Despite generous federal funding, the Georgia State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (the A&M college) lagged behind other similar institutions as the twentieth century began. By midcentury, UGA could claim to have one of the most successful and diverse agricultural studies programs in the nation. This transformation required a visionary leader, firm support from the administration, innovative course design, and a strong student body.
Dr. Andrew Soule, president of the A&M College from 1907 to 1933, embraced his mandate to modernize agricultural education in Georgia. Noted for his ability to turn nothing into something, Soule transformed the struggling A&M College into an exemplar of a modern research institution. Aware of the University’s mission to serve not only Athens but also all Georgians, Soule created the slogan, “Our Campus The State.” His choice emphasized the College’s commitment to instruction, research, and extension.
Under his tenure, the A&M College encouraged farmers across Georgia to modernize cultivation methods. Perhaps most significantly, Soule promoted crop diversification, encouraging farmers to envision a South not beholden to King Cotton, but self-sufficient and immune to the boom and bust price fluctuations of the world market. Soule recognized that monoculture, or the intensive cultivation of a single crop, made farmers vulnerable to infestation and climatic change.
President Soule embodied the spirit of the Progressive Era through a commitment to the professionalization of agricultural education. The Atlanta Journal explained Soule’s legacy: “He diffused an idea and shed abroad a hope that marked an epoch in Georgia’s history: the idea that agriculture was not a fixed task but a progressive science and art.”
Soule’s reformist mindset led him to support the struggle of women to enter UGA on equal footing to men. Debates over admitting women to degree-granting programs at UGA only intensified with the conclusion of World War I. During the war, women took a leading role in food conservation efforts. Women’s leadership on the home front, coupled with the women-led coeducation campaigns that had been underway since the early 1900s, paved the way for women to officially enter public universities across the country.
Soule proved the most enthusiastic proponent of coeducation at UGA. Building on the effort of reformers, Soule’s proposal to admit women to UGA on equal status with men passed in 1919. Mary Creswell received a Bachelor’s of Science in Home Economics that spring, making her the first woman to receive an undergraduate degree. Creswell—along with other women students of her generation—exemplified the pains women took to have their ideas taken seriously. Over the next several decades, Creswell contributed to the development and growth of the Home Economics division (later Consumer Sciences department) at UGA.
Mary Creswell shared Soule’s commitment to the notion that scientific education could dramatically improve rural life. Noted for ‘prying’ her way into UGA before women formally gained admittance, Creswell helped to make coeducation a reality. Even without an official degree, Creswell assisted Soule and other women educators and activists in improving the lives of rural families through extension work. Fiercely passionate about preserving rural tradition, Creswell promoted ‘Home Demonstration’ as a tool to educate rural women about modern housekeeping. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized Creswell’s efforts in 1913, appointing her to a supervisory position within the Federal Extension Office. Soule offered Creswell the role of Dean of the newly formed Home Economics division in 1918—a position she enthusiastically accepted despite the pay decrease.
Helping farm families adapt to an industrializing world–the purpose of Home Demonstration work–remained Creswell’s top priority throughout her career. Committed to fashioning housewives who could manage the modern home and family, UGA students travelled across Georgia demonstrating new home science techniques. Creswell idealized the farm family, claiming that a rural upbringing created the best type of citizen–industrious, thrifty, cooperative, dedicated, and humble. Nevertheless, she approached her work with rural women and students from a scientific perspective, emphasizing observation, experimentation, and efficiency.
Creswell may have experienced the Roaring Twenties far removed from the ostentation and materialism often associated with the decade. However, she was not immune to the anxiety and allure of the era–new luxuries, greater freedoms, and unceasing innovation. F. Scott Fitzgerald captured such ambivalence in The Great Gatsby. As the narrator explained, “I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” Creswell’s approach to Home Economics highlighted such tensions. While she embraced modern psychology, food science, and home technology, Creswell feared that modernization could undermine the rural family’s very existence. She viewed scientific management and technology, if applied within a strict social structure such as the rural home, as the cure for the South’s ails. Home Demonstration work helped to bring the University into rural homes, while giving women students a platform to learn and explore.
Home Demonstration work began across the United States in the 1910s to combat the effects of the boll weevil. Creswell labeled the response to the infestation, which decimated the South’s cotton crop by the 1920s, a revolution. Women’s roles in the home, especially on the farm, changed rapidly as the notorious beetle spread from Texas eastward into the Deep South. Farmers could no longer depend on their annual cotton yields to support their families. Creswell helped to establish gardening and canning clubs as a means to improve food security throughout the South.
This ‘into the kitchen through the garden’ approach allowed educators and extension workers to help adapt the rural home to modern life. Women learned to make and buy time-saving equipment, use natural resources efficiently and improve sanitation. By the 1940s, the Home Demonstration movement had inspired thousands of women to attend college and help their communities. Creswell received much of the credit for her contribution to this effort in the state of Georgia.
Andrew Soule and Mary Creswell represented the pinnacle of the A&M College’s success. Upon his departure from the University in 1933, Soule wrote his staff and fellow faculty to continue his efforts. “It is one which I feel you will gladly assume for the sake of so great and worthy a cause as rural civilization,” Soule implored. Throughout the first decades of the 1900s, many viewed the city–crowded, dirty, and bustling–in direct opposition to the simplicity, openness, and beauty of the countryside. Although the stillness of time has often characterized depictions of rural life, Andrew Soule and Mary Creswell knew the South must move forward. Another generation of leaders in the agricultural engineering department would take up their work after World War II.
 “Dr. Andrew Soule,” Atlanta Journal, Apr. 18, 1934.
 A Quarter Century of Progress, Vol. 20, Bul. 420, (Jan. 1932): 2-3.
 “Dr. Andrew M. Soule,” Atlanta Journal, Apr. 18, 1934.
 “Mary Ethel Creswell,” Epsilon Sigma Phi Yearbook 1936, 33.
 Mary Creswell, letter to her mother, 1918, Box 1, Folder 10, Mary Ethel Creswell papers, UA0014, University Archives, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.
 Mary Creswell, “Assets of the Rural Life,” (October 1937), Box 1, Folder 10, Mary Ethel Creswell papers, UA0014, University Archives, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.
 Creswell interview, Mary Ethel Creswell papers, UA0014, University Archives, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.
 Andrew Soule, Letter to Leila R. Mize, (20 June 1933), Box 1, Folder 7, Leila R. Mize papers, UA0020, University Archives, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.