Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Texas Home Demonstration Club, Rusk County, Texas, ca. 1940. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.
Smithfield, Texas Home Demonstration Club, ca. 1940. From the Portal to Texas History, The University of North Texas Libraries’ Digital Projects Unit.
Last year marked the 150th birthday of the Morrill Act, a piece of legislation that granted federal land to each state in the United States to create land grant universities.
The Act’s purpose was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts—as well as classical studies—so members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. This mission was in contrast to the historic practice of higher education to focus on an abstract Liberal Arts curriculum.
A companion piece of legislation in 1914, known as the Smith-Lever Act, provided for mutual cooperation between the United States Department of Agriculture and the land-grant universities in conducting "practical demonstrations" in agriculture and home economics to persons not attending those schools.
This was how the Cooperative Extension Service got started. County agents from the Extension Service would call on farm communities to teach farmers the latest agricultural technology and female agents were hired to teach home economics to women and girls. Inadvertently, the Smith-Lever Act had a notable influence on quilting in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century.
Prior to the early 1940s, the lot of rural women in the U.S. was especially difficult. More than a few lived in isolated communities, most of which were without electricity, plumbing of any sort, telephones, or rural mail delivery.
Many women did not know about food preservation or nutrition, and in some cases, even knowledge of basic sanitation was lacking. The female agents were charged with bringing research-based information on such subjects to rural women. One of the ways they did this was through organizations known as Home Demonstration Clubs.
At their peak during the Depression and 1940s, there were thousands of Home Demonstration Clubs in rural areas throughout the U.S. In addition to their educational mission, the clubs also provided a social outlet for women, and encouraged the development of leadership skills and community involvement. Club members branched out from home-based improvement to perform service works, engage in community beautification projects, and raise money for charitable causes.
Quiltmaking was one of the activities frequently encouraged by the Extension Agents and in many cases, Home Demonstration Clubs evolved into quilting clubs that continued to meet in rural areas well into the 1970s and early 1980s.
These quilting clubs often served both as bees, in that members helped one another finish personal quilts, and as fundraiser groups, offering “quilting for the public” in order to raise money for community activities.
In a sense, Home Demonstration quilting clubs were the precursors of modern day quilt guilds, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for promoting the art and nurturing quilters through difficult times.
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Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
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Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
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Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
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Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
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Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
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