History of Extension

The History of Extension

Extension's history spans almost 100 years, to a time when our state was plagued by the aftermath of war, but still confidently facing a new century that would bring many technological changes.

The Formation of the College of Agriculture Extension Division

The Civil War had just ended, Andrew Johnson was president, and Reconstruction was in full swing in the South when the University of Georgia introduced a new program that would forever change the face of agricultural education across the land.

During those tumultuous years, the University hosted the first Farmer Institute movement – a series of meetings providing farmers with lectures and demonstrations. In 1910 the Institute was reorganized into the Extension Division of the University's College of Agriculture.

During this period the College had two parts:

  1. the College of Agriculture, and
  2. the College of Science and Engineering.

The college farm, which lay south of campus, soon became an excellent demonstration of good farming practices. During the year of 1907-1908, the agronomy experimental plots were laid out on South Lumpkin Street, where the coliseum, athletic fields, and Extension buildings are now.

The Smith-Lever Act

As programs began to grow on campus, Georgians began to look for guidance to a new federal/state partnership made possible nationwide in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act called University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension Service. The congressional legislation created a means to deliver useful and practical agricultural and home economics information to all Americans. The Smith-Lever Act was co-authored by Georgia's U.S. Senator and former Governor Hoke Smith.

When the Smith-Lever Act passed, Georgia Cooperative Extension evolved into one of the three major thrusts of the UGA College of Agriculture, alongside Residential Instruction (college teaching) and Research (Experiment Stations).

The Early Years: Serving Farm Families

The early years emphasized agricultural production with service-oriented programs on an individual farmer/homemaker/child basis. Early extension workers made personal visits to demonstrate contour plowing, permanent pasture development and hog cholera vaccinations.

They taught farm families about children's health and nutrition, boll weevil control, mattress making, and purebred hog and cattle raising.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension responded to the people's needs and interests not only in agriculture, the environment and the family, but also through 4-H and Youth in Georgia.

The Origins of the Georgia 4-H Club

The roots of the Georgia 4-H Club began in 1904 in Newton County as a county-wide boys' corn club. Statewide corn and cotton growing contests were held in 1906. Chicken and pig contests were held in 1908. In that same year, the program was also extended to black youngsters.

Club work for girls began in Hancock County in 1906 and consisted of garden clubs, tomato clubs and canning clubs. By 1911 more than 1,500 girls were active in the pre-4-H Club activities.

By the time the Smith-Lever act was passed in 1914, these agricultural clubs boasted 19,000 members. In the early 1920s the term 4-H, representing head, heart, hands and health, came into general use. The club emphasized projects other than the traditional agricultural ones for boys and girls. Leadership and citizenship projects quickly became popular.

In 1924, the nation's first State 4-H Camp, Camp Wilkins, was built for Georgia's young people on the University of Georgia campus. Georgia Extension opened the world's largest youth camp — Rock Eagle 4-H Center — in 1955. Built by prison labor, Rock Eagle was funded with contributions from 4-H boys and girls, concerned citizens and many of Georgia's business and civic groups. Governor Herman Talmadge appropriated special state funds to match all contributions.

Almost half a million Georgia 4-H'ers have now experienced the joy of Rock Eagle. The Center serves as a training site and environmental laboratory for extension workers and other educational groups.

Sharing Agricultural Research and Technology

Much of the economic and social progress in Georgia between 1907 and 1932 was made by agriculture. New agricultural technology developed by scientists of the college and the experiment stations was used by extension workers, farmers and homemakers. These contributions in the early days laid the foundation for greater progress in years to come.

In the 1960s the focus of Extension shifted to reflect the radically changing times. While extension workers maintained strong agricultural and 4-H programs, some expanded their teaching to low income nutrition, urban programs, mass media, minority representation, Civil Rights and family life education.

They used updated teaching methods to share information about consumerism, working women, public affairs education and new agricultural technology.

New extension-taught topics included increasing the efficiency of our food and fiber system, teaching the computer as a decision making tool, career guidance and leadership development.

In the early 1970s, the university worked with Fort Valley State University to establish a unit of the extension program designed to aid the socio-economically disadvantaged rural black population. This program also conducted widely varying programs, including Minority Business Seminars and youth programs.

Serving Georgia in a New Century

In the early to mid-1990s, as both federal and state governments took a close look at their budgets, agricultural programs took major budget hits, including the research and extension branches of the college.

Over the decades, the college has developed into a complex organization with multiple functions and locations, including faculty and staff in each of the 159 counties in Georgia. While permanent units, such as departments, provide stability, the pace of modern science and business requires the flexibility and responsiveness of interdisciplinary teams to address specific issues.

Today Cooperative Extension has county extension agents cooperating with their neighboring counties to pool resources and share programs. The state extension staff serves as a reserve bank of educational information and is the support unit to train, reinforce and work with the county staff in extension education.

In addition more than 163,000 children across the state now benefit from Georgia 4-H. They learn valuable lessons from caring for livestock, to public speaking and gain invaluable leadership skills.

As Georgia rapidly grows and changes, its agricultural roots are becoming less and less visible but they are even more important today than in the past. Georgia's rich agricultural heritage and abundant natural resources nourish and support the economy of every county, community and city in the state.

The work of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences grows from those strong, deep roots. At the beginning of our history, the college was founded to educate Georgians about growing crops and livestock. Today, the college defines its role much more broadly. Through its work to educate students, to inquire into the nature of agriculture and the environment, and to deliver research-based information to the people of Georgia, the college touches every Georgian every day.

As needs, technology, priorities and demands change, the college is responsible to the people of Georgia to lead the way in adapting to new situations and new opportunities.

Last modified: Monday, 29 October 2018, 3:13 PM