“Pale faces used to be characteristic of country children, but that condition no longer exists.”
That was said in a 1935 article in the Rockingham Post-Dispatch, describing results of years of efforts of home demonstration work in Richmond County.
“A bloodless face is now rare because pantries were made storehouses for vitamin-laden fruits and vegetables that have been available to most children the year round,” said Mrs. W. H. Convington in the article.
“Home canning outfits have made possible a balanced diet produced right at home and rosy cheeks and sturdy bodies are among the happy results,” she said, with conditions improving by 1914.
In 1908, two simple canning devices were purchased for home use in Richmond County. Some canning enterprises struggled but canning was never widespread until 1914 when Mrs. John Sandy Covington of Wolf Pit Township became the first home agent in the county.
She spread the word about canning as she traveled around the county in her Ford Model T, assisting women with canning, pickling and preserving. She began by organizing girls into clubs to can tomatoes.
After the growing season was over, girls were taught to make wearing apparel for themselves and others. They were also taught to cook and keep house in all matters of homemaking.
Life during this time, for many in the country, was very fundamental. There was no electricity, no public water and little transportation for many, except the use of horses. With no means to attend any instruction, the home agents went to individual homes and into rural communities to offer assistance.
Mrs. Covington later organized the first women’s club in Richmond County, more specifically in the Roberdel community. In a very short time, some 30 such clubs, for girls and women, were organized all over the county.
Mrs. Covington held the first county fair in Richmond County in the fall of 1914, which included a balloon ascension and parachute jump. The extension clubs she had formed provided the large share of exhibits at the fair.
In the early days when home demonstration clubs were popular, food and money were scarce. More often than not, farm families needed a lot of encouragement and individual instruction to help improve their own living conditions, and to make ends meet, said an undated sketch of the clubs.
When the clubs later became organized in urban areas, the name was changed to “extension homemaker clubs.”
Projects were expanded in the 1920s to assist with mattress making so every home could have clean, comfortable bedding. Curb markets were formed in 1923 so farm women could sell produce from homes and gardens as a source of family income.
Members of the extension clubs worked for the school lunch program in the county and were instrumental in getting electricity to the farms, telephones to rural areas, promote better rural roads, develop new community schools and provide a county bookmobile.
In 1947, three out of four homes in Richmond County had bare bulbs on drop cords in living rooms.
In 1935, the Dispatch reported that many of the clubs were still strong features, “in the promotion of better living in their respective communities.”
Mrs. John Sandy Covington was recognized for building, “a firm foundation for the most beneficial movement ever made on behalf of country people,” in Richmond County as of 1935. “Every ounce of her great energy was put into the work. The people of Richmond County owe (her) a debt of gratitude,” the Dispatch said.
In 1993, Mrs. Earline Waddell, county extension director, wrote a poem to extension homemakers, which included, “Don’t forget you are an educational organization with strengthening families as your goal. Not many organizations have an aim as worthy. You’re dealing with society’s heart and soul.”
Through the Richmond County Cooperative Extension service today, these goals are continuing with a variety of services expanded over the years helping homemakers, farmers, businesses and youth.
Much of it has been built on the work done by those early pioneering home demonstration women beginning during the World War I era. In those days, it was recognized that, “food was just as important as bullets in winning a war.”