Proud History

Family and Consumer Sciences program celebrates 100 years.

As the Family and Consumer Sciences program celebrates its centennial in 2011, much has changed in the program and in the homes of the citizens that FCS serves. But in many ways, FCS has returned to its roots – canning and gardening programs have seen renewed interest in recent years.

The year 1911 marked the beginning of the home demonstration program in North Carolina that later became “home economics” and is known today as Family and Consumer Sciences. North Carolina was one of five Southern states to pioneer home demonstration work, starting in 14 counties throughout the state.  The program began with gardening and canning clubs — later known as Tomato Clubs — that were designed to teach young women skills of home gardening and safe food preservation.

Today, FCS professionals serve citizens in all the state’s 100 counties and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.  FCS programs focus on many of the same issues they have traditionally — nutrition, food preservation and food safety, child development and family relations, family resource management, housing and energy management.

21st century: Extension professionals prepare energy-saving kits for homeowners.

“What families need now is the same as what they needed then — knowledge about how to stay healthy, to establish a nurturing home and to prepare healthy meals,” said Dr. Marshall Stewart, head of the 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences Department in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

On May 25, FCS will hold a statewide centennial celebration at McKimmon Center, beginning at 5 p.m. with a launch of a special book — still unnamed — on the history of home demonstration in North Carolina. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a celebratory dinner. The dinner will include the charter induction of members to the N.C. Family and Consumer Sciences Hall of Fame, recognition of donors and presentations to highlight the history of FCS and provide a vision for the program’s future.

Pre-sales of the book began in January, and those ordering early will be able to pick up their books at the centennial celebration. (For information on book sales, call 919.909.9081 or email

Almost anyone with a family history in North Carolina should remember home demonstration clubs and the agents who taught skills like cooking, food preservation, sewing and furniture restoration. The Tomato Clubs for girls began in 1911, with the hiring of Jane S. McKimmon, who coordinated the home demonstration program. An early report by N.C. State College’s Board of Trustees commented on the effectiveness of these early clubs.

Dr. Jane S. McKimmon

“The Extension Department of the College, under the leadership of Dean I.O. Schaub and Dr. Jane S. McKimmon, has brought the College into closer touch with the people of the state than any other instrumentality yet tried,” the trustees’ report read.

The history book focuses on the decades since the state’s home demonstration program began, as well as past milestones and present achievements of individual counties. It is filled with photos and memories, according to Dr. Wilma Hammett, retired FCS specialist.

In 1920, the Home Demonstration Program officially became part of the Extension Department of then N.C. State College, under what became the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In the 1920s and ’30s the program expanded to include clothing, resource management, and housing and home furnishings. Skill workshops provided an economical means to clothe the family and improve the home.

Many of the community institutions and services that we take for granted owe their very existence to the women of the home demonstration program and the state’s home demonstration clubs. School lunches, public libraries and county health departments in many counties were started as projects of home demonstration clubs.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to promote milk consumption, as awareness grew that many diseases caused by malnutrition could be prevented through better childhood nutrition. At the time, the mid-day meal was recognized as the most important meal of the day, yet schools were not equipped to prepare meals for students. Home demonstrations club members, trained by local Extension agents, learned to cook hot meals for schools on little more than a wood stove. The idea took hold, and today the school lunch program is still supported by USDA.

Fund-raising for hospital support, ongoing since the ‘40s in Alexander County.

In the mid-20th century, many home demonstration clubs adopted the practice of reading and discussing books recommended by the state librarian. Members who read a certain number of books from the librarian’s list received a certificate from the state. Without local libraries, the books had to be shipped from Raleigh to the county Extension offices. Members began to see the need for a local source for books in their counties, and many clubs were instrumental in raising funds for county libraries and bookmobiles — libraries on wheels.

In Cabarrus County, the first library was established in the home demonstration clubhouse. The home demonstration agent in Halifax County served as the county’s first librarian, with a collection in her own office. In 1959 the Extension Homemakers County Council in Polk County helped get a bookmobile and led the effort in the county for a special tax election to fund the new library. When construction began in 1967, the Extension Homemakers’ president and the Extension home economics agent helped break ground for the new library.

FCS was involved in early public health initiatives as well. During the 1918 flu pandemic, agents taught club members to serve as nursing squads and to prepare food for those who were sick. Across North Carolina, 75 kitchens prepared food for an average of 105 people daily. Home demonstration agents and volunteers also helped in emergency hospitals that treated the sick.

Throughout the past 100 years, home demonstration clubs have found other ways to support the health of their communities. In Alexander County, clubs helped furnish the reception area of the local hospital, and Stokes County clubs helped purchase kitchen equipment for the local hospital. In 2001, a Forsyth County Extension and Community Association club worked with an artist to create colorful murals to brighten patient facilities at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center.

In addition, home demonstration club members and Extension agents around the state together over the years have scored some big achievements for their state and their country. These include recycling efforts of World War II and organizing the construction of more than 220,000 mattresses from surplus cotton in 1941.

With support from other North Carolina women’s and nurses’ groups, the N.C. Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs sold more than $4 million in war bonds to renovate and equip a former battleship to  become the U.S. Army Hospital Ship Larkspar. In the 1950s and 1960s, seeking a place where home demonstration clubs could meet for education, members raised $100,000 from their “butter and egg money” toward the construction of what is now the Jane S. McKimmon Center. The McKimmon Center at N.C. State opened in 1976 and today provides continuing education programs to citizens across the state.

In the 1960s and ’70s when society became more consumer-driven, Extension’s home economics program was there with reliable consumer education program materials, especially in the areas of clothing and home furnishings, focusing on buying decisions, as well as care and maintenance for economic value. For example, families could purchase efficient, attractive house plans designed by Extension and make good decisions on home furnishings using specialists’ recommendations.

As families became more diverse and women went to work in large numbers, the program changed to provide support for blended families and one-parent families. The Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) for more than four decades has reached out to limited-resource youth and families, teaching them how to eat healthier meals and snacks, stretch their food dollars and reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses.

A men’s Extension homemakers club picks up highway trash as a service project in Alamance County.

In many ways, today’s Family and Consumer Sciences program has returned to its roots. Advocates of the local food movement might be surprised to learn that home demonstration agents in the 1920s promoted the idea of curb markets as a way for homemakers to earn some extra income selling surplus produce from their home gardens. In 1942, there were 55 curb markets across the state associated with home demonstration. Regular vendors at the markets reported earning more than $570,000 in market sales, plus an additional $629,000 from food sales to merchants, institutions and individuals.

Today, a number of FCS agents are involved with North Carolina’s 10% Campaign, aimed at consumer education to encourage families and institutions to spend 10 percent of their food dollars on local food. And with renewed interest in farmers’ markets and home gardening, FCS has seen a flood of new interest in home food preservation. Across the state, FCS agents host canning workshops that have been extremely popular in recent years.

Modern FCS programs provide education on nutrition and physical activity to a variety of age groups to combat the obesity epidemic. Other efforts have helped families make the most of their financial resources and avoid home foreclosures during the economic recession. Parenting programs and aging initiatives support families at both ends of life. The housing program focuses on safe and healthy environments for children and families.

In its first century, Family and Consumer Sciences has supported North Carolina families through pandemics, wars, economic hardship and much more. The same program strengths that have sustained North Carolina will keep FCS strong in the years to come.

Family and Consumer Sciences specialist (now retired) Dr. Karen DeBord (right) helped create outdoor learning and play environments at a childcare center in 2003.

“The N.C. FCS centennial marks an important milestone in the history of Extension and North Carolina. FCS agents and volunteers have provided the safety net or helping hand for generations of North Carolinians,” said Stewart.

“Whether they were teaching people to read, getting the dirt roads paved, building libraries or preserving food, the FCS program has and continues to make an incredible difference by providing economic opportunity, educational excellence and health and well-being for North Carolinians. North Carolina would not have seen the great progress it has had over the past 100 years without Family and Consumer Sciences.”

–Natalie Hampton

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