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Column #87

Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting

Texas Home Demonstration Club, Rusk County, Texas, ca. 1940.
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.
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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Archived blogs:

Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
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
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
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

See other archived columns here

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