The following is a brief history of the USDA Extension Service and two of its component programs: Home Economics and 4-H. Because the collection contains no materials on the Extension Service agricultural programs, they are not described here.
The Cooperative Extension Service is an educational agency of state land-grant colleges and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created in the early 1900s to address rural agricultural issues. The agency, which started at a time when more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming, provided information on agricultural and home economics subjects and taught people how to use this information.
The basic philosophy of the program was to "help people help themselves." A home demonstration agent worked with farm families, community leaders, and urban families to help them analyze family living situations, to recognize major problems, and to develop programs that aided them in making desired changes. One of the agent's major responsibilities was to convey the results of research in home economics to families in a form which they could understand and apply. Home demonstration agents conducted their work through group meetings, clinics, office and home visits, and by using exhibits, radio, television, and the press.
Cooperative extension work in the USDA resulted from the farm management work directed by William J. Spillman and the demonstration work of Seaman A. Knapp. Under Spillman's supervision, studies and surveys of farming conditions and practices in various sections of the country, especially among the most successful farms, were begun in 1901-02. On the basis of these studies, plans were drawn up to put into operation more efficient systems of farm management and to increase yields of standard crops. Information was made available to producers through summarizing publications.
Cooperative extension work was begun in the South under the supervision of Knapp in connection with the control of the Mexican boll weevil. In 1904, following a year of heavy damage to the cotton crop, Knapp was assigned special agents and given federal funds to conduct control activities. Knapp's method of seeking the cooperation of the state and local organizations, working with and through farmers, and utilizing demonstration fields to illustrate selection and better production methods proved most successful.
Extension work in the USDA was part of the Bureau of Plant Industry, 1904-15, principally in the Office of Cooperative Demonstration Work, established 1904, and the Office of Farm Management, established 1906. The Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension Work Act, 1914, expanded USDA's cooperative role and created the Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics. USDA and state land-grant colleges cooperatively established and maintained an out-of-school educational program to aid men, women, and youth in applying research results and other accepted practices in improving their farms, homes, and communities. Funds were provided by federal, state, and county governments and were administered by the cooperative extension services of the land-grant colleges. County home demonstration and agricultural agents were employed by their state colleges and were responsible both to the college and to the people of the county for the development and conduct of the extension educational program.
The Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension Work Act led to the consolidation of all extension work in the State Relations Service, established in 1915, under provisions of the 1915 Agricultural Appropriation Act. State Relations Service operated through the Office of Extension Work in the South and the Office of Extension Work in the North and West, 1915-21. These units were consolidated with the Office of Exhibits of the Secretary's Office and the Office of Motion Pictures of the Division of Publications in 1921 to form the Office of Cooperative Extension Work, State Relations Service, 1921, which became the Extension Service, 1923.
The Extension Service was grouped with the Food Production Administration, Food Distribution Administration, and Commodity Credit Corporation to form the Administration of Food Production and Demonstration, renamed War Food Administration, 1943. Upon termination of the War Food Administration in 1943, Extension Service resumed bureau status. It was renamed Federal Extension Service in 1970. In 1978, the Federal Extension Service was abolished and its functions were assigned to Science and Education Administration. In 1981, the Extension Service was reconstituted. Its functions were to: coordinate extension activities of the USDA with those of state agricultural colleges, provide counties with agricultural and home demonstration agents, publish and disseminate results of agricultural research, provide emergency services through local agents, and present displays and exhibits at fairs and expositions.
Extension work is currently part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) which had been in existence since 1994.
Extension Service: Home Economics
Extension Service work consisted of three general areas--agriculture, home economics, and 4-H. The homemaking phase of extension work brought families the latest research and information to help them achieve better living. Agents encouraged women to use the time, energy, money, and abilities of the family to achieve the goals the family considered important. Extension workers offered advice on how to prepare good, nutritious low cost meals; select and buy clothes for the family; make the home more convenient, attractive, and comfortable; and make housekeeping easier.
Extension Service: 4-H
The 4-H component of the Extension Service helped American youth prepare for successful living in a changing world and emphasized leadership, responsibility, cooperation, self-confidence, and quality workmanship. Around 1907, Seaman A. Knapp organized boys' corn clubs, from which developed calf clubs, pig clubs, and potato clubs. Federal sponsorship of a girl's tomato growing and canning program was conceived by Knapp in 1909 and first practiced in South Carolina in 1910. Later, 4-H clubs developed.
In 1912, the Bureau of Plant Industry's Office of Farm Management was given an appropriation by Congress to authorize them to do farm demonstration work. In anticipation of this appropriation, the Bureau of Plant Industry had approached the land-grant colleges to cooperatively start 4-H club work. The Farm Management office began actively promoting 4-H club work and adult demonstration work in cooperation with the agricultural colleges in Northern and Western states. In 1912, Oscar H. Benson served as the first federal agent in the Office of Farm Management to expand boys' and girls' club work in the North and West. The state youth cooperative agreements he established made youth work a permanent part of the 1914 Cooperative Extension Service legislation. What started on a small-scale with farm youth clubs expanded to the national and international 4-H youth movement. During World War II, 4-H club members, along with the Extension Service, worked with farmers and their families to secure the production increases essential to the war effort. Today 4-H is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.