“Women work particularly well in community organizations”: Cultivating Community and Consumerism in the Comanche County REA Women’s Club, 1939-1940
From 1939-1941, the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration conducted a nationwide educational campaign to share the benefits of electricity with rural Americans, known as the “Electric Farm Equipment Show.” A key part of the show was a series of appliance schools, which were run by female home economists and targeted to women. This article examines an appliance school organized for one REA Women’s Club, as described in a 1941 report by Clara O. Nale, the chief home economist of the REA. Using primary documents from REA home demonstration agents, we reveal how officials like Nale navigated the disconnect between the official REA project that assumed a gendered division of labor with the real needs of the farm women they served. Using the 1930 and 1940 census, we also gathered biographical details of club membership, to better understand who was being served by REA programming. Through the Comanche County REA Women’s Club, we explore how the meaning of work, rural identity, and gender was rapidly changing during the late New Deal. Our findings also highlight the critical importance of women’s community organizing in contemporary electrification efforts.
Plutshack, V; Merck, A; Free, J