the state. The men on the farm were taught how to grow better crops, dig a more sanitary outhouse; women were taught how to raise a garden, pen up the chickens, cook a balanced meal.
For women, the information was shared through club meetings.
Home Demonstration Clubs were formed in all 75 counties throughout the state, the first one in 1912.
Faulkner County was no exception. At one time there were as many as 14 clubs meeting each month to be taught how to can and preserve the fruits of their hard work.
As farm life improved, so did the lives of the womenfolk. It didn’t take but a generation to go from learning to make a mattress to learning how to embroider a tea towel.
It’s been 100 years since the first Home Demonstration Agent walked up a dusty path to a farm home, ready to teach some method to make better the lives inside.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Extension clubs, a committee is planning a booth for the Faulkner County Fair that will tell the history of Extension Homemakers Clubs and the forerunners, Home Demonstration Clubs.
They need some help. The committee is asking for clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, minute books or other memorabilia concerning the clubs’ works.
Sandi Zimmerman, president of the Roadrunners Extension Homemakers, is chairing the project for the county.
Those with photos and clippings to share may call her at 501-450-9595 or Marie Wilson at 581-7371 or Beth Wallace at 679-2057. The Roadrunners are an active group, interested in sharing information with the community at large through educational seminars.
For instance, more than 600 people have attended their seminars on earthquake preparedness, an important subject for Faulkner County residents.
The club’s programs this year concentrate on history.
"We’ll take a decade at each meeting," Zimmerman said.
Its most recent meeting was about the 1920s.
Members displayed old photographs, fashions of the era and a canning apparatus that most likely helped some family get through the winter with the autumn harvest preserved.
Perhaps it was just like one taken up a dusty path by a Home Demonstration Agent so many years ago.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 505-1234.)