Left in Andover: Home Dem meetings were
a lifeline for rural women in the 1950s

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When I was a child, my mother looked forward to Andover “Home Dem,”or Friendly Club meetings. Open to all, they were held at a different member’s home each month. Each meeting included a practical educational topic of discussion as well as time to socialize.

The Home Demonstration movement was national in scope, established under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914 through its Cooperative Extension Service. The purpose of the organization was to ‘uplift‘ rural women by keeping them abreast of scientific advances for the home.

Home Demonstration was a national organization.

In addition to disseminating the latest in sanitation and nutrition, food preservation, sewing, even contraception in some cases, Home Demonstration provided opportunities for leadership and community service.

On Jan., 21, 1953, The Springfield Reporter carried this Andover news column, datelined “Simonsville,” and submitted by correspondent Hester Bowen:

Four members of the Friendly Club went to Springfield Monday evening to sing in the County Home Demonstration chorus which is working on a program of songs to be presented at the county, state and national meetings this year.

The school children are enjoying the new sectional dinner plates used for their school
lunches, the plates being bought recently by the Andover P.T.A.

Friendly Home Demonstration Club will meet Thursday afternoon, January 22 at the home of Mrs. Ellie Engedi, with Mrs. Reba Bridges as assisting hostess. The topic is ‘Up-To-Date Care of your Refrigerator.’ Anyone will be welcome — who is interested.

Notice for Friendly Club meeting in Springfield Reporter

Although it is still recommended to check gaskets periodically, the main issue in 1953 would have been proper manual defrosting. If a tray of hot water inserted into the tiny top freezer compartment didn’t do the trick, a plethora of electrified gadgets and ingenious scrapers would.

That was probably beside the point. Home Dem meetings were a not-to-be-missed opportunity to gather socially in a female-centric space. This was especially welcome in the winter, when farm women might be homebound for days on end.

My mother attended the meeting advertised above. I guarantee she did not go to learn how to use her refrigerator. She described the event in a letter to my grandmother Freda the next day, Jan. 23, 1953. By “we four” she means herself, my father, my older sister and my 1½-year-old self.

A portion of Mom’s letter.

Yesterday we four took a wonderful sled ride and walk of three miles to Simonsville. It was such a beautifully sunny sparkling snowy day of 40 degrees Fahrenheit in January- imagine! Destination was Friendly Club meeting at 2:30. We had discussion on care of refrigerator with a leaflet from the Home Extension Service and WONDERFUL refreshments. Fudge cake, canapés, schmeiskichlen made by our D. P. Hungarian hostess, peanut butter cookies, tea coffee milk. We got a ride home. By the way that is the first time I’ve been out since Christmas.

I have no clue what Dad and us kids did during the meeting, but presumably there were other men and children in attendance on the sidelines. No doubt we all enjoyed the scrumptious dessert spread.

Even though Mom refused to bake with white sugar herself, her infamous sweet tooth must have had a field day. However, I have no memory of her ever maintaining a refrigerator.

Our friend Lorraine Korpi’s Fudge Cake recipe.

Was Dad’s interest piqued by the discussion that day? My childhood memory is replete with images of him cleaning and defrosting the refrigerator.

I can still see him perched on a stool scraping away at the nubbly white ice that built up in our small top freezer each month. He enjoyed the quasi-archaeological operation. There was always a chance he’d discover one of the fruitcakes mom got for free from her vitamin company, hidden in the way back behind the ice cube trays.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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