Sunday, October 27, 2013

USDA Agricultural Extension Bulletins

Extension work began as early as 1785. It was developed as a means to reach out to rural America and assist with aspects of farm management and education for the isolated families. Early Farmers' Institutes were established for the dissemination of information on Agriculture, Manufacturing and Arts. Speakers traveled around the country doing demonstrations, conducting classes and handing out informational publications. Topics such as soil analysis, geological surveys and chemical inventions were brought to the countryside. Topics expanded to cover aspects of animal husbandry, pasturing, crops, fencing, manures and market fairs. These institutes would develop into the State Agricultural Colleges throughout the country as the Market Fairs would become the State Fairs.

In the early 1900's the Institutes would sometimes hold separate sessions titled "Cooking Schools" for women where nutrition and methods of food preparation were demonstrated. Women were encouraged to attend and the number of women lecturers grew. Sessions were arranged for children to participate in any number of features such as music and arts. As popularity of the programs grew so did the funding.

By 1908 Iowa, Indiana, Colorado and Nebraska and many other rural states, had women's organizations with trained instructors in home economics. Many of these women's "auxiliaries" offered prizes for girl's culinary exhibits at the farmers' institutes. They met and had annual dues to support the expenses of their meetings and workshops. At the same time the farming institutes began separate institutes to encourage farming in the younger generation. Boys were instructed in farm work while girls were instructed in home arts and personal hygiene.

1927 Vocational Tech Classes - Wisconsin

By 1916 the "Institutes" began to decline. The work they had carried out was now part of larger Agricultural Colleges. Home demonstration work among farm women was gaining in popularity while women were schooled in small scale poultry management and vegetable gardening, butter making and developing cooperatives for selling eggs and other products. It was the birth of wide spread home economics study. The colleges reached women by offering study clubs, demonstrations and printed Bulletins. 

Clothing Construction 1925 - Google Doc

This publication from 1925 details the process of instructing various techniques of pattern drafting and dress form construction throughout several states. It does not teach the art of clothing construction, rather it is the report detailing the success of the Extension program.

Though many of the original institutes no longer exist, their offspring are thriving. Home economics are in the curricula of most high schools in the US. Clubs such as 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Scouting offer kids the opportunity to experience agriculture, nature and the arts. University Agricultural Extension services still produce informational bulletins with information that ranges from home canning and turkey roasting safety to pond management, growing mushrooms and orchard management. All of these publications are government printings and are in the public domain. 

During the Depression, as part of the WPA, similar visiting lecturers were employed by the government to visit rural communities and teach skills. John Colt, my professor of painting at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, was one of these lecturers. He traveled around Wisconsin teaching rug weaving to women in small towns and rural areas. In the 40's this was one of the ways women could earn money and by the proliferation of old weaving looms stowed in old barns it was something that many women attempted.

1945 Women's Measurements USDA Publication

This 1941 publication on Women's Measurements was a product of the WPA. The entire documentation of the process of measuring and recording measurements is detailed in this publication. The standards for women's sizing would change again but the measurement guide and chart may still be of use especially for women sewing with vintage sewing patterns. 

Download the Sewing Chart HERE

I have a collection of many of the earlier bulletins which are still valuable for the detailed information contained in them. Click on any of the Vintage Sewing Booklets linked on the left or visit for current publications.

A History of Agricultural Extension Work in the United States 1785 - 1923 by Alfred Charles True published by the United States Government Printing Office - Washington 1928©


  1. I so wish more counties would bring extensions back into full service. My mom was invited to one recently. It's just an amazing source of information!

  2. I agree. I also wish they would archive all of their publications for downloading. Though old, there is still some very useful information in those older bulletins.