4-H and Home Demonstration
Probably the most well-known woman of this period, who was also a member of the Woman’s Club of Raleigh, was Jane Simpson McKimmon.Jane Simpson was born in Raleigh in 1867, and she and her husband, Charles McKimmon, resided in Raleigh their entire lives. Although she lived in the Capitol City, McKimmon realized that most North Carolinians still lived on farms. This awareness caused McKimmon to make helping the farming community her life’s work.
McKimmon took an interest early on in improving the farmer’s life, which was hard even in the best of economic times. She initially became a speaker for the Farmers’ Institute in 1908, an organization that provided information about agricultural research to the public. Not long after that, her neighbor and friend I. O. Schaub, the director of the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service, contacted her. He saw her interest in helping the farming community and suggested that she start a club for girls. He had already started the Corn Club for boys, which taught young men new farming techniques and better ways to get higher yields out of the land. He realized that many of the girls in the farming communities saw the yields and money that the boys made and were highly interested in doing the same. However, such hard work was not considered acceptable for girls. Thus, in 1911 Jane McKimmon took the appointment of home demonstration agent and started the Tomato Club for girls, a club that would eventually join with the boys clubs and become what we know today as the 4-H Club.
McKimmon initially started out with a small group of girls and taught them how to grow, harvest, can, and sell tomatoes. They also learned safe and sanitary ways to can foods considering canning was relatively new to many farmers. Within the first few years the organization grew to a statewide system with demonstrators in every county and McKimmon as its head. The demonstrations developed to include instruction on nutrition, child care, marketing, clothing, and other subjects that would help improve the contributions that women were making on the farm. More importantly, the money these girls received helped them support their families during the hard times. McKimmon’s work with the home demonstration agents eventually became recognized worldwide and her teaching methods were used as models both in the United States and abroad.
Outside of the home demonstrations that McKimmon and her staff of demonstrators were providing, in the 1930s she helped develop a state Office of Relief. As people lost jobs and crop prices fell, rural communities were struggling to make ends meet. With poor returns on cash crops like tobacco and cotton, farmers found it hard to make enough money to afford food. Through the Office of Relief, McKimmon helped these families by providing food, clothing, and fuel to those in need.
Through her work with the home demonstration agents and the Office of Relief, McKimmon helped a multitude of farming families make it through the hard times of the 1930s. Her effects can still be seen today in many ways including the hundreds of thousands of members who are a part of the 4-H Club in North Carolina. Her influence can even been seen on the campus of North Carolina State University, which named the McKimmon Center for Extension and Continuing Education after her in honor of her work in public service. She is also only one of three women who have been elected to the North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame, an honor that she definitely earned.