Women in agriculture

by | Mar 31, 2009

Today is the last day of March, which also marks the last day of Women’s History Month. Before the month-long celebration is over, we wanted to honor female farmers and agriculturalists across the state.

Women have always played a key role on the development of agriculture education programs, and now the number of women in the field is on the upswing as well. According to the 2007 Ag Census released in February, women now account for 13 percent of all farm operators in North Carolina, up 3 percent from 2002. Our state has also inducted three women into the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame, which was created in 1953 to honor North Carolinians who have made great contributions to the science and art of agriculture.

Margaret Virginia Hood Caldwell, a Selma native who later moved to Greensboro, led the Junior Grange program from 1938 to 1945 before becoming the first woman to serve as the Grange’s state head. She represented the National Grange on a European tour of Italy, Ireland and England, and helped to form the N.C. Grange Mutual Insurance Company. Caldwell’s husband Harry is also a member of the Hall of Fame.

Rowan County native Ruth Current was the first person to initiate homemakers’ study tours to the United Nations and coordinate statewide county programs with the State Library, State Board of Health, State Recreation Commission, and Medical Society of North Carolina. She taught home economics in several high schools before becoming affiliated with the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service, where she succeeded Dr. Jane McKimmon as the state agent and later served as assistant director of the home economics program.

Raleigh native Dr. Jane Simpson McKimmon was inducted in 1966 for her work as a home economist, pioneer educator and administrator of the home economics program of the N.C. Ag Extension Service. As a home demonstration agent, she worked with young women on gardening practices, poultry raising, the use of the pressure cooker to preserve meats, fruits and vegetables, preparation of nutritious meals, sewing clothing and household sanitation. When she picked up the reins in 1911, the home demonstration program’s total enrollment was 416 farm girls in 14 counties. Thirty years later, membership in 100 counties reached 75,000.