Academic journal article Human Ecology

'One Great Idea': 100 Years of Cornell Cooperative Extension

Academic journal article Human Ecology

'One Great Idea': 100 Years of Cornell Cooperative Extension

Article excerpt

In early winter of 1911, John H. Barron, Cornell Class of 1906, took a job with the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce as a Farm Bureau agent, where he was charged with delivering scientific findings at Cornell to the agriculture community. Barron opened New York's first extension office in Broome County and set out in his horse and buggy to educate farmers individually and in groups.

Barron's early work gave rise to Cornell Cooperative Extension--"One Great Idea" that is being celebrated throughout 2011, the centennial of the system.

Even before his appointment, however, significant outreach efforts were already underway in parts of New York under the leadership of Martha Van Rensselaer, who had been hired by Agriculture Dean Liberty Hyde Bailey in 1900 to lead a new intellectual pursuit: applying science to improve the quality of life in the home. Van Rensselaer named the new field "domestic science," which she described as "a vital element ... in the education of women."

With no formal home economics curriculum in place, Van Rensselaer relied on printed materials to reach New York women through the Cornell Reading Course for Farmers' Wives. The first bulletin, Saving Steps, issued in 1901, focused on how women could conserve time and energy in homemaking. Later issues shared advice on cooking, canning, gardening, decorating, child rearing, cleaning, and other matters of the home. Women formed study clubs to discuss the materials, and hundreds wrote letters with new concerns that were addressed in subsequent bulletins. As many as 75,000 women received mailings through the reading course.

Growing interest in the science of the home led in part to the formation of the Department of Home Economics, with Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose at the helm, in 1907. Seven years later, the Smith-Lever Act passed, with funding and a structure for Cooperative Extension in all states, as well as support specifically for the study of home economics. …

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