The roots of Extension Association of New Mexico, like those of 4-H, lie in the early days of the Cooperative Extension Service. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act provided for mutual cooperation of the United States Department of Agriculture and the land-grant colleges in conducting "practical demonstrations" in agriculture and home economics to persons not attending these colleges. The result of this legislation was the establishment of county Extension offices. County agents were hired to bring the new agricultural technologies to rural farmers.
Resistance to change was strong in many of these communities, so young people were invited to become members of corn clubs or tomato clubs. Through these clubs, county agents were able to teach the farmers through their children. These later became 4-H clubs.
During this era the lot of rural women was a hard one. Little was known in many of their homes about food preservation or nutrition, or even basic sanitation. Home demonstration agents were hired to bring research based information on these and many other subjects of interest to these women. At first the agents went door to door distributing literature and demonstrating such innovations as pressure canners and sewing machines.
Often several women would gather at a nearby farmhouse to watch the demonstrations and compare notes about the lesson. The agents realized this was an enjoyable as well as a more efficient and effective way to teach. Soon they began encouraging the women to form clubs-then called "home demonstration clubs."
There was a great lack of public information in those days on Home Economics related subjects. Women learned from their mothers, and new methods in homemaking spread very slowly. The women were eager to learn and improve their skills and in addition enjoyed the sociability of the club setting.
The clubs were immensely popular and spread quickly across the country. In many communities they were the only women's organization in town and were the centers for community action and leadership development for their members. The motto of our own EANM dates from those early clubs: "Education in a social setting." Early clubs worked to develop school lunch programs in the communities' public schools and other civic projects as well as the educational programs. These included home nursing, sewing, upholstery, mattress making, making simple furniture, budgeting, cooking and nutrition, home gardening, canning and drying, and home decoration.
Soon a network of county, district, and state affiliations was formed with the home demonstration agents serving as advisors. In the early 1930's the need for a national organization began to be felt all over the United States. Finally in Washington, D.C., in 1936, just prior to a meeting of the Associated Country Women of the World, the National Home Demonstration Council was formed as one of the organizational members of the international women's organization.
In the early 1930's there were already a large number of clubs and a state organization in New Mexico. By the late thirties members were attending state meetings. Lessons taught during that period were often focused on helping families that had been hard hit by the depression and the dust bowl. Members learned to make furniture from fruit crates, to cook low-cost nutritious meals for their families, to make soap from leftover lard and grease, and to make clothes for themselves and their children from feed sacks. It was during this time that club members began making the hot lunches at schools that led to a national school lunch program.
During the early 1940s, many states suspended state meetings because of gas rationing during World War II. The Extension Demonstration Agent helped club members deal with shortages and rationing by teach lessons on cooking with honey (sugar was rationed), meatless meals (meat was rationed), growing "Victory Gardens" to meet the families' needs for vegetables and fruit and drying the products to preserve them. Club projects often involved sending cookies or other goodies to soldiers. After the war was over, in the late 1940s and early fifties, a booming economy brought prosperity to rural as well as urban communities. Lessons now included tailoring as well as sewing, preparing food for freezing, home decorating, budgeting, and use of newfangled appliances like mixers and blenders. Fancy deserts made their appearances as well as hundreds of ways to fix hamburger.
In 1964 the national organization changed its name to the National Extension Homemakers Council (NEHC) and states followed suit changing their names to reflect their relationship to the national. Home Demonstration Agents were now Extension Home Economists. This was an era of great popularity for Extension Clubs. Life became much easier for homemakers and they had leisure time for meetings, crafts, and projects. In 1957 Homemakers College, sponsored and planned by the State College staff was added to the New Mexico Extension Homemakers state meeting. That year 600 women attended. It grew each year until in 1960 there were 900 attendees.
In the 1960s the national organization had teamed with some large corporations and organizations-Allstate Insurance, J.C. Penney, National Safety Council, and AARP-to offer some outstanding programs in safety and related subjects. Homemakers College now offered nationally known speakers and widely varied subject matter.
In 1979 New Mexico hosted the National Extension Homemakers Council annual meeting in Albuquerque. The keynote speaker was Dr. Joyce Brothers who spoke on "Superfamily." The educational sessions listed reflect the subject matter of that time: Women and the Law, Crime Prevention, Parent-teen Communication, Financial Planning, Child Nutrition, Energy Conservation, Home Financing and Photography.
In the early 1980s the Extension Service and the Extension Homemakers organization in 6 western states accepted a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to teacher leadership and dealing with public policy issues to women and other family members. This project, Family Community Leadership (FCL) was somewhat controversial in the Homemakers clubs. Many still felt that women had no business "messing in politics." The project in New Mexico started Legislative Days, held during the annual session of the New Mexico Legislature in Santa Fe. FCL brought many new people into a relationship with CES and NMEHC. In the late '80s FCL became part of NEHC's public policy program.
The country was beginning to change. Young women were often employed and too busy to belong to clubs. Extension Home Economists were expected to work with a wide range of organizations and social service agencies.
In the 1990s NEHC changed its name to Family Community Education Association (FCEC), hoping to change its image from homemakers to an image that would attract working women, especially young women. The move was highly unpopular with many grassroots members who still greatly valued their image as homemakers. The name change passed in New Mexico, but many clubs and members left the organization because of it. When the dues were raised from $1 per year to $12 per year, many members were incensed and some counties that had been very active were left with no affiliated clubs. In addition, over the last 10 years, FCE had separated from the Cooperative Extension Service, and by the end of the 1990s no longer had any official relationship with it. This and other issues continued to alienate grass-roots members.
Finally, in 2004, New Mexico FCE officially disaffiliated from the National FCE and formed what became in 2005, Extension Association of New Mexico. The new memorandum of understand brings EANM even closer to the New Mexico CES. As we look into the future, we see the possibilities of working together to strengthen individuals, families and communities through education, leadership, and action. The needs of members today are quite different from those that inspired the programs in clubs in the early 1900s, but education in a social setting is still an effective way to teach and learn. Subject matter now may be learning to work with a digital camera, or protecting your family from identity theft; projects may be sewing for a nursing home or serving as "Santa" - for a CASA group, but the same desire to have lessons based on reliable, research-based information and meaningful relationships with others in the community still rest at the heart of EANM.