Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part I

In just about two weeks (May 8, 2014), we’ll celebrate the 100 Anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act. Passed in 1914, the act created a system of cooperative extension organizations. Usually extension agencies were associated with land-grant university, like Virginia Tech (or Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, as we were back in 1914). The law stated that:

Cooperative agricultural extension work shall consist of the development of practical applications of research knowledge and giving of instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy and subjects relating thereto to persons not attending or resident in said colleges in the several communities, and imparting information on said subjects through demonstrations, publications, and otherwise and for the necessary printing and distribution of information in connection with the foregoing; (U.S. Code, Title 7 ,Chapter 13, Subchapter IV, § 342- Cooperative agricultural extension work)

The practical work of cooperative extension agents involved educating the rural and urban public about agriculture, farming and 4-H; home economics; economic development; government and public policy; leadership; and just about any subject that might be related! Here in Virginia, extension work had already begun back in 1906, but the passage of the Smith-Lever Act led to a change of location for the base of operations, from Burkesville to Blacksburg.

This week, I’ve found a small handful of home demonstration handouts. They aren’t dated, but best guess is that they come from the middle of the 20th century.  Created by extension agents, these were likely “take homes” from demonstration events. Two deal exclusively with apples, a staple in rural Virginia and a favorite everywhere. The other is full of suggested sugarless dessert recipes, including pies, cakes, cookies, and ice creams. All of them contain recipes, but also useful information, whether it’s about sugar substitutes or canning techniques. The idea is to support the continuing education of the people extension agents were out in the world to help.


These items are from one folder in a larger collection of state and regional agriculture pamphlets, most from extension agencies in across the nation (Ms2012-040, State and Regional Agricultural Pamphlets). You can see the full finding aid, with a list of publications included here. (The “Related Materials” note in the finding aid will lead you to some other collections of extension publications on our shelves, too!)

If you’d like to read the full text of the Smith-Lever Act, you can find it online. Virginia Cooperative Extension also has a great history of extension work in the state here.

Next week, we’ll look at more extension materials you can find in the History of Food & Drink Collection, but you’ll have to wait and see!


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