This year, Cooperative Extension across the nation is celebrating its centennial. Garfield County Cooperative Extension has a rich history of serving the community in every aspect of life, whether it is agriculture, family and consumer sciences, or youth development through the 4-H program. We are lucky at the county extension office to have our history well documented. Our titles have changed from County Agent to Extension Educator; however, our mission has remained the same. The following is information recorded in 1940 by Faye McKemy, home demonstration agent.
“The first Extension Agent was sent to Garfield County in May 16, 1915, when Miss Jeannie T. Stuard served as county agent. She was followed by Mrs. Ann Southwick. It was impossible to obtain office space at the time of the early home demonstration agent, and Mrs. Southwick set up her office in one corner of the ladies’ restroom with a screen finishing her office room and a table and chair for office equipment. Mrs. Frank Seapy, the first Garfield County 4-H coach, in her radio broadcast, said: ‘Extension work has indeed come a long way in the last 25 years. I am proud that I was the 4-H coach of Kremlin Club, one of the first clubs organized in Garfield County. As there were very few automobiles, Mrs. Southwick could only visit our club every two or three months and came on the train and held an all-day meeting, returning on the train that night. Each club girl brought her lunch and her work, prepared to work and receive instructions all day. In those days, we canned our products in the good old-fashioned way. Beans, for instance, were canned by cooking them one hour in the open kettle, and set off and boiled again and sealed. Of course, it was quite thrilling when Mrs. Southwick purchased a pressure cooker, which she brought to the club meetings and gave demonstrations.’
On the same broadcast, Mrs. Josie Dodd, charter member of the Garber Priscilla Home Demonstration Club, which was organized in April 1914, with a membership of 15 ladies, said: ‘At the present time, there are four of the original charter members in the club. The original objective of the club was to teach sewing, embroidery work and crocheting, and also exchange ideas on all methods of house work and home making. Our president adhered strictly to the rules of order and demanded strict attention and absolute quiet at all meetings. We were censored severely if we failed to bring some kind of needlework. As autos were almost unknown, we used wagons, buggies, and sometimes horseback or foot. In emergencies, some kind-hearted member would take a team and wagon and gather up the bunch as it was almost a case of life or death to miss a meeting.’ In 1940, there were 52 home demonstration clubs with an enrollment of 894 women.”
May 8 is the official day that the Smith-Lever Act was signed, which provided funding across the nation to establish the Cooperative Extension Service. One of the many activities scheduled to celebrate will be a train reenactment. In the early 1900s, rail transportation was the modern way to travel. Towns often sprung up along the tracks. Townspeople were accustomed to meeting trains to welcome travelers, receive shipments and to just learn what was going on. But trains brought more than shipments and travelers; the trains also brought education from colleges and universities to the people.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, early Extension agents were allowed to travel on trains presenting demonstrations and lectures to people gathered at whistle stops along train routes. Often, agents would depart from a train to stay in an area several days, walking or riding by horse or bicycle, to make farm visits and/or doing demonstrations before moving on to the next town.
The train coming into town was sometimes referred to as a county fair on wheels. On April 12, the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service will recreate a Historic Extension Train event in Wellston. If you are interested in being part of the event’s festivities, contact the Garfield County Extension Office for more information. Our goal is to recreate that kind of excitement with an atmosphere that will celebrate the past 100 years of Extension in Oklahoma, while helping cast a vision for the future.
Nickels, MS, RD/LD, is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Garfield County.