Graham County Extension Clubs, 1930s through late 1990s, by Laurie R. Stevens, retired FCS agent
By the late 1930s, Home Demonstration Clubs, as they were known then, were firmly established in Graham County. Miss Nellie Jo Carter, the Home Demonstration Agent, concentrated much of her efforts during the Great Depression on food conservation, curb markets and relief gardens, and clothing construction. Women in many of the communities in Graham County were excited with the opportunity to meet on a regular basis, to come up with better ways to cope with the hard farm family life and to improve their skills in family living.
Times in the 1940s were extremely hard. Most residents lived on farms with no electricity or indoor plumbing, and heated their homes with wood. Nellie Jo was very interested in improving the lives of Graham County farm families. She spent nearly thirty years educating them on food safety and food conservation methods, family financial and resource management, the importance of good nutrition for themselves and their children, and health issues. They learned how to make their own mattresses, construct their garments and home furnishings, such as draperies and quilts, and even how to make their own hats. She was such a talented agent--one that everyone grew to love. When the ladies got together with Nellie Jo, it not only boosted their self-esteem, but they gained new skills that would help them cope in these difficult times. Nellie Jo retired from the Agricultural Extension Service in Graham County in 1963.
Freida Morgan (Terrell), a young Assistant Home Demonstration Agent, came to Graham County from Clay County in 1964. She was very talented in organizing the women. Clubs were healthy and surviving. Freida continued with all of the programs that Nellie Jo began in the early 1940s. She enhanced their knowledge in areas of food safety, home maintenance, and parenting skills and child development. Freida’s expertise was in assisting the ladies in the area of heritage skills. With a portion of the Cherokee Reservation (Snowbird Community) in Graham County, there was a lot of interest in craft production. With one major industry in the county, yarn production for carpeting, farming was still the staple that held families together. When times were tight, these women fell back on the management skills they had learned through Home Demonstration Clubs. In 1966, these clubs took on the name of Graham County Extension Homemakers, under the umbrella of the state and national organizations.
Virginia Mitchell (Patterson) replaced Freida in 1968. Home Economics was now focusing on the problems of low income families, the development of community resources, and the importance of nutrition to prevent certain health issues. Virginia also worked with the women’s clubs, while encouraging their children to participate in 4-H programming. Club women and youth worked together, especially in clothing maintenance and construction.
Sandra Roberts (Ray) took over Virginia’s responsibilities in 1970. Her expertise was in the area of clothing construction. Everyone was sewing their own clothes and making their home furnishings. Helen’s Sew and Save (a local fabric store) was the place everyone went on their lunch hour. Women were working outside of the home and it was beginning to be more difficult for clubs to meet.
Laurie Roberts’ (Stevens) tenure was from 1972-1997. It began to be a challenge for the women to meet, so other opportunities were developed to offset their club meetings. Clubs were still active in the Snowbird, Massey Branch, Sweetwater, Stecoah, Robbinsville, West Buffalo, and Tapoco areas. In the late 70’s, programs were focusing on consumer education, energy conservation, programs for the elderly and elder management, housing, and again on food safety and conservation. Club women often attended the Community Cannery located at John C. Campbell Folk School, to preserve bushels of their home grown produce. Financial management and estate planning were of extreme interest to club women. It was a time when women were seeking medical attention, and everyone learned their “cholesterol number” when the club-sponsored health van came to Robbinsville. Laurie spent the majority of her Extension career educating the women in Graham County in the following areas: Family Strengths and Child Development, Health and Human Safety, Family Resource Management, Housing and the Home Environment, Environmental Education, Diversity Issues, Community Development, and Youth Development. When Laurie left Graham County in 1997, the clubs struggled to survive. North Carolina Extension Homemakers opted out of the National organization in 1999 and what clubs remained fell under the umbrella of the NC Extension and Community Association. Club women were aging out, and younger women were working. It became extremely difficult to organize group related activities. At that point clubs dissolved in Graham County.
Latressa Phillips and Linda Buchanan, Family and Consumer Science Educators, as they now called, followed Laurie Stevens, by continuing group and special interest meetings in all areas of the FCS field of opportunities. Eve Rogers, the present FCS Educator began her career in 2008. She meets her audiences head on, addressing such issues as coping with stress, the dynamic increase of the senior population, diet related chronic diseases, food preservation, and other health and social issues. For the most part, it’s the same educational programs for the families of Graham County that Nellie Jo started in the late 1930s, only with a “modern slant.”