100 years of extension homemaking

Aug. 25, 2013 @ 05:05 AM

For 100 years, the Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs and the Extension Homemakers Association (forerunners to the modern day Extension & Community Association (ECA) has worked to improve the quality of life for Rutherford County citizens.

On October 27 ECA will formally celebrate its centennial at the Jane S. McKimmon Center in Raleigh.

In 1911, Jane McKimmon, North Carolina’s first female home demonstration extension agent, began the movement to support girls’ canning clubs in rural counties.

These tomato clubs, as they were called, were the girls’ counterpart to the boys’ corn clubs, teaching rural youth valuable life skills.

 By 1913, the mothers of these youth asked for clubs of their own where they might learn other skills for the home. Thus home demonstration clubs for women were organized. As time progressed, more and more clubs formed, creating a network of community volunteers in counties across the state.

The first home demonstration club in Rutherford County began in 1917 organized by Mrs. Charles N. Justice in the Watkins community.

The Mount Pleasant Club was formed the following year and by 1920, numerous clubs had organized throughout the county.

From the earliest days, women organized efforts beyond their own homes to support their communities.

For example, the Watkins Club sponsored the first community fair at Watkins School, which led to the first county-wide fair in 1919.

Home demonstration clubs were also responsible for getting the first curb market open in Rutherfordton in 1926.

In the 1950’s, Rutherford County was selected as one of only six North Carolina counties to furnish a United Nations flag to be used by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to be flown over Paris on United Nations Day.

The flag was made by the Green Hill Home Demonstration Club, under direction of the president, Mrs. Howard Ledbetter, and member Mrs. Max Tolleson.

Other demonstration clubs in the county joined the Green Hill members in constructing the flags of 60 nations. These flags are still in use today and serve as a way to promote diversity and understanding of the many cultures that make up our community.

For many women, ECA has been a family tradition.

Rutherford County natives Sunshine Tedder, Sarah Morgan and Mary Sue Blanton remember when their mothers were members.

Mary Sue’s mother was a charter member of the Mt. 

Pleasant Tomato Club. Mary Sue was the youngest of 11 children and remembered going to meetings with her mother.“Back then, they met in the homes and the home agent would come out and put on a demonstration for the women,” she explained.  

At the age of 20, she joined the Mt. Pleasant Club and was an active member for more than 60 years.

Sunshine Tedder, former member of the Ellenboro Club, said her mother was also a charter member. Her mother learned broom-making, furniture refinishing and drapery-making. Sunshine joined the club when she was 19 and remained an active member until the year of her death in 2009.

Sarah Morgan is still an active member and has been for over 40 years. She and her mother were members of the Green Hill Club. She remembers her mother’s club canning, rolling bandages and preparing CARE packages to send to men in the service during WWII.  

Historical records reveal the good work:

“Our local programs on health have been very helpful.  We have had programs on children’s diets, Pellegra, Infantile Paralysis, and Tuberculosis.” — Union Mills Club 1939

“A chicken pie supper and square dance was held to raise funds to furnish the  Hollis School lunchroom with equipment and flooring.” — Hollis Club 1951

“The club held an auction to benefit the Polio Drive.” — Whitehouse Club 1954.

County Council of Clubs, 1998

Today, Extension & Community Association members are still involved in the issues that affect children and families.   Though the needs of families have changed over time, the need to address what is important to families never changes. 

 A program on teen dating in 1954 is being played out today in programs about bullying, substance abuse, and texting.

Some may say an organization that started out as just a canning club couldn’t address the complex issues of today’s families, but it is this organization’s very history of doing the right things at the right time that makes this association viable and vital in our community.   

What families need now is the same as what they needed in the past – credible information and practical skills to improve their economic opportunity, educational excellence, and health and well being, thus improving their lives and the communities in which they live.

During the last three years, ECA members have recycled 28,384 pounds of recyclable materials; volunteered 9,761 hours; reached 60,000 people through education and service; donated hundreds of dollars to local agencies and charities; and sponsored college scholarships.

From its modest beginnings, ECA has grown into a diverse, statewide organization of volunteers that supports the work of Cooperative Extension - helping people put researched-based knowledge to work in their lives.

New members are always welcome. To learn more call the   287-6020.