Home Demonstration

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: July 17, 2020

Home demonstration work began in Texas in 1912, when Edna Westbrook Trigg accepted the United States Department of Agriculture's request to work with girls' tomato clubs in Milam County. The purpose of this early work was to organize rural girls and teach them homemaking and social skills. The program was modeled on federally initiated agricultural demonstrations that had been helping farmers across the state since 1903. In 1914 the agricultural and home economics demonstration efforts were formalized with congressional passage of the national Smith-Lever Act, which provided a legal base and financial support for demonstration work. The act mandated that each state establish a Cooperative Extension Service through its land-grant universities. Texas established the Texas Agricultural Extension Service at Texas A&M. Although home and agricultural demonstration work in Texas preceded this development, the movement benefited greatly from the act's requirement that state and local governments match federal funding of such work. Mrs. Trigg's initial work in Milam County was followed by the appointment of other female county agents to work with farm girls, often through organized clubs, in such projects as vegetable gardens, poultry and livestock raising, meat canning, and bread making. By 1914, when the Smith-Lever provisions were in place, a state superintendent for girls clubs had been appointed, and home demonstration work was expanded to include assistance in clothing, home improvement and management, and family living. By 1917 rural women had joined girls in all phases of home demonstration work in Texas. Early statewide leaders who aided in this expansion and growth included Bernice Carter and Maggie Barry. Because food production and preservation were the initial focus of home demonstration, the program was utilized in the food-conservation programs of World War I.

After the war home demonstration work advanced under the direction of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. In the 1920s the number of county agents increased and staff specialists were added in several areas. In 1924 county home demonstration councils were established to coordinate local and statewide work. Two years later the Texas Home Demonstration Association was formed to coordinate further statewide activities of home demonstration clubs and councils. The association was actively involved in providing scholarships for girls in Four-H clubs. Also in 1926 home demonstration agents began using radio broadcasts in conjunction with home visits to teach domestic techniques. Membership grew from 1,725 women in 152 clubs in 1917 to 48,712 women in 2,268 clubs in 1934. Mary Evelyn V. Hunter was the longtime (1915–31) statewide home demonstration agent for black women in Texas. Jeffie O. A. Conner, also prominent in home demonstration efforts for rural black families, served as agent in McLennan County and as a supervisor for several East Texas counties from the 1920s through the 1940s. In 1937 more than 14,000 rural black women were home demonstration participants. Home demonstration work in Texas reached an all-time high in the 1940s, and during World War II the movement's efforts were again enlisted for such patriotic food-related causes as "victory gardens" and "victory canning." In their demonstrations and teaching, the agents' techniques stressed efficiency, comfort, beauty, and cleanliness. The effort always emphasized the sense of production and accomplishment achieved through happy homes and prosperous communities. Although agents usually had some background in home economics or teaching, they often had to overcome initial resistance as outsiders and government representatives.

Home demonstration work began to change in the 1950s as more women were employed and fewer families lived in rural areas. Club membership was more than 40,000 in 1951, when the emphasis was still on giving scholarships to deserving Four H club girls and on enabling women to develop leadership and parliamentary skills. Clothing making was taught to help families extend their incomes. In 1960 home demonstration clubs were represented at the White House Conference on Children and Youth called by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Programs focused on the changing roles and needs of families. The Texas Home Demonstration Association donated $3,000 to assist in building the Texas Four H Center at Brownwood in 1970, and the 1972 national meeting was held in Dallas. The name of the program was changed to Texas Extension Homemakers Association in 1979, and local clubs were renamed Extension Homemaker clubs. That same year the state president was a representative to the White House Conference on Families of President James E. Carter. In the 1980s programming focused on how policies and legislation affected families. In 1984 two adult career scholarships were initiated to help members who were seeking further education. Membership was 28,686. Members worked hard to help ensure the passage of legislation on children's car seats and seat belts. Volunteers supported the "War on Drugs." The Family Community Leadership program was initiated to train women to assume leadership roles and then teach other women. In the 1990s club work continued to focus on families. In 1994 the program changed its name again, to Texas Association for Family and Community Education. Its mission was "to work with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service to strengthen and enrich families through educational programs, leadership development and community service." Members continued as one important audience for extension educational outreach. Programs focused on environmental and family issues. Four-H scholarships were presented to nine deserving youth, and adult career scholarships were presented to members. Membership in 1994 included men and was around 12,000.

Cora Melton Cross, "The Story of Home Demonstration Work," Texas Monthly, May 1930. Kate Adele Hill, Home Demonstration Work in Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1958). Texas Agricultural Extension Service Historical Files, 1914–1970, Evans Library, Texas A&M University. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Home Demonstration,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/home-demonstration.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
July 17, 2020