Friday, January 13, 2017

Juniata Shepperd's commitment to farm women

I wrote yesterday about Lucas County pioneers Clerenda and John Wesley Shepperd and their family of academic over-achievers, then looked and looked for a photograph of their eldest daughter, Juniata L. Shepperd, born northwest of Chariton in Whitebreast Township during 1855. And came up empty.

Juniata lived most of her life in the Twin Cities, where she had been affiliated with what now is the University of Minnesota for more than 30 years. But when she died at age 72 during March of 1928, her remains were returned to Chariton for burial beside her parents.

So I thought perhaps a photograph of her tombstone might suffice as an illustration. Unfortunately, although the Shepperd lot in the Chariton Cemetery is marked by a mighty chunk of red granite, the inscriptions on individual headstones were acid-etched rather than carved, are very shallow and have been afflicted by a variety of black lichen that interferes with legibility.

So I'm going to make do with the title page from Juniata's most popular book, "Hand-Book of Household Science," published in 1902. She also wrote "Laundry Work for use in Homes and Schools." Both have been reprinted and remain available for purchase, minor classics in their genre.

Her field was academic home economics or "domestic science," areas kind of scoffed at today, but of considerable importance during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when women first were admitted in considerable numbers to public and private colleges and universities and the study of homemaking arts and sciences was among the relatively few fields of academia thought appropriate. 

Don't blame Juniata for this. She rose through the academic ranks to found the home economics departments of the School and College of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota and devoted her life to improving the lives of farm --- and other --- women.


The best summary of her story that I could find was published soon after her death in "Minnesota Extension Service News" in its April, 1928, edition under the headline, "Juniata L. Shepperd Summoned by Death."

Juniata L. Shepperd, teacher of home economics in the early formative period of the Minnesota School and College of Agriculture and later an extension worker, died at Asbury hospital, Minneapolis, early Saturday morning, March 10. Funeral services were held at the Portland Avenue Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis Monday afternoon, March 12.

Since her retirement from the university in the summer of 1923, Miss Shepperd made her home at 2180 Commonwealth avenue near the scene of her life work, where she could be close to friends and acquaintances. While her strength had been gradually failing, she was able to judge exhibits at county fairs as late as last fall. During the winter she became more feeble and the last few months she was helpless.

Miss Shepperd was born on a farm near Chariton, Iowa, 72 years ago. After attending secondary schools in the vicinity she won the college degree of B.A. in 1881 and her M.A. a few years later (at Drake University). The winter of 1891-92 found her doing institute work in Minnesota. Then followed a course in cookery at Chautauqua, N.Y., and a course in domestic science at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. She returned to Minnesota in 1894 and taught cookery at a summer course in domestic science of the School of Agriculture, and in 1897, when girls were admitted to the school, she was given charge of the regular work in home economics.

Later Miss Shepperd, on request, helped to outline a similar course for the college. Two young women who had finished the school course were registered as the first students in the university course in home economics. In 1914, when she resigned her work in the school and college to join the extension division, the number of home economics students had increased to 211.

As an extension worker Miss Shepperd gave her time and energy to helping farm women with their problems of housekeeping and management. Her special work the last few years of her service was to forward the installation of water supply and sanitation systems in farm homes. She was the author of a book on laundry work and another on household science and the joint author of a bulletin on low cost water systems for farm homes. These books developed from her activities in school and college and were pioneers in their fields.

Surving her are two brothers, Professor J.H. Shepperd of the North Dakota Agricultural College, and Bruce Shepperd of Donna, Texas, and a sister, Mrs. Mary Powers of Gove, Kansas. Her remains were taken to her old home in Iowa for burial.

Miss Shepperd was always animated by a conscientious desire to be of service to others, and her work in shaping courses at University farm and brightening farm homes will endure as a monument to her zeal and faithfulness. Many friends mourn her departure."


What isn't evident in the obituary is the intertwining of Juniata's early academic career with that of her younger sister, Clara, whose life was cut short at age 33 in 1893.

Like Juniata, Clara --- named after her mother, Clerenda (or Clarinda), but always known as Clara --- was born on the family farm northwest of Chariton, but during 1859.

Like Juniata, Clara earned her undergraduate degree at Drake University in Des Moines. When her brother, John Henry Shepperd, also a Drake graduate, enrolled for graduate studies at what then was known as Iowa State College in Ames, Clara accompanied him and enrolled for graduate studies of her own.

John H. had become at Drake the friend and protege of another young agricultural academic of great promise, Willet M. Hays. Willet and Clara fell in love and were married on July 16, 1885, at Clara's home near Chariton. All three continued their degree programs in Ames.

After Willet and Clara had earned their master's degrees at Iowa State during 1886, Willet accepted research and teaching positions at the University of Minnesota School of Agriculture. Clara became involved in farm institute work in Minnesota, focusing her attention on farm women, and it was she who invited Juniata to join her in that work during 1891 and 1892.

Also during 1891-92, Willet Hays accepted a research and teaching position at the brand new North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo in large part because that institution's regents offered Clara a "domestic economy" teaching position, too.

Sadly, Clara died in Fargo during March of 1893 at the age of 33 following a short illness, but it was Willet who arranged for Juniata to return to the University of Minnesota during 1894 to launch her long career there.

Willet, who returned to the University of Minnesota after Clara's death, became one of the nation's leading researchers in the area of plant breeding, developing new and highly productive varieties of wheat, corn, flax, alfalfa, barley and oats.

In 1904, he was named assistant secretary of agriculture under James Wilson in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt and moved to Washington, D.C.  During World War II, a Liberty Ship, the U.S.S. Willet M. Hays, was named in his honor, recognizing his contribution to the productivity of the American farmers who were feeding a nation at war.

By that time, Willet was dead, having succumbed during 1928. Both he and Clara are buried in his hometown, Eldora.


Steve Hanken said...

Probably the person who created the first "Minnesota hot dish"! (Quite naturally she would have to be from Iowa)

Frank D. Myers said...

Her hand book also was a cookbook and some credit her with being the first to develop a recipe or two. You're closer to the truth than you may have realized.

Salty said...

I am a relative, a descendant, if you will, of Juniata Shepperd and through her, all those who were referred to in the original post. My Great, great grandfather was John Wesley Shepperd, his son was George Washington Shepperd, my grandfather was Warren T. Shepperd. The James Shepperd referred to, who was the President of North Dakota State University, was my great grandfather's brother. Juniata is my great, great aunt, if i've got the ancestry right, but my younger brother has done extensive delving into our ancestry. If he sees this post, he'll set me straight. What a wonderful expression of the history of your area and of my family!