Magic Tree Clock

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day in America

It's Memorial Day in America, and the TVs and Main Streets are full of images of war veterans. Frank Buckles, who as of today is the last known living WWI veteran at age 108, has received some fanfare as of late.

What often goes missing is the work that women do, and during WWI, home economists of the Cooperative Extension Service were significant players in war and home-front arenas. Remember, the Cooperative Extension Service was new, created by the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. At the beginning of WWI in 1915, the US was staying clear of participation with the exception of exporting crops to the Allies. The US government joined the Allies in 1917 when Germany said it would attack any kind of ship (merchant, passenger). This sent the United States into one of many conservation modes. The US Congress passed, and President Wilson approved, the Lever Act (Food Administration Act) which allowed for more governmental control over food production and distribution, as well as spreading agricultural knowledge for increasing production.

Under these new governmental guidelines, home economists in the Extension Service were deployed throughout the United States to teach women conservation practices including the growing of kitchen gardens in their own yards so that the majority of agricultural crops could be shifted to military use. They also taught women how to conserve their resources, redesign existing clothing, and to use socially cooperative practices to expand the availability of resources. Interestingly, there was a decline in the birthrate in the US at this time too, so reproduction rates may have followed a conservative line as well.

My point here is that somewhere in America there may be the last living Home Economist from the WWI era, and it sure would be nice to give her some well-deserved airtime as Mr. Buckles has gotten. In a book called The Story of Civilization by Will Durant (thank you Mr. Rogers for sharing this tidbit), Durant writes, "Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing things historians usually record - while, on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks." And so we find home economists on the banks of civilization, and on the farms and in the cities, helping people negotiate the stuff of civilization that doesn't just float by on the stream, but the stuff that gets snagged in the roots of civilization found dangling from the vital and often eroded banks.