"Learning By Doing"

Rockingham County's Ruth Stimson is a living encyclopedia on all phases of home-making.

By Dorothy Dean Holman

New Hampshire Profiles, May 1953, Volume 2, Number 5

{Combined with Shoreliner Magazine}
RAPT INTEREST IS SHOWN by this group of housewives as Ruth Stimson (standing) conducts one of her Home Demonstration Classes. Seated, left to right: Mrs. Leeland D. Lord, Mrs. Franklin O. Brittan, Mrs. Roy W. Gillmore, Mrs. Ned Noonan, Mrs. Elmer E. Eldridge, Mrs. Fred Fernald, Mrs. Charles H. Leave. Seated on floor, left to right: Mrs. Joseph H. Ferguson, Mrs. Ray F. Lufkin, Mrs. Everett O. Bundy, Mrs. Homer A. Johnson.

A little, curly-haired miss and a freckle-faced boy were working busily in the back yard building a "fire engine." The little girl's blows with the hammer fell as true as her playmate's; in fact, she hit the nail on the head more often than he! For here was work she loved to do -- not playing with dolls, making mud pies, or playing house -- but building things.

That little girl has now grown into young womanhood, and still holding to that desire to create, she has made it her life's work to show others the way. For Ruth G. Stimson, dark-haired, brown-eyed, vivacious Rockingham County's Home Demonstration Agent in Extension work is a veritable encyclopedia of how to do many phases of home-making. Should you want to know how to re-upholster a chair, get ride of moths, tailor a suit, make Christmas decorations, ask Miss Stimson.

But since she cannot be everywhere at once, her instruction is part of an organization known as the Extension Service. It is a project financed by national, state, and county funds, and though begun for the benefit of farm women, it now embraces anyone who has a desire to learn.

"Extension work," Miss Stimson explains, "is education beyond the realm of high school and college. It covers Home Economics for the women, agricultural programs for the men, and 4-H clubs for boys and girls." Miss Stimson's efforts are with the first-mentioned, and a busier person would be hard to find. Though her office is in Exeter she is not always found there, for she is principally a field worker, and her duties take her to all town in Rockingham County. By demonstration she teaches upholstering, slip covering, refinishing, clothing construction, preservation of food, and many other projects to homemakers who gather to hear her.

"Learn to do by doing, is out motto," Miss Stimson says, "and we do just that." The meetings are held informally in any available place, sometimes in cellars, barns, a homemaker's kitchen, living room, or, if the size of the group warrants it, in a large public hall. Each one works on her own project assisted by Miss Stimson or one of her co-workers or local volunteer leaders, as they are called. These leaders are very necessary, for there ar thirty-six towns under the Stimson supervision, so training schools are held with the leaders of the town groups, and they, after learning, go back to teach others.

In addition to Ruth Stimson's office and field work in the daytime, there is a growing trend toward evening meeting which is a more convenient time for many young homemakers, since Father is usually at home to take care of the children.

This versatile young woman is also a popular lecturer at Women's clubs and her subjects are legion. Food Production, New Fabrics and Their Uses, Household Pests and their Control, Period Furniture, and Slick Tricks in Cleaning are but a few. These lectures are sometimes accompanied by colored slides which she herself furnishes.

"I like the challenge of learning new things," she say, "and have to be taught myself before I can teach others." She goes on to explain how Extension work has good in-service training for its agents, under the supervision of state leaders and specialist.

Her unlimited capacity for doing things is evidenced in her home on Watson's Lane in Hampton, where she lives with her mother and grandmother. Re-upholstered chairs faultlessly done and showing the painstaking care given to the work, are a part of the tasteful furnishings. On the wall seascapes, so lifelike you can almost hear the surf, show her interest in, and talent for painting in oils. "A hooked rug is a family project," Miss Stimson says, "with all three of us taking a turn at it as the spirit moves."

ALTHOUGH MISS STIMSON prefers to spend her time out-of-doors, much of her work, such as writing a weekly newspaper column, handling office reports, records, and correspondence, confines her to her desk.

A glance around the room reveal a six-foot high bookcase containing six shelves, and with an ornate top. An inquiring look toward Miss Stimson brings forth a modest, "Yes, I made it. I needed book shelves for my library of books, so I made some. The fancy top? Oh, I used a coping saw for that."

Ruth Stimson was born in Dover, and received her education there. Following high school, she attended the University of New Hampshire, majored in Home Economics and was graduated in 1940. Her first teaching position was Woodsville, where for two years she taught Home Economics and English. Asked by the Extension service to work as a Home Demonstration Agent-at-large, she accepted, and for ten months substituted in Rockingham County for the agent, who had been injured in the performance of her duties. At the conclusion of this period she was given the position permanently, a place she had filled for the past ten years.

The yard of her home is lush evidence of her love for gardening, and her garden plot is the envy of all the neighbors. From the first spear of asparagus in the spring to the last harvested vegetable, everything thrives under her capable hands. Luscious red strawberries, juicy everbearing raspberries, and neat rows of vegetables are a delight to the eye, bright-hued annuals and perennials add color to the scene. An herb garden occupies its corner, and early fall finds bunches of sage, thyme, and marjoram hanging in the shade, drying. No visitor leaves this garden empty-handed, or one has only to admire a flower or plant to find seeds, a tip or root division offered as a gift.

"I love to garden," Miss Stimson says, her eyes shining. "I love every phase of it, from planting to harvest. I find I learn something new from it every day." She is a firm believer in soil conservation, and organic gardening, making compost and indulging in mulching practices. During the evenings and on her days off, she spends long hours preparing the seed bed, planting, cultivating, weeding, and harvesting the results of her labor. She keeps the home supplied all season with fresh produce, as the surplus is canned or placed in the freezer.

"I'm an outdoor person," Miss Stimson declares, "and love every bit of it. I like to eat out, too." And many a cook-out they enjoy over the fireplace she herself built in a corner of the yard. Of granite blocks, it was brought from the family home in Amherst and reassembled. She keeps the fire supplied with wood, which she cuts and stacks nearby. Her membership in the Girl Scouts in her early youth has stood her in good stead, as she learned much about woodcraft; during her scouting days she rose steadily in the ranks to become lieutenant of her troop and a Golden Eaglet.

But this dynamic young lady does not spend all her time out-of-doors, for a weekly column under her name in a local newspaper requires some time at her desk. This column gives an account of recent demonstration meetings, and announces coming events and new subject information on home economics. There are also office records, reports, and correspondence to be handled in Exeter.

After participating in all these activities, one would think there would be no time for a hobby, but Miss Stimson is an ardent philatelist, and has a large collection of domestic postage stamps. Photography, too, she finds challenging, and for that unexpected vista just around the corner, she invariably carries her camera.

Miss Stimson belongs to the Exeter Business and Professional Women's Club, the Hampton Garden Club, and is a past president of the State Home Demonstration Agents' Association. She is also secretary of the New England Home Demonstration Agents' Association, and is a member of the national group as well as the American Home Economics Association and the Farm Bureau.

One cannot cease to marvel at the feats of this accomplished young woman, who finds life so interesting, that with the poet Stevenson, she believes "the world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."