In 1903 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Bureau of Entomology sent Seaman A. Knapp to Texas to teach farmers about new methods of controlling the boll weevil, which was destroying cotton crops and threatening the cotton industry. Knapp had begun demonstration work in the 1890s, and he brought the concept to his work at the USDA. He had realized that demonstrating the new techniques on the land of a local farmer was much more effective than teaching new agricultural methods in a classroom setting. Knapp's work for USDA led to the establishment of the Office of Farmers' Cooperative Demonstration Work. While the office continued its focus on preventing the spread of boll weevils, demonstration work quickly spread throughout the South.
The General Education Board, partly funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, hired a number of demonstration agents throughout the South. One of these agents came in contact with William Hall Smith, the Superintendent of Schools in Holmes County, Mississippi. He started a corn contest for boys in 1907 because he strongly believed the agricultural economy and rural diets would improve if farmers grew corn as a cash crop and as feed for chickens, hogs, and cows. Aided by bulletins and instruction from the Mississippi land-grant college, 120 boys planted half-acre plots and exhibited their corn at the county fair, winning ribbons and cash prizes. Knapp learned of Smith's work and appointed him a USDA collaborator, which gave the corn contests official status. In 1908 Knapp brought Oscar B. Martin to the USDA Bureau of Plant Industry to supervise the establishment of corn clubs throughout the United States using the model developed by Smith in Mississippi.
In 1907 Knapp sent Cassius R. Hudson to North Carolina to start Cooperative Farm Demonstration Work there. The following year Hudson organized federally funded farm demonstration work in eight counties. His demonstration work quickly outpaced state-financed extension work. In 1909 he began developing a corn and poultry club program for white boys, again coming in conflict with state government programs that had been offering prizes for white boys' corn production since 1906. Simultaneous to these developments, the North Carolina public school system had expanded greatly with mandatory attendance laws. This opened schools to serve as partners for agricultural education through demonstration work. In 1909 when North Carolina the first official corn club for white youth arose in Ahoskie, Hertford County, the state and federal programs agreed to cooperate.
Ira O. Schaub was the man who organized the first boys group as part of his duties as the state's first corn club agent, eventually working out of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (later North Carolina State University). As a means of expanding demonstration work to include girls, he hired Jane S. McKimmon to develop home demonstration. McKimmon established a program that initially trained girls to grow and can food and later covered other home economics activities.
Readers may also be interested in our essay on the history of Home Demonstration in North Carolina.
Clark, James W. Clover All Over: North Carolina 4-H in Action. Raleigh, NC: Office of 4-H and Youth, North Carolina State University, 1984.
McKimmon, Jane Simpson. When We're Green We Grow. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1945.
Wessel, Thomas, and Marilyn Wessel. 4-H: An American Idea 1900–1980. Maryland: National 4-H Council, 1982.
[author: Amy Manor]