100 Years of Family and Consumer Sciences

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension



In 1911 five Southern States, including North Carolina, took steps to hire the first women in the nation to be known as state home demonstration agents. The women were trained to go into rural areas and demonstrate homemaking techniques to isolated farm women. In the early days, the primary programs were food preservation and clothing construction. Although our name and work may have changed through the years, our mission of bringing relevant and timely programs to both rural and urban NC residents has stayed the same. This year we celebrate the Centennial of North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences. 

In 1917, Edna Rhymer arrived in Buncombe County to become the county’s first agent. Over the years, 20 agents have served the people of Buncombe County in the area of what is today called, Family & Consumer Sciences (F&CS). Each of these women has developed unique programs to meet the specific needs of county residents, in addition to offering programs developed by NC State University Specialists and offered throughout NC to all our citizens. A few of the accomplishments made by these knowledgeable and talented women in Buncombe County during the past 100 years follows:

During Asheville’s 1918 flu crisis, county agent Rachael Hanoman and members of the Home Demonstration Clubs (today called Buncombe County Extension and Community Association, ECA) formed nursing squads, squads that prepared food for the sick, and squads who could organize and manage emergency hospitals. They operated a soup kitchen from the county courthouse where over 300 gallons of soup were distributed daily. Countless lives were saved by the selfless actions of these women during this health crisis.

In the 1920’s, agent Annie Lee Rankin taught local women to make cottage cheese to add another dairy product to their family’s menu. Agent Edna Edwards taught clothing and crafts to women so they could increase their family’s income by selling products to other area residents. Although the idea of tailgate markets may be thought of as something new, it is worth noting that Extension agents assisted farm women in selling their fresh vegetables, butter, eggs, poultry, ham, sausage, flowers, and baked goods at local curb markets long ago. The profits were used to improve the quality of life of all members of the rural family.

Agent Mamie Sue Evans came to Buncombe County in 1941 at a time when there was a surplus of cotton in the south. The government chose mattress making as a way to use the cotton and help some of our nation’s needy people. Under Mrs. Evans supervision, more than 2,000 cotton mattresses were made, replacing the corn shuck and straw mattresses used by many Buncombe County families. During 1940-1941, Extension agents in 90 of North Carolina’s counties helped families make over 221,377 mattresses.

Nancy Stancil worked in Buncombe County from 1964-1984 with an emphasis on stretching the family dollar by teaching furniture refinishing, making draperies and slip covers.  In 1975 Nancy worked with the Home Demonstration Clubs to make the draperies, plant trees and assist with the restoration of the Smith-McDowell House.  

In 1985 one of the first child safety seat programs in NC was introduced during agent, Elaine Gosnell’s tenure. Elaine also worked with the Home Demonstration Clubs to develop a video of how a bill becomes a law and distributed it to schools in Buncombe County.  

Lynda Spivey joined the Buncombe Extension in 1982 and offered various foods and nutrition programs to our residents. During the early days of the microwave, classes were taught on using it for more than popcorn. In addition to learning food preservation, individuals were trained to become Master Food Preservers.

Mary Clayton-McGlauflin came to Buncombe Extension in 1988 and provided many environmental and financial programs to our residents. Mary developed the first Buncombe County Home-Buyer Education Program with Mountain Housing Opportunities, increased homeowners’ knowledge of solar energy through work with the NC Solar Center at NCSU, and developed the Project Earth Angel program to teach recycling and green living in the 1990’s.

In the tradition of women who for 100 years have enriched our lives and families, the current Buncombe County agents, Nancy Ostergaard and Cathy Hohenstein, are carving out their own niche in Extension. In 1997 Nancy Ostergaard became Buncombe County’s 19th F&CS agent; her areas of expertise include housing and environmental issues. During her tenure, a five-series Basic Home Maintenance Course has been developed and is offered to residents to assist them in making their own minor home repairs. In the housing and environmental areas, programs are offered on topics from indoor air quality to septic system maintenance.

Cathy Hohenstein joined the staff in 2004 and works in the area of foods and nutrition, including food preservation and healthy eating. One of the present day food programs is “Cooking Smart with Diabetes”. This is a hands-on meal planning and preparation class that focuses on controlling or preventing diabetes. 

A big thank you goes to all the agents who have served in Buncombe County: Edna Rhymer, Jennie Whitaker, Rachael Hanoman, Annie Lee Rankin, Edith Rose, Sara Porter Ellis, Edna Edwards, Myrtle Keller, Ann Benson Priest, Mamie Sue Evans, Mary Ray, Joy Frauson, Nancy Oliver, Nancy Stancil, Phoebe Putnam, Elaine Gosnell, Lynda Spivey, Mary Clayton-McGlauflin, and current agents, Nancy Ostergaard and Cathy Hohenstein. This article could not possibly include all the wonderful accomplishments of our Family and Consumer Sciences agents made over the past 100 years. All of these extraordinary women have improved the well-being of the family through programs that educate, influence public policy, and help families put research-based knowledge to work in their lives. Stop by our offices at 94 Coxe Avenue or contact us at 255-5522 to see how we can enrich your family life!