|All photos from "Green and Growing," an archival project of the NC State University Library.|
This semester, Elizabeth Engelhardt’s A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, contributed to our ongoing exploration of the relationship between gender and food. Specifically, Engelhardt’s chapter on the girls’ tomato clubs of the early twentieth century led me to wonder how these club girls’ experiences may have differed from those of boys participating in similar agricultural clubs. My project explores the gendered division of labor in Southern foodways, considering the boys' and girls' agricultural clubs of the Progressive Era.
As a part of the Progressive movement, programs were put into place at land grant colleges to bolster rural economies by teaching new and improved farming methods and promoting agricultural science. Responding in part to farmers reluctant to change their ways, agricultural clubs were formed that would focus on educating farm children in the hopes of influencing the next generation. These clubs’ activities were chosen and divided based on overtly male and female gender roles that placed girls in gardens and kitchens and boys out in the fields.
For girls, tomato clubs became an avenue for empowerment and mobility, introducing them into a changing world. By emphasizing activities that, while domestic, taught girls the value of community, financial autonomy, and creativity these clubs gave girls a sense of power not previously afforded them. But literature on childhood and parenting from the time, as well as the boys’ clubs handbooks, reflect anxieties about these strong women. These texts likewise stress the dominant culture of masculinity to which boys were expected to conform.
The boys’ clubs discouraged intellectual aspirations outside the realm of agriculture, and were designed to teach the boys how to farm, but more importantly, to teach them that they were farmers. Both archival images and reports written by club members themselves exhibit similar gender divisions. Thus, while girls became specialists, educators, community leaders, and authorities on modern domestic practices, the club boys learned only to do as their fathers before them and work the land.