Monday, December 16, 2013

Minnie Lou Jamison: the second line of defense

Minnie Lou Jamison, a native of Rowan County, was one of the 225 students who entered the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) when the doors opened in the fall of 1892. From Scotch-Irish descent, Jamison attended a local academy in her native Rowan County and taught school for several years before applying to State Normal. In 1896, she accepted a faculty position in the Department of Home Economics.


Minnie Lou Jamison
Jamison focused her efforts on the school’s Home Economics Department until 1915 when she was given a leave of absence to accept a position as a home demonstration agent for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. This position grew out of the Smith-Lever Act, which had been established the previous year as a system of “cooperative extension services” to inform people about developments in home economics, agriculture, public policy, and other related topics. In her new position, Jamison formed rural women’s clubs to study foods and elevate knowledge of healthy diets, meal efficiency, and food conservation. She traveled to the most rural areas of the state, convincing women of the benefits of “simple home conveniences” such as fireless cookers, similar to a modern crock-pot.  At the request of many of these women, she wrote several pamphlets including “Plans for Community Club Work in the Study in Foods and Household Conveniences,” which saw three printings. This government publication was distributed throughout the United States in addition to many foreign countries.

On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany. The same year, Jamison was called back to the college to help with mobilizing the home front, the “second line of defense” of the War.  At the suggestion of Herbert Hoover, who was then the national food administrator, Jamison taught a ten day course in food conservation at the college. She began to give similar presentations to women throughout the state. Jamison reached over 18,000 women with her 200 demonstrations. These classes included canning, meat substitutions, creating recipes for cold dishes and balanced meals, and demonstrations of drying fruits and vegetables. She designed a community food dryer for her demonstration classes, and then shared it with the Women’s Defense League of Guilford County. It was estimated that more than 1500 pounds of fruit and vegetables were conserved in the dryer.
  
World War I Food Preservation
On May 14, 1918, Jamison became the secretary of the North Carolina College Volunteer Workers and of the Women’s Land Army. She rallied hundreds of girls throughout the state, creating units at most of the colleges, including the State Colored Normal School in Fayetteville, now Fayetteville State University, which was commended for bringing in members of the community to learn canning and food preservation.  These girls were asked to work within their communities to upgrade the standards of living, including recruiting well-trained teachers for state schools, assisting in the state’s farm work, and general community upkeep. An interesting part of this work was the early assistance of the state’s “mill girls,” who were an overlooked demographic. Young volunteers assisted these girls by forming reading circles, creating libraries, teaching music education, and even giving them helpful hints in making their clothes and hats. At State Normal, Jamison organized the students to preserve the food harvested from the college farm and to ration it for school use.  When the War ended, Jamison continued to work with rural women throughout the state through the Home Demonstration Extension division of the college. 

The Lady with the Powder-Puff Hair
Then it all ended. A nearly fatal car accident in June of 1922 kept her convalescing until 1924. When she returned to the college, which had since changed its name to the North Carolina College for Women, she did so as a freshman counselor. Jamison was extremely popular with the students, believing that “her girls could do no wrong.” She was well-liked with the students’ dates as well who would bring her favorite flowers and chocolates as a bribe to put in a good word for them. As these students graduated and forged out on their own, many still kept in contact with Jamison, still seeking her sage advice accompanied by her “quick wit and chocolates.”

Jamison went into semi-retirement in 1936, but continued in a part-time capacity as the head of the Student’s Building and counselor of social activities. She became known affectionately to her students as “the lady with the powder-puff hair,” noting her beautiful white hair. She loved social activities and into her eighties Jamison attended all of the college dances in a simple black velvet dress. Always entertaining, as well as modest, Jamison joked that she was glad that she had an “average” mind so that when she began to lose it, it wouldn’t be so noticeable.

Jamison dedicated her entire life to service and to the school. To show its appreciation, in the spring of 1939, the college named a residence hall in her honor. That same year, the students dedicated the school’s yearbook, Pine Needles, to her. Minnie Lou Jamison died in January of 1948 at the age of eighty-one, and was memorialized for her kindness, her sense of humor, and her love of flowers and music. But perhaps her greatest contribution was her push for improvements and modernizations in rural North Carolina, her innovations in food conservation, and her work in mobilizing the state’s second line of defense during a war that was to end all wars.  



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