Sussex County to celebrate Extension Homemaker Heritage

Sussex County Cooperative Extension, will celebrate an Extension Homemaker Heritage Reunion – 85th Anniversary, on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, to honor local Sussex County women who formed and were active in local clubs dedicated to sharing new “home economics” information and technologies with local families.

Though only a small part of the programming that Cooperative Extension supports, the legacy of these “homemaker clubs” as they are often called, endures in the memory of families throughout the county.  The lessons they taught, skills they shared, and lives they changed, immeasurably helped Sussex Countians’ quality of life during an era of rapid change. The 85th Anniversary celebration, including refreshments, is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Carvel Research and Education Center,  16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown. There is no cost to attend. Former club members, their families and anyone who would like to share a story about the long legacy of Extension Homemaker outreach is welcome to attend.

“I am hoping that the adult children of past members would like to share their memories,” said Anne Camasso, Extension agent in Family and Consumer Sciences at Carvel. “I’ve talked to a few people who remember their mother taking them to meetings. We would love to have these stories included in the program.”

In 1917, Cooperative Extension hired its first home demonstration agent, Miss Gertrude Blodgett,  who traveled by horse and buggy to remote locations in Delaware, providing valuable information about the changing technology in modern, electrified kitchens, textile and clothing techniques, food preservation and other various  home economic topics updates.

Ten years later, Cooperative Extension had placed an agent in each county, and the Extension outreach model had expanded to include community-based clubs. These community clubs, commonly referred to as “Homemaker’s clubs” “Home Demonstration clubs” “Young Homemaker clubs” or “Home Economics Extension clubs”  were responsible for learning– and then passing on–  changing trends and practical science-based information needed in the home and community.

The clubs and their volunteer members helped Sussex County families through the Great Depression era, through World War II and responded to the expansion of families and technology in the 1950s. While a glimpse into their archive can be amusing, with topics such as “underwear patterns” or “charm through good grooming,” the majority of their focus in outreach clearly marks them as ahead of their time. Records show progressive interests in such areas as: teaching home and automobile safety, nutrition and drug interaction, growing Victory Gardens,  how to recycle clothing and household goods, solar heating, consumer fraud,  addressing marital and domestic abuse and active civil defense groups.

Members of the Nanticoke Home Demonstration celebrate their 25th Anniversary in 1956. Many black and white photos exist with well-known Sussex County surnames written on the back of the photos.

Their club names provide a clue to their wide reach in Sussex County: Angola, Blue Hen, Broad Creek, County Seat, Ellendale, Harbeson, Indian River,  Laurel, Mt. Pleasant, Nanticoke, Piney Grove,  and Reliance, to name a few. Other clubs such as the Blue Hen, served the Bethany Beach area, the Atlanta club, western Sussex and the Hearth and Home club of Milford.  In all, more than 30 clubs and their members were proactive –continually updating their education by attending short courses at the University of Delaware, and by participating in several educational field trips. Curious and committed to training, homemaker club members cared to share.  In addition to direct contact with local families, Sussex clubs were active in charity drives and community service, including Red Cross flood relief, TV Fund for Veteran’s Hospital in Elsmere, planting of community trees and replacing the contents of a residential kitchen damaged by fire.

In an undated photograph, FCE members review food values during a meeting at the former Extension office location.

As Extension changed and modernized, so too, did the nature and name of homemaker clubs, officially becoming ” Family and Consumer Educators” (FCE).  Today, remaining FCE  members continue to meet socially and fondly remember their association with outreach education with the support of Cooperative Extension.

It is a partnership worth remembering and celebrating, and on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, the public is welcome to join Sussex County Cooperative Extension in paying homage to the efforts of these extraordinary volunteer educators. For more information and to register to attend, please contact Kim Lewis at (302) 856-7303.  Visit our Facebook gallery and help us identify some of the club members!


File photo dated "1940-42?" lists the names (l-r) Gertrude Holloway Johnson, agent; Myrtle Messick, Nanticoke; Helen West, Georgetown; and Viola Ocheltree, Greenwood. Several photos exist in the archive, which are not labeled or dated.


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