'One great idea': 100 years of Cornell cooperative extension.
Subject: Scientific societies (Rites, ceremonies and celebrations)
Scientific societies (Services)
Author: Preston, George
Pub Date: 09/22/2011
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Fall, 2011 Source Volume: 39 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information
Product: Product Code: 8625000 Scientific Membership Assns; 8920000 Nonprofit Scientific Institutions NAICS Code: 81392 Professional Organizations; 5417 Scientific Research and Development Services
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 278651782
Full Text: In early winter of 1911, John H. Barron, Cornell Class of 1906, took a job with the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce as a Farm Bureau agent, where he was charged with delivering scientific findings at Cornell to the agriculture community. Barron opened New York's first extension office in Broome County and set out in his horse and buggy to educate farmers individually and in groups.

Barron's early work gave rise to Cornell Cooperative Extension--"One Great Idea" that is being celebrated throughout 2011, the centennial of the system.

Even before his appointment, however, significant outreach efforts were already underway in parts of New York under the leadership of Martha Van Rensselaer, who had been hired by Agriculture Dean Liberty Hyde Bailey in 1900 to lead a new intellectual pursuit: applying science to improve the quality of life in the home. Van Rensselaer named the new field "domestic science," which she described as "a vital element ... in the education of women."

With no formal home economics curriculum in place, Van Rensselaer relied on printed materials to reach New York women through the Cornell Reading Course for Farmers' Wives. The first bulletin, Saving Steps, issued in 1901, focused on how women could conserve time and energy in homemaking. Later issues shared advice on cooking, canning, gardening, decorating, child rearing, cleaning, and other matters of the home. Women formed study clubs to discuss the materials, and hundreds wrote letters with new concerns that were addressed in subsequent bulletins. As many as 75,000 women received mailings through the reading course.

Growing interest in the science of the home led in part to the formation of the Department of Home Economics, with Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose at the helm, in 1907. Seven years later, the Smith-Lever Act passed, with funding and a structure for Cooperative Extension in all states, as well as support specifically for the study of home economics. By then, New York had about 30 Farm Bureaus in place, and five counties followed a similar strategy to form corresponding Home Bureaus managed by home demonstration agents.

After the United States entered World War I, home economics took on paramount importance. In a massive effort to conserve food, home demonstration agents helped New York women to plan meals free of sugar, wheat, and meat as dictated by the federal government. Cornell placed home demonstration agents in 33 counties, further broadening the vision of home economics to include rural communities and urban areas. Agents were pressed into service to assist in issues such as child development, public education, and poverty.

The College of Home Economics formed in 1925 as the first state-chartered school of its type in the country, with Van Rensselaer and Rose acting as co-directors. In the spirit of the Cornell Reading Course for Farmers' Wives, home economists continued to use print media to reach women. But outreach also took on new forms as communication and transportation methods evolved. Home economists crossed the state in railroad cars to bring traveling exhibits to rural communities. As radio took hold in the 1920s, they used the new medium as a teaching tool capable of reaching a mass audience, a practice known as "air college."

By the time of Van Rensselaer's death in 1932, home economics had become firmly established as a field of study at Cornell and as a critical piece of the extension mission to connect the knowledge, resources, and research of Cornell to the people of New York state. The same guiding principles remain at the root of translational research programs and innovative extension practices found in the College of Human Ecology today.


George Preston '72 is a senior communications advisor for Cornell Cooperative Extension.
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