Agricultural change and the rural problem: Farm women and the Country Life Movement

Katherine Ann Hempstead, University of Pennsylvania


Although the early twentieth century was a period of unprecedented agricultural prosperity, the status of the countryside drew the concerned attention of a group of Progressive Era reformers. Their alarm at the apparent rise in the rate of rural to urban migration and their growing conviction that rural communities were plagued by serious social problems led to the emergence of a loosely organized reform effort known as the Country Life Movement. The nature of this attempt to improve rural society and reduce rural outmigration reflected both a traditional idealization of farm life and contemporary concerns about the implications of urbanization and industrialization. Estimates of rural to urban migration in the early twentieth century essentially validate the Country Life reformers' concerns about rising rural outmigration. In their attempt to retain the quantity and improve the quality of the rural population, Country Life reformers devoted much attention to identifying and proposing solutions to the various social and economic dimensions of the overall "rural problem." Ultimately, they were unable to influence rural outmigration, and the debate about the causes of this migration shifted away from the Country Life concern about rural social problems after the First World War. Yet the preoccupation of many Country Life reformers with social issues, and the important role which many believed that farm women could play in the solution to the rural problem influenced the development and, initially, the content of agricultural extension education for women. Agricultural reformers both within and outside of the Country Life movement debated the relative importance of social and economic reform, and this debate was reflected in the emergence of two competing models of extension education in the early twentieth century. The advocates of economic reform prevailed, and extension education for women came to emphasize more practical concerns. Therefore, although the influence of the Country Life perspective ultimately waned, their initial goals and beliefs continued to inform the way in which extension work for women was justified, if not its actual content.

Subject Area

American history|Demographics|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Hempstead, Katherine Ann, "Agricultural change and the rural problem: Farm women and the Country Life Movement" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9235152.