Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Extension Family and Consumer Sciences: Why It Was Included in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Extension Family and Consumer Sciences: Why It Was Included in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914

Article excerpt

How was Cooperative Extension home economics incorporated into the Smith-Lever Act of 1914? Historical references (1840s-1914) including AHEA (AAFCS) documents; Cooperative Extension, legislative, university, and hospital reports; government publications; news releases; college registries and correspondence courses; and films, theses, dissertations, and monographs were consulted to develop an answer to this question. Nine major bills introduced between 1909 and 1914 formed the basis for the Smith-Lever Act's passage, but it was the ingenuity and sacrifices of a variety of individuals and groups and the philosophy and technology of the times that made the largest contribution.

As C.W. Warburton (1939) said during the 25 -year anniversary celebration of the Smith-Lever Act, "Cooperative Extension may rightfully assert that it has accomplished far more for the public welfare than was ever dreamed by its sponsors." This progression in agriculture grew out of the progressive era and its industrial revolution.

It also grew out of the philosophy that a classical education of Latin and Greek had not provided farmers the practical education they needed for their trade. An anonymous quote from the period acknowledges this gap:

Is it more important that the farmer should speak a classical language, or that he shall understand the principles of agriculture and be skilled in the tools and machinery of the farm? Be he even so highly educated, he will lapse into unclassical English when he pounds his thumb-nail through lack of skill.

Two significant developments are credited with the establishment of Extension work in the United States. First, President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, which created colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, now known as land-grant universities. The farmer's institutes (1or 2-day meetings held for farmers in local areas) after 1860 was the second development. Between 1860 and 1900, activities on behalf of the farmer and farm families were influenced by the "university extension" movement and a growing interest in adult self-improvement (Mathews, 1893). In 1877, the Farm Journal magazine was published, one of the first ways agricultural information reached farm families. The Hatch Act (1887) established experiment stations to improve what was known about agriculture and "diffuse it among the people of the United States." Later, the SmithLever Act was passed (1914) so that farmers would have the benefit of this information in their local communities.

The Smith-Lever legislation also provided the authority and funds for inaugurating a system for teaching the farm wife and farm girls the elementary principles of homemaking and home management. Little is known, however, how Extension family and consumer sciences (under a variety of names in the 20th century) came to be included in the establishment of the Cooperative Extension Service.


The purpose of this historical study was to discover how Extension home economics began and why it was incorporated into the Smith-Lever Act that established Cooperative Extension.


This study utilized primary sources of information contained in several archival collections including the Elsie Carper Collection at the National Agricultural Library, the Grace Frysinger Collection at the Harvard-Radcliffe Schlesinger Library, the Kroch Library collections at Cornell University, the film libraries of Archives II (College Park, MD) and the Library of Congress, and Montana State University Library archives collections. Legislative documents were reviewed not only for the legislative content, but also for the discussion of each of the bills (United States Congress, 1959). Secondary sources of published documents also were loaned from a variety of libraries. All references were studied using a method outlined by McCulloch and Richardson (2000) to provide a rigorous comparison of each document for historical accuracy. …

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