4-H and Home Demonstration Work during World War I
In order to feed American troops during World War I, the National Food Administration, directed by future president Herbert Hoover, mobilized Americans to grow and preserve greater amounts of food, such as wheat, sugar, and red meat. Under Hoover's leadership American food consumption dropped fifteen percent without rationing, and surplus food production not only fed American troops during the conflict but also the people of postwar Europe. To accomplish self-rationing and increase food production, the federal government turned to existing Extension Service agents and hired personnel using money from the Food Production Board.
Across the country boys agricultural club members created new projects. These included raising sugar beets to replace for sugar cane and collecting nutshells and fruit pits to extract carbon in gas masks. Wartime work also greatly expanded the number of private donors to 4-H work, which in turn led to a dramatic increase in the number of agricultural clubs around the country. By 1918 national club membership grew to 500,000 and the number of part-time club leaders passed nine hundred.
In 1917 North Carolina Governor Thomas W. Bickett selected state Home Demonstration agent Jane S. McKimmon to help direct the State Food Commission. Following her appointment Home Demonstration agents worked both with their own organization and the state Food Administration to increase food production for the war effort. Women volunteering for war work were directed to Home Demonstration, which gave them guidelines for planting gardens and rationing food in their homes. They produced so much food that the Extension Circular "Canning, Preserving, and Jelly Making" quickly went into second and third editions and agents operated community canning centers. Home Demonstration agents and club members also nursed sick people during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. By the end of the war the number of agents had increased from forty-four agents to ninety-one: seventy-two whites and nineteen African American. The demand for canning increased so dramatically in 1919 that forty-one African American women were hired as emergency Home Demonstration agents to assist white county agents during the canning season.
In 1917 in North Carolina, in an attempt to efficiently mobilize for the war effort, the boys agricultural clubs began altering their organizational structure to place more responsibility on the county and community level, similar to the Home Demonstration clubs. Prior to this, agricultural clubs consisted loosely of boys who attended the same school but did not attend regular club meetings. Over 600 boys and girls attended the agricultural club Short Course, which focused on food preservation. The most effective war effort program created by Farm Makers' Club agent John D. Wray was "Uncle Sam's Saturday Service League," which formed in 1918. Club members pledged to work Saturday afternoons until the war was over to increase food production in the state.
Readers may also be interested in our essay on World War II.
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.
Smith, Margaret Supplee, and Emily Herring Wilson. "Jane Simpson McKimmon." North Carolina Women Making History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 250-253.
Wessel, Thomas, and Marilyn Wessel. 4-H: An American Idea 1900–1980. Maryland: National 4-H Council, 1982.
[author: Amy Manor]