Happy Birthday, Cooperative Extension
Cooperative Extension celebrates its centennial in 2014, commemorating the Smith-Lever Act and celebrating the impact the Extension system has made on people nationwide through life-changing education.
The act provided funding and a structure for outreach endeavors at the land-grant universities founded by the Morrill Act of 1862. President Woodrow Wilson signed the act on May 8, 1914, providing for the organization of Cooperative Extension at county, state, and federal levels.
Each state’s government had to accept the federal act before it could be implemented in its jurisdiction. In North Carolina, this occurred in 1915, when the state legislature appropriated state funds for extension work and designated the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NC State University) as the home to what was then called the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service.
But even before the Smith-Lever Act, the seeds for Extension had been sown by a “see-for-yourself” demonstration movement for farmers and rural families that took hold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the early pioneering educators were Seaman A. Knapp, A. B. Graham, Booker T. Washington and North Carolina’s Jane S. McKimmon.
These educators’ ideals transformed the way land-grant universities saw their roles. The move toward a model of Cooperative Extension education allowed for professional educators to be placed in local communities, with the mission of improving lives.
Specifically, the Act stated its purpose as aiding, “in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and to encourage the application of the same, there may be continued or inaugurated in connection with the college of colleges in each State, Territory, or possession . . .”
The act is named for Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia and Representative A. F. Lever of South Carolina, who introduced the legislation. Smith was originally from Newton, N.C.
In North Carolina today, Cooperative Extension is a partnership of NC State and N.C. A&T State University, supported by funds from county, state and federal governments as well as contracts and grants, private donations and service fees.