The Cooperative Extension Service, an educational arm of the United States Department of Agriculture, was established by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. The agency's primary purpose was "to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage the application of the same." Funds were appropriated on a formula basis to state land-grant institutions. In Texas the agency became the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
In Texas were two land-grant institutions. The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (later Texas A&M University) was established by the Morrill Act of 1862, and Prairie View College (later Prairie View A&M University) was established for African Americans by the second Morrill Act (1890). This arrangement was the result of the "separate but equal" practice of providing dual educational facilities for white and Black people in the segregated South. The Smith-Lever Act allowed the state legislature to select the institution to administer the new program but specified that the institution established for Blacks by the 1890 act should also receive a portion of the funding. Thus what became known as Negro Extension Work in Texas was born.
In 1915 the Texas legislature authorized the establishment of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and assigned the responsibility for implementation of this new program to Texas A&M. Negro Extension Work was initiated at Prairie View A&M in August 1915. Robert L. Smith, a native of South Carolina and a successful businessman, teacher, and Texas legislator, was selected to head up the extension team; Mrs. Mary Evelyn V. Hunter, from Finchburg, Alabama, was hired upon her graduation from Prairie View; and Jacob H. (Jake) Ford, a native Texan, farmer, and teacher from Wharton, was hired as an agronomist. At the end of the first year the report to the state extension director's office at Texas A&M listed 144 clubs organized with 6,013 members, 97 lectures attended by 21,985 people, 89 field demonstrations attended by 3,121 people, 860 winter-garden demonstrations, and 135 poultry demonstrations. Given the mode of travel and communication facilities available at the time, the results showed the first year of Negro Extension Work in Texas to be highly successful.
In the early 1920s, under the leadership of Calvin H. Waller, funds for additional extension staff were secured. By 1940 the service employed forty-six county agricultural agents and thirty-six county home demonstration agents. Over the years they assisted African-American farmers and farm families, including youth, with such programs as food preservation, housing, health, and sanitation, as well as swine, dairy products, cattle, and poultry production. During the Great Depression, they assisted farm families with clothing, home improvement, mattress making, and food.
In the 1950s and 1960s the staff grew to a total of 104 professional employees servicing sixty counties in the northeastern third of the state. Emphasis was placed on educating leaders and community development while continuing the assistance farmers had come to expect from their local extension agents. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the structure of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service was no longer the same. The dual organizational system was required to merge into one. The Negro Extension Work ceased to exist on August 31, 1965.