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 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
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Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
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
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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 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
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Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
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Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
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
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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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