The Country Life Commission

 January 9, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on January 12)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

In 1911 the nation was focused on rural deterioration, and the perceived breakdown of rural institutions. Rural youth were flooding into the nation’s cities, and they were often unprepared for urban life.

Recent view of barn on farm where Grandma grew up.

President Theodore Roosevelt had appointed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to figure out ways to improve rural life. The idea was that rural youth would stay on the farm if the young men learned how to use scientific agricultural principals, and the young women learned how to make rural homes comfortable and attractive.

The Country Life Commission Report (as well as several other related reports) were published in 1911.

The repair of country life will come in those forms which give value to the things in the open country. The community must move and breathe in joy and enthusiasm of the country. The celebrations must be of country matters, not those of the city.

W. H. Wilson (1911)

George Wesner in his 1976 History of McEwensville described two-day long Farmers’ Institutes that were regularly held at the McEwensville Community Hall in the early part of the twentieth century. He wrote that “usually some outstanding farmers or professors from Penn State were speakers.”

In the years following the release of the Country Life Report home economists demonstrated the latest cooking and food preservation techniques at meetings attended by rural women and girls, They also taught the principles of interior design.

The Country Life Movement encouraged the support of local fairs. The fairs provided opportunities for people to socialize. Produce and livestock competitions provided opportunities for farmers to demonstrate to others the benefits of using scientific agricultural methods.

The Country Life Movement also encouraged the revitalization of rural churches.

 The church must provide directly some modern equivalent for the husking, apple bee, quilting and singing schools of the old days.

W. H. Wilson (1911)

The Country Life Movement also believed that a rural fraternal organization called the Grange had great potential to improve rural living.

At its best the Grange has a unifying power in the country community  . . . Especially in the community in which religious people cannot come to agreement in religious matters, the Grange infuses a spirit of unions among them through the discussion of every day interests and the social pleasures which it furnishes.

W.H. Wilson (1911)

The Country Life Commission asserted that education was needed to prepare students for life in their community and that it was important to provide an education that would be meaningful in a rural context. The Commission encouraged development of vocational agriculture programs, including school farms, that could provide the context for learning.

Today some people believe that there is a need for a new Country Life Movement to once again revitalize rural America. However, others argue that the Country Life Movement was an attempt by elite outsiders to control rural areas—and that the Country Life Commission created a consumer culture in rural locales when rural residents were encouraged to decorate their homes with the latest styles and use processed foods in recipes.

Grandma lived her entire life in within a 5 mile radius of McEwensville. Did the Country Life Movement help encourage her—and Raymond Swartz, her classmate and future spouse—to stay in rural central Pennsylvania? Who knows?—Though it can be said with near certainty that the implementation of policies recommended by the Country Life Commission affected Grandma’s life.

7 Responses

  1. Wow, I can’t believe she lived her entire life within 5 miles of McEwensville. I travel about that far just to go to the grocery store…
    P.S. Great job! Its amazing how much research you’ve done for this blog.

    • I think that she lived in 6 different houses during her lifetime–but they all were within a very close radius of where she grew up. Grandma’s father ‘retired’ from farming and the family moved to Watsontown a few years after the diary ended. After she married she lived on two different farms a little southeast of McEwensville. At one point when her husband (my grandfather) semi-retired they again moved to Watsontown for a short time–but didn’t stay and soon moved back to a house on one of the farms.

  2. […] there was a “rural problem” because so many rural youth were migrating into the cities. The Country Life Commission published a plan for revitalizing the countryside a hundred years ago. The Commission believed […]

  3. […] hundred years ago there were many more small churches in rural hamlets than there are now. The Country Life Movement, which sought to revitalize rural life in an era when many youth were leaving rural areas for the […]

  4. […] I mentioned last week, in 1912 the Country Life Movement was actively working to revitalize rural communities since many youth were leaving for jobs in the […]

  5. […] may also enjoy reading (or rereading) a previous post that I did on the Country Life Commission. A hundred years ago the federal government sought to make farming more profitable, and to make […]

  6. And the loss of rural youth to the cities continues to this day, in our country, despite all sorts of interventions and programmes.

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