Girls’ Tomato Clubs in North Carolina

Club Girls Hoe Tomatoes
From the February 4, 1915 issue of the High Point Review.

With this past weekend’s freeze, North Carolina’s tomato growing season has come to a close. In the early 20th century, you could still enjoy local tomatoes long into the fall and winter months thanks to the work of tomato club girls.

Marie Samuella Cromer founded the first tomato club in South Carolina in 1910 after attending a program of the South Carolina School Improvement Association. O.B. Martin, an agent with the Department of Agriculture in charge of boys’ corn clubs, outlined a plan in which girls would grow and can tomatoes. Seeing the success boys had experienced in growing and selling corn in corn clubs, Ms. Cromer took the charge, and organized 46 girls in her community into a tomato club. She and five other pioneering Southern women, including Jane S. McKimmon of North Carolina, worked to sprout tomato clubs throughout the southeast through their work as home demonstration agents. Girls aged 10 – 20 learned how to plant, harvest, can, market and sell their tomato crops. On plots sized one-tenth of an acre, girls grew and then canned tomatoes by the hundreds of pounds. The money they earned, McKimmon emphasized, was to be spent as they saw fit. Young girls previously entirely financially dependent on their families found themselves with pocket money and sometimes substantially more. The movement peaked from 1911 through the end of World War I.

"Emancipation of Farmers Daughter" headline from Western Caroliina Democrat
From the August 20, 1914 issue of the Hendersonville Western Carolina Democrat and French Broad Hustler.

In 1914, a young girl named Ina Colclough won first prize in the Durham County girls’ tomato club contest for making $137.00 profit from her own one-tenth of an acre. This was at a time when $15.00 could buy a man’s suit and Stetson hat, $5.00 a lady’s coat and $4.00 a pair of Knox shoes. Newspapers nationwide reported on the success of the movement. An article in the New-York Tribune describes young girls plowing with horses, harrowing without them, and working in every way necessary to grow their tomatoes.

The state fair of 1915 featured an exhibition of the tomato club girls’ work, a description of which can be found here.

McKimmon began her career in 1909 with the Farmer’s Institutes, where she served as a lecturer and also director of its women’s activities. In this work she traveled throughout the state teaching women and girls cooking, baking, sewing and other homemaking skills. In 1911, she accepted the position of North Carolina’s State Home Demonstration Agent, and began planning and organizing the work of the state’s farm girls. Here tireless efforts and enthusiasm for the work of the tomato clubs resulted in thirty-two counties participating by 1914 with 1,500 members, 259,091 cans and $35,631.50 worth of canned tomatoes. McKimmon went on to have a thirty-two year career in home demonstration.

Portion of article on "Emancipation of Farmer's Daughter"
Excerpt from the August 20, 1914 issue of the Hendersonville Western Carolina Democrat and French Broad Hustler.

During World War I, McKimmon played a significant role in directing North Carolina’s food conservation efforts. Girls used the skills they learned in the clubs to make their own contributions to the cause. The work of the girls’ tomato clubs, as well as the boys’ corn clubs, was eventually absorbed into the broader work of North Carolina’s 4-H clubs.

Jane Simpson McKimmon
Jane Simpson McKimmon (1867-1957), in the Portrait Collection #P0002, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Visit North Carolina State University Libraries’ online exhibit Green ‘N’ Growing to learn more about the history of home demonstration and 4-H development and to view girls’ handwritten and illustrated reports on their tomato growing, canning and marketing activities.

Choosing cheerleaders: It was about race, but more

“While the integration of white and black athletes in the 1960s and ‘70s took place with relatively few problems, cheerleading squads were more problematic.

Pamela Grundy, a [Charlotte] sports historian, told a crowd at the county library [in Brevard] that ‘Either you can hit the basket or you can’t…. It’s clear who’s good…. Cheerleading was very different from sports.’

“Since blacks were often in the minority, they rarely were selected by the student body to be on the squad. When it came to committees or the cheerleading coaches, they too were mostly white and selected white cheerleaders.

“Grundy said selections were based more on style and culture, not necessarily race.

“A photo of the Myers Park (a top-tier all-white school in Charlotte) cheerleading squad revealed girls with similar hairstyles standing very straight with limbs in the same position….

“Another photo showed cheerleaders from the same year at West Charlotte (the black equivalent of Myers Park). They had different hairstyles and different poses. Grundy said they used their legs and hips more than their arms.

“And [black] cheerleaders involved the crowds, often in a ‘call and response’ format whose precursors were African chants.  ‘Foot stomping was turned into an art,’ said Grundy.

“When black girls were excluded from cheerleading [at predominantly white schools], students protested. In 1969 in Burlington, violence erupted when Walter Williams High selected all-white cheerleaders. One man was shot to death.

“Grundy said that once those who selected the cheerleading squad realized what a huge issue it was and that blacks were being excluded, either intentionally or not, things began to change….”

— From “Historian: Integration Of Cheerleaders Was Difficult To Achieve” by John Lanier in the Transylvania Times (Oct. 8)