It was a little less than 80 years ago this month that on February 4, 1937, Ruth Current succeeded Dr. Jane S. McKimmon as State Home Demonstration Agent for the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service (later renamed Cooperative Extension Service). Both women are still remembered for their tremendous contributions to agriculture and for being two great North Carolinians. Today in the Better Living digital collection there are now annual statistical reports and county extension reports from the 1920s and 1930s created under their supervision. Before exploring these new resources the following is a brief retelling of the story of these remarkable women and how that torch was passed.
Teacher, civic leader, state extension leader, writer and one of the first women to graduate from NC State are only a few of McKimmon’s accomplishments. In 1911, Jane Simpson McKimmon a graduate of Peace Institute was selected as home agent to serve women in NC. At the time she was one of only five home agents in the nation. After 24 years she had transformed a home demonstration group for 514 white females in 14 counties into a statewide program with 54,310 white and black females in 78 counties. As many as 29 counties entered home demonstration work in 1933 alone. She traveled constantly from county to county and pioneered the technique of home demonstration to teach farm families.
Her teaching methods would be adapted nationally and internationally. She was innovative in training and teaching farm women in home economics in North Carolina. Her tremendous work in the NC Agricultural Extension Service made her an early champion of rural adult education. The effects of Jane McKimmon’s progress in home demonstration work can be seen in annual statistical reports now available online in the Better Living Collection. Please view the 1923-1924, 1925-1926, 1929, 1931, 1932 annual county worker reports. Home demonstration reports by Jane McKimmon from 1911 to 1943 plus photographs are available online from the “Green and Growing” digital collection. NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center is also home to the Jane Simpson McKimmon Papers, 1927-1968.
In 1935 McKimmon announced her desire to resign from demonstration work. Agricultural Extension Director Dr. I. O. Schuab respected her request but wanted her to wait until an appropriate replacement could be found.
The February 12, 1937 edition of the State College newspaper “The Technician” announced the resignation of Dr. McKimmon in a lengthy column which concluded with news about the new state agent. The appropriate replacement Dr. Schaub hoped for was a young woman named Ruth Augusta Current. Miss Current, as she was frequently referred to in the press and within extension work documentation, was a graduate of Meredith College, Peabody College and Columbia University with an academic background in home economics, sociology and adult education. After serving at a Winston-Salem orphanage and at several high schools she began extension services as an agent for Iredell county in 1927.
In November 1930, Current succeeded Miss Martha Creighton as the district home demonstration agent for the southwest region of 25 counties. Shortly after she was also appointed State Girl’s 4-H Club Leader serving under L. R. Harrill. While working in both of these positions it was announced that Current would become the new state home demonstration agent on February 4, 1937. McKimmon was pleased with the choice of Ruth Current whom she had know for nearly a decade.
The number of counties with home demonstration programs continued to grow under Current’s leadership. See the “Home Demonstration” section of the 1937 annual report for some statistics from her first year on the job. To see more of Ruth Current’s work during her time as state agent view these home demonstration supervisory reports from 1940 to 1956 from the “Green and Growing” digital collection. Ruth Current actively continued in the role of state home demonstration agent until 1957, after which she served as assistant director for the NC Agricultural Extension Service for Home Economics for an additional four years. When she was inducted into the NC Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1976, she was honored for her role in expanding resources for rural women in the areas or literacy, crafts, citizenship, music appreciation, public health and the connection of rural education to state and national organizations.
“When We’re Green We Grow”
Both women would continue to be supportive of each other and the work of the extension. Although she resigned from home demonstration work in 1937, McKimmon served as assistant director of the NC Agricultural Extension Service until her official retirement in 1946. In addition to that role a great deal of her time was devoted to the completion of her book When We’re Green We Grow a history of home demonstration, published in 1945 by the University of North Carolina Press.
In 1949 Ruth Current accompanied McKimmon to New York City for a radio dramatization of her book. The episode, also titled “When We’re Green We Grow,” was broadcast on the Cavalcade of America program on Monday, May 2, 1949 over the NBC network. “Miss Jennie” McKimmon was played by noted radio actress Helen Claire. The real Jane McKimmon can be heard 25:15 minutes into the broadcast after being introduced by Academy Award winning actress Jane Darwell. It would have been nice to also be able to hear Ruth Current’s voice as well. Maybe it is her clapping for a few moments at the introduction of Jane McKimmon.