Saturday, March 31, 2012

North Carolina Girls and the Tomato Clubs

By I.O. Schaub, written for the March 1953 issue of Extension Farm-News, after he had retired as director of the Agricultural Extension Service, N.C. State College, Raleigh. Corn and Tomato Clubs were the basis for 4-H Clubs.

From the beginning of the boy’s Corn Club work, there were some girls enrolled for that project. Obviously, however, very few, if any, anticipated that there would ever be a large enrollment of girls in connection with field projects requiring a large amount of hard physical labor. A number of people gave thought to the development of a type of project for girls more suitable than corn.

Some members of the staff in Dr. Knapp’s philosophy, however, that it was better to take one project at a time carrying it along until it received the necessary recognition on the part of the public and then take on additional activities. Apparently the Corn Club work developed more rapidly than Dr. Knapp anticipated and by the end of 1909, he was ready to sponsor activities with girls.

Dr. Knapp and members of the staff discussed various ideas with people in a number of states and out of these discussions it was decided that the girls’ work would be initiated on the basis of having each club member grow and can one-tenth acre of tomatoes. The tomato was selected because it was generally grown and appreciated. It was more easily canned without danger of spoilage than was true with most vegetables, and it was felt that one-tenth of an acre would provide not only for the family but would produce enough for sale. The idea of having some for sale was a significant factor for at that time spending money with the average farm family was exceedingly small.

During the Christmas holidays of 1909, O.B. Martin addressed the annual meeting of the State Educational Association in Columbia, S.C. He outlined the plans for a garden and canning project and pointed out specifically that it would tie schools more closely to the farm homes. The teachers listened with interest but only one responded with definite action. Miss Marie S. Kromer from Aiken County went home and spent her Saturdays writing letters to girls trying to enlist them in the project. By spring, she had 46 volunteers who were growing a tenth acre each according to the instructions from the Department of Agriculture. During the growing season, Miss Kromer, the County Superintendent of Schools, and also the State Farm Demonstration Agent visited the girls, and in time the tomatoes started to ripen and the next step was to get them canned.

Miss Kromer’s project received wide publicity even in the early stages and a public-spirited woman in New England financed a summer of domestic science study in New England for Miss Kromer. She left just after her school closed so arrangements had to be made to teach the club girls how to can.

Dr. Knapp’s office had sponsored the project so that office was expected to furnish the leadership. Mr. Martin was assigned the job. He knew practically nothing about canning so he looked around for skilled help. He enlisted the services of Miss Hyde, the Home Economics teacher at Winthrop College, and also rounded up a tinner, a plumber, and a carpenter. A meeting was called at Aiken on the courthouse square on July 16, 1910. The girls were invited to bring in their tomatoes. A rather large canning outfit was shipped from Illinois and set up on the courthouse lawn. There were long tables at which women and girls worked, blanching and peeling tomatoes. This canning school ran for three days and it was then moved to another town where the scene was repeated.

One 14-year-old girl who attended the session at Aiken produced on her tenth acre plot 512 No. 3 cans of tomatoes, and it was estimated that her profit was $40. This project in Aiken County aroused so much community interest that a fair was organized, capitalized at $8,000 for the sole purpose of climaxing the annual labors of the boys and girls’ clubs.

Wide publicity was, of course, given to this initial endeavor, and by fall there was an insistent demand for a similar type of program in many communities in several states.

About the same time this work was initiated in South Carolina, a similar activity was promoted in Virginia but without the specific project of one-tenth acre of tomatoes. As a matter of fact, Miss Ella Agnew of Virginia received an appointment from the Department as State Agent of Girls’ Tomato Clubs before a similar appointment was given to Miss Kromer. Miss Agnew, therefore, was the first Home Demonstration Agent ever appointed by the Department of Agriculture.

Late in the year of 1910, similar agents were appointed in Tennessee and in Mississippi.

Miss Susie Powell, first agent in Mississippi, visited Washington in the fall of 1910 and, in a conversation with Dr. Knapp, asked the question, “What does it all mean?”

Dr. Knapp’s reply was “Cultivation of the tomato plant will take us into the home garden. Canning the tomatoes will give us entrance to the farm kitchen. Tomatoes fresh and canned will be a valuable supplement to the family diet. The sale of tomatoes will provide an income for the girls. What the program will do for the farm home depends on our interest, intelligence, and perseverance.”

Dr. Knapp, responding to the general demand, arranged with the General Education Board of New York to finance the Canning Club program and at the board meeting on February 3, 1911, appropriated $5,000 for that purpose. His plan provided that where county workers were appointed, the board would give $75, provided the county would appropriate a like amount. It was assumed that this would employ woman agents for two summer months. The salary was low and the work hard, but part of the agents’ reward was the sudden revelation of how much their work meant to some unnoticed and neglected youngsters.

It was from this General Education Board appropriate that North Carolina was given its first allotment. As I recall, we were to receive $300 and to begin the work in two counties. I had become fairly well acquainted with the county superintendents of schools and after a conference with Dr. J.Y. Joyner, the work was offered to Guilford and Robeson counties. For some reason Robeson County failed to develop the program. In Guilford, Tom Foust, the county superintendent, became very much interested and after several conferences it was agreed that instead of starting the work in one school, it would be tried in two, but with a corresponding reduction in salary to be paid to two teachers so as to live within our total budget.

The first club was organized in March 1911, in the Pleasant Garden School with Miss Lucille Kennett as agent. Miss Kennett did not serve the entire summer and she was succeeded by Miss Annie Lee Rankin. The club was also organized at McLeansville and as I recall, Miss Rankin served that club as well as the one at Pleasant Garden. Probably a short time later, Mrs. J.E. Coltrane, the teacher at Jamestown, had charge of a club in that community.

The actual records of those activities do not seem to be available at this time. I do remember, however, attending a canning school at the spring back of the Rankin home at McLeansville, which was an all-day affair. None there had had experience in trying to seal tin cans. I was assigned the job of heating the sealing iron. I could get the iron hot but it just would not give us a smooth seal. We had plenty of grief and I now wonder how many of those cans of tomatoes really kept.

By 1912, Dr. Knapp and his staff in Washington were completely sold on the possibilities, and, with increased appropriation from the General Education Board, the work was expanded into other states and also the appropriate in the first states was increased. During the summer or early fall, I was advised from Washington that they thought it advisable for me to find a woman to take charge of the girls’ canning work. Perhaps they had heard of my lack of success in teaching people how to seal a tin can.

I began searching for a satisfactory person. I happened to be living next door to a lady with a charming personality and bubbling over with enthusiasm for any job she undertook. I approached her regarding this work. She knew scarcely anything regarding the program and naturally was somewhat cautious in making a commitment. Finally, however, she advised me that she would undertake it for a three-month period, but on the condition that if I was not satisfied with her work at the end of the period, I was frankly to tell her so, and also that if she was not satisfied she was to so advise me.

That lady was Mrs. Jane S. McKimmon who took over at that time and from then on became the outstanding leader of home demonstration work in North Carolina, and certainly during her lifetime no one in the United States exceeded her contribution. I think that the greatest contribution I have ever made to Extension work in North Carolina was getting Mrs. McKimmon started in that work.

There were a number of counties in the work in 1912, and at the fair that fall there was a booth exhibiting the products produced by the Girls’ Canning Club members. Already they had progressed beyond the mere canning stage for there were exhibits of pickle, catsup, canning in glass, canning in tin, and a number of other products. Occasionally you would hear a minor explosion in the exhibit for the canning art had not yet progressed to the point, at least for home canning, where all of the products were safely processed.

There was one rather amusing incident in connection with the fair exhibit. Mrs. McKimmon was not on the payroll, but her enthusiasm was already in the work so she stayed with the exhibit practically all of the time and took great pride in telling the fair visitors all about it. One day I observed her talking with a gentleman and she was talking not only verbally but with her hands and her whole personality. The conversation lasted for some time and when the visitor had gone, I asked Mrs. McKimmon if she knew who he was. She said that she did not, but that he certainly could ask lots of questions. I had met him before and knew that it was Dr. Wallace Butrick of the General Education Board in New York, the agency that was financing all of this work. Mrs. McKimmon was somewhat embarrassed but the incident did not dampen her enthusiasm and I am confident that Dr. Butrick left that exhibit with more confidence as to the future than we had had up to that time. He probably did not hear the bottles and jars popping from time to time.

The growing of the canning of tomatoes led almost immediately into other products. The soup mixture was one of the first, and this of course required vegetables. And very shortly some of the girls started in poultry work. All of this led to marketing, for one of the first objectives was to sell part of the product so as to increase the family income. Many problems had to be overcome. It was learned early that if you are going to sell, then you must have a standardized product. There were many problems, but in the long run these were solved, and the work expanded by leaps and bounds. From a very few girls in 1910, the number grew to some 4,000 in 1911, and about 11,000 in 1912, and more than 20,000 by 1913 throughout the southern states.

A Virginia agent, in one of her field reports, made a statement that exemplifies the significance of the work. It was as follows: “After all, this canning club work means that we are to get a girl to do something worthwhile, to have it approved by those she loves, and then lead on to greater things.”

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