Today (Thursday, March 11) and over the weekend, Iowa Public Television will be showing a program called Iowa’s Radio Homemakers. The Special Collections department contributed film footage and photographs to the show. The program focuses on how rural women in Iowa listened to the radio for news and information, in addition to entertainment, and a popular form of radio show they tuned in for were the homemaker radio shows. These programs provided information on a wide variety of topics including food, nutrition, recipes, child rearing, sewing and gardening. One of the radio homemakers featured on the show is Evelyn Birkby (to hear Evelyn Birkby describe her experiences, watch this youtube video). Our Special Collections Department has a number of her books, including Cooking with KMA : Featuring 60 years of Radio Homemakers (TX715.B49924 1985).
Iowa State’s own WOI had a number of radio shows for homemakers, including the popular “Homemaker’s Half Hour.” The WOI Radio and Television Administrative Records (RS 5/6/3) here at the University Archives has a variety of documents from the program, including scripts, interviews and recipes. “Homemaker’s Half Hour” programming director for many years, Eleanor Wilkins (known as Martha Duncan on radio), worked in the food and nutrition department of ISU when she started at WOI in 1938. An interesting folder in the WOI Radio and Television Administrative Records (RS 5/6/3) contains letters written to Duncan from women who had been educated in home economics. They wrote of how their education had influenced their careers and lives. These letters were for a program she was planning on careers. When Martha Duncan retired as host of the program in 1966, the “Homemakers Half Hour” also ended its continuous run since 1925.
In addition to producing radio shows for homemakers through WOI, Iowa State University had another important contribution to the radio shows and homemakers through its programs of study, such as home economics (now more commonly known as Family and Consumer Science), first taught as Domestic Economy in 1872. Women graduating with a degree in home economics contributed valuable guidance to the people of Iowa and the nation in the area of home economics.
In honor of Women’s History Month, or just to learn more about radio programs for homemakers in Iowa, come visit the Special Collections Department. We have some collections (RS 5/6/3 and RS 10/12/3) and and rare books related to these programs, in addition other homemaker related collections (such as MS-60).