By Hannelore Sudermann, Washington State Magazine
Maybe you’re wondering how to build a wooden hoop silo; perhaps you’re curious about canning meat or making wine at home; how about pruning a pear tree?
There’s a state college bulletin that says just how to do it.
Since 1892, our land-grant school has been advising Washingtonians on topics ranging from canning jams to breeding cattle. Thousands of paper bulletins have carried the expertise of faculty and extension agents to the far corners of our state. They tackled everything imaginable: talking to your teen, creating a budget for your farm, or figuring annual losses from ground squirrels. The earliest editions delivered essential information to the state’s settlers as they carved new lives out of the rugged landscape.
The project of digitizing these treasures fell to Mark O’English, the WSU archivist in charge of University history, and a team of students. Last October, with more than 50 boxes full, they scanned and cataloged every page of the approximately 1,000 bulletins. “It’s something we’ve been looking at doing for a long time,” says O’English. “But we only recently found money to make it happen.”
By no means great works of literature, these little flyers capture a time, a trade, a turn of history. The information in some—like the use of certain pesticides that are now illegal or recommending covered buttons for a woman’s basic suit—is obsolete. But others may still be relevant. “Backyard Rabbit Raising for Meat Production” offers essential tips on managing the furry creatures. The 1943 piece by Extension poultryman F.W. Frasier notes that three or four does and a buck will produce enough meat for an average family. The bulletin offers practical advice on selecting breeds, how to build and clean a convenient hutch, and even how to carry your animal without harming it.
Imbued with the charm of yesteryear, a 1950s pamphlet on 4-H breakfasts offers advice like “start the day with fruits” and “wear a fresh apron or washable dress” while you prepare the meal. A detailed lesson on washing dishes: start with the glassware and end with the pots and pans. The era-appropriate drawings of a boy and a girl washing dishes enhance its appeal.
“Besides being utterly beautiful, they’re so interesting,” says O’English. One of his favorites, a 1927 “Farm Explosives” flyer, features a cleverly-drawn cover with the title exploding out of a stump. The booklet tells the reader how to store, handle, and use a slow acting dynamite for land clearing. “I just find it so fun to see how we viewed it then and now,” says O’English, adding that nowadays we’d never imagine advising farmers to use explosives, let alone sell it to them.
One flyer titled “A Coordinated Closetful—A Basic Wardrobe” by textile and clothing instructor Leila Claire Sturgis offers some well-worn advice—“develop a basic wardrobe with which every piece of wearing apparel is coordinated in line, mood, and color.” Adorned with black and white photographs of a woman looking stylish, if somewhat stoic, in her “red georgette dickey and matching belt,” the piece suggests “a more feminine touch” could be obtained with a lacy collar and pin.
Maybe you’re wondering, what is Extension and whom were these bulletins for? “This is Extension,” a 1946 bulletin, gives the answers: “Extension knows the problems of farm people. It brings to farm people answers from experimental laboratories. It takes the problems from the homes and farms to guide the research work of the future.”
To be sure, some of the bulletins are more ordinary like “Wintering Bees in Western Washington” and “Diseases of Turfgrass.” But others are utterly entertaining. “Yellow Jackets and Paper Wasps” explains that these are beneficial insects that kill houseflies and insects that damage our shade trees and crops. This colorful piece had a creative suggestion for handling yellow jackets intruding at a picnic: hang a fish over a bucket of water.
Alas, it doesn’t say what kind of fish, or what to do with it after the picnic.
(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Washington State Magazine)