For almost 100 years, the Texas Extension Education Association has helped women better themselves and others
Dr. Seaman A. Knapp had a practical yet slightly controversial idea. Why not teach young women how to grow vegetables in their family gardens instead of growing flowers? It might not seem like such a revolutionary decision, but for the women involved in the Texas Extension Education Association, it’s made all the difference in their families and their communities.
In the early 1900s, Dr. Knapp traveled around to Texas farms, demonstrating to men and boys the latest techniques in farming and raising livestock. But his vision to reform rural life wasn’t complete without assisting the other vital half of the farm: the home. Dr. Knapp wanted to help women and their daughters, through training and education, form stronger cooperative partnerships within the family to benefit the entire homestead.
“It began with poultry and gardens. They were teaching them how to prepare food safely—a lot of the emphasis was also on the safeguarding of the food during the canning process,” says Laura Sue Smith, a member of the TEEA.
Inspired by the training, women started gathering to share information and to better themselves, their families, and their community. In 1926, Dr. Knapp’s idea jelled into the Texas Home Demonstration Association, sponsored by Texas A&M University. Along with teaching much-needed life skills such as canning and mattress making, the association focused on developing future leaders by raising scholarship funds for 4-H Club girls, another program supported by the university. The association believed that building up younger generations ensured a stronger future.
Today, even though the name has changed, the mission of the Texas Extension Education Association remains the same: “to strengthen and enrich families through educational programs, leadership development, and community service.”
Members meet monthly in their various local Extension Education Clubs, and while they are still under the umbrella of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the widened scope of their educational programs and participation in community activities reflects the diversity of today’s society. At each meeting, research-based education programs, from smart financial planning to cooking healthy “Texas-style” meals, provide women with information they can use in their daily lives.
“For me personally, the best way I am going to continue to grow as an individual and when I had children at home was the educational part [of the club] so that I could cook healthier for them and be a better mom. It was important to me that I was there learning,” says Charlotte Watson, a member of the TEEA.
Leadership training and community service are the other two key aspects of the clubs. Local, state, and national workshops offer women of all ages the opportunity to hone their leadership abilities. Confident, skilled, and ready to serve, club members branch out into many different charitable activities based on each club’s interests and strengths.
Noontime, one of Georgetown’s clubs, partners with local hospitals by providing baby books for new moms to take home and read to their babies. They also support Project: Better Chance, a prison literacy program that donates used books to inmates. Another club, Morning Glory, regularly visits a local nursing home and also makes fleece blankets to send to the Wounded Warrior Project.
True to their roots, all the Extension Education Clubs support the 4-H program through scholarships, various events, and service as judges for 4-H competitions. “We try to do many things that will benefit the community and the young people especially,” Laura Sue Smith says.
Vegetables instead of flowers—the effects of that single decision have rippled throughout the state, creating a network of capable women making an impact in their communities and beyond.