(two articles)

Home Community Education Association’s Beginning in McLean County ------

(The following excerpt was taken from Places of Pride – The Work and Photography of Clara R. Brian, 1989, with the permission of the author, Margaret Esposito. The complete work may be purchased from the McLean County Historical Society, Bloomington, IL 61701) http://www.mchistory.org/museumStore/newBookOrder/BookOrderForm.asp 

Extension Comes to McLean County
  By 1915, the household science department of the University of Illinois had a state leader of extension on staff, and educational programs were being provided throughout the state via movable schools, farmers’ institutes and lecture demonstrations. The value of such information being made available was recognized and there was a general awakening to the further advantages of having a home economist located in individual counties. By 1915, Kankakee County, Illinois had hired an adviser and they were developing a home improvement association. Mercer County followed that plan in 1917. In 1918, six counties organized, but in McLean County the enabling organization developed differently.

  Mrs. Spencer Ewing of Bloomington had been appointed McLean County food chairman at the beginning of the war. In this role she experienced the lack of rural organization through which to accomplish the food conservation work. After being selected to serve on a state committee of the Council of Defense, she met Miss Isabel Bevier, head of the Department of Household Science at the University of Illinois. This relationship led her to a clearer understanding of the provisions of extension work and the Home Improvement Association.

  Mrs. Ewing felt that such an organization would be very helpful in the food conservation work with which she was charged. She recognized the many benefits that would accrue to the county if a home economist could work with families on a full-time basis.

  Her conviction grew, and Mrs. Ewing began to look at alternatives for starting a home improvement association in the county. An initial contact with the Household Science Club of Bloomington was an attempt to enlist the club’s assistance in the project.

  This visit was the beginning of a plan which culminated in the Home Improvement Association of McLean County being organized on a township basis. Mrs. Ewing enlisted the aid of some of the Household Science Club members who lived in various townships of the county. Mrs. Barlow in Dry Grove, Mrs. Ed Coolidge in Normal, Mrs. Frank Benjamin in Bloomington, Mrs. Homer Johnson in Dale and Mrs. Hugh Stewart of Randolph townships were the original planning group. The first committee meeting was held on October 5, 1917.

  The resulting plan was to organize each township for support of the Home Improvement Association, with a goal to recruit fifty members in every township who would pay yearly dues of $1, or secure fewer members plus interested individuals and businesses willing to make contributions to total $50. For many years thereafter McLean County was known as the “$1 per member” county, and despite comments and coercion about increases, the county maintained a posture of low membership fees to encourage the greatest number of members possible.

  Several meetings were held, and township representation increased. The January 17, 1918 meeting was a boost to morale. Although a membership campaign was not to begin until February 4, the committee learned that there were already 375 members on the roll. The minutes of the meeting read, “Mrs. Hugh Stewart reported 30 members and much interest.”

  By April 10, the names of four candidates for the position of home adviser had been received. Having enrolled 1,500 members by April 13, the group formally organized. Mrs. Spencer Ewing was elected the first president of the McLean County Home Improvement Association. The executive committee was directed to incorporate under the state laws of Illinois.

  The committee also moved rapidly in the hiring process. Minutes of the deliberations seem to indicate a special preference for the candidate who had Illinois beginnings. Committee members referred to her as “our Illinois girl”. The selection was made and the memorandum of agreement to match the $1500 of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension service was promptly signed.

  Therefore, when Miss Clara R. Brian began her work in McLean County, the association of 1,500 members was in place, it had negotiated an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce for office space, transportation was being arranged, and the home adviser could assume her vital role of teaching.

  The classroom for extension work (was) the largest county in land area in the state, with a population of some 68,000. Approximately 25,000 county residents lived in the Bloomington area. The objective was to reach as many of the people as possible.

  On June 1, 1918, Clara R. Brian started meeting with the township units. She taught from the Emergency Food Program on the exchange foods. In June, the members learned about “Wheatless Bread”; July’s topic was “Meatless Dinners”, and August information was on “Sugarless Desserts:. All of these topics were of vital importance because of the wartime restrictions and shortages.

  By September Miss Brian initiated another major program thrust, related to foods and nutrition. In the years that followed, the relationship between good health and good nutrition has continued as a strong interest for county programs.

  Years after Clara Brian’s retirement, Dr. Gertrude Kaiser interviewed Clara concerning her years in McLean County. At that time Clara gave credit for the rapid start and noteworthy success of extension education in McLean County to the Home Improvement Association and its leaders.
(to read the remainder of Clara Brian's story... click here!) 


McLean County Homemakers Extension Association
Special to The Pantagraph HEA 75th Anniversary Section from Wilma Erwin Hudson Unit,  (Tuesday, June 8, 1993)

  With the arrival of an anniversary comes a strong inclination to look back over time to recall the changes the years have brought. 1993 marks just such an anniversary for the McLean County Homemakers Extension Association, now celebrating its diamond jubilee.

  Some Changes represent surface differences only. The organization has had 3 names and has called four different addresses its office home. Four women have answered to the title of McLean County Home Advisor. 

  Probably the organization’s greatest source of pride is its sensitivity and responsiveness to the problems of the society it is part of. It started that way in the days of World War I. Readers of The Pantagraph’s How Time Flies column from 75 years ago have noted references to food shortages, rationing, and war kitchens. Responding to this crisis, Governor Frank Lowden appointed a State Food Conservation Commission. Serving on that commission was Mrs. Spencer Ewing from McLean County, who was also McLean County Food Chairman. In 1915 the Illinois General Assembly had designated its land grant college, the University of Illinois, to conduct extension work under the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914. Mrs. Ewing, plus the University of Illinois home economists, plus interested women in the townships of the county, equaled the formation of a new organization. Its first name was the McLean County Home Improvement Association, and it’s official birthday was June 1, 1918.

  A similar process had been going on with the Better Farming Association (established 1914) and by 1920 both had adopted new names – Home Bureau and Farm Bureau.

  The third and present name, McLean County Homemakers Extension Association, was adopted in 1962 when the statewide Illinois Federal Home Bureaus became the Illinois Homemakers Extension Federation. 

  Farm Bureau, from 1918 onward, has shared office space with the Homemakers Organization, even though the latter is not a subsidiary but a separate legal entity. Both are allied with the University of Illinois Extension. The first of the four shared addresses was the Durley Building from 1918- 1923. From 1923 – 1938 they occupied the space in the Hoopes Building on West Monroe. When the Farm Bureau opened its own building at 202 East Locust, both the organizations moved there. One again in 1979 both moved together to occupy the present complex at 402 North Hershey Road.

  Of the four women Home Advisers, one, Miss Esther Kahle, served only 15 months before ill health forced her resignation. The other 3 account for 73 years of service in the post. They were: Clara R. Brian 1918 to 1926 and 1928 to 1945; Jean K. Lystad, 1945 to 1970; and Margaret Esposito, Associate Adviser 1962 to 1970 and Senior Adviser 1970 to 1982. 

  Improvement, the key word to the organizations original name, is the key idea behind a long list of changes the group recalls. Threats to good nutrition by 1918 shortages were attacked forthwith by the new advisor, Clara Brian. Her June lessons covered the subject of wheatless bread, in July it was meatless dinners, and in August it was sugarless desserts. When the war was over and the shortages ended Miss Brian was a little surprised at the continuing demand among the units for further lessons on nutrition. She might be even more surprised today. The October 1992 lesson was “Dietary Guidelines Revised.”

  Rural life began improving. Country schoolchildren began to be able to have a hot lunch. Lessons on the comparative nutritive values of coffee and milk, followed by two surveys, showed a change from coffee to milk for the country’s young.

  In the boom years of the 1920’s when the farm income lagged far behind urban, the women participated in the Farmer’s Market and ran the Home Bureau lunchroom to provide innovative marketing for farm produce., These measures were continued through the even leaner years of 1929 and the early 1930’s. In 1937, a project was the $1 dress and a sad note indicated there were those who could not even manage that.

  In 1938, as war again loomed in Europe, roll call for the November unit meeting was to be “World War Economies I Have Practiced,” and in 1941, wisely anticipating the farm labor shortages to come and the move of women into the industrial pool as well as further shortages, some lesson titles were “ Can Women in Industry be Good Mothers?” “Women’s Part in Helping on the Farm,” Victory Skirts and Blouses,” “Dresses from Feed Sacks,” and “Keeping War Worries from Children”.

  In 1945 the war ended, Clara Brian retired and new adviser Jean Lystad found a significant challenge in the rapid changes of the postwar world. The March 1952 major lesson, for example, was titled “Accepting Changes in Family and Community” and ended with the question “What changes can we look to by 1975? By 2000?” An improvement that highlighted the organization’s achievements under Mrs. Lystad’s leadership was participation in events leading to the establishment of the McLean County Health Improvement Association in 1948.

  A motto of the Homemakers Extension has been “ The home is the center of every homemaker’s interest but not the circumference.” Clara Brian in the earliest days wrote in her detailed annual reports her pride in community involvement. She listed cooperating with parents’ groups, community clubs, college home economics departments, The Pantagraph, the YWCA, the country nurse, a county tuberculosis association, Red Cross, county superintendent of schools, and the churches.

  To bring this history up to the more recent past, we spoke with the past McLean County home adviser Margaret Esposito concerning positive changes attributable to Homemaker’s Extension activities during her time as home adviser. She immediately listed community involvement and credited her own considerable success in networking to the Brian model and to the greater number of agencies to work with in our time.

  The two task forces that came first to her mind were one concerned with child care and one still in operation called Quilt Quest. The first, as its name implies, sought ways to assist the many households with two working parents and small children and involved reaching personnel managers of major employers. A Wee People Day in the 1980’s saw the distribution of 4,000 stickers plus informative materials.

  The Quilt Quest collected crib quilts for infants born with the HIV virus. Junior high students contributed quilts and the program has branched out to give health department informational material to the students. In a cooperative effort the association, the health department, the medical auxiliary, and the ISU drama department now have available creative drama tapes to combat the disease through the education of the very important junior high age group.

  So far we have looked at some changes in McLean County life that the Homemakers Extension Association has made or has helped citizens to meet. No history of Illinois or McLean County Extension would be complete without mentioning one element which, while not unchanging, remains an enduring part – that is the 4-H movement which is fast approaching it own 75th anniversary. Over the years literally thousands of McLean youth have pledged “ To make the best better,” a fitting summation for all Extension work.

75th Anniversary of the McLean County Homemakers Extension Association
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