Teacher, lecturer, and author, Grace Frysinger supported rural communities throughout her career. She was known for her diverse work in home economics and active leadership of agricultural organizations nationally and internationally.
Born on August 28, 1885 to George and Grace Caroline (Burnall) Frysinger, Grace Elizabeth Frysinger was brought up in Rockford, Illinois. Interested in pursuing a career in the domestic sciences, she attended college at Oread Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. After Frysinger graduated, she attended Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following her time at the school, she sought additional ways in which to increase her training in home economics. She took courses at the University of Chicago, the School of Cookery in London, England, and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. Her wide ranging educational experiences at these different institutions enabled her to be well versed in all aspects of the domestic sciences.
Frysinger’s career, like her education, was varied and diverse. After finishing her training, she taught at the School of Domestic Science and Arts in Chicago from 1906 until 1908. In 1909, she became the director of the Home Economics Department at Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee. Frysinger remained at the school until 1912. In 1915, she became head of Household Sciences at a high school in Des Moines, Iowa. In the following year, Frysinger worked with Food Conservation in New York City as a lecturer, giving talks on topics related to the domestic sciences.
Beginning in 1918, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Extension Service hired Frysinger as a senior home economist. The bulk of Frysinger’s career in the field of domestic sciences was spent as an employee of the USDA. She worked for the USDA until 1945.
As senior home economist with the USDA Extension Service, Frysinger contributed to the administration, planning, and instruction of the organization’s courses on topics such as cooking, sewing, and home budget management. She also wrote “Home Demonstration Work” in 1933. Her publication analyzed the planning and work carried out by the USDA and its home demonstrators through their nation-wide efforts. As a USDA representative, she worked with agricultural organizations throughout the country and the world. In 1934, Frysinger organized and chaired the Rural Home Conference. The meeting was sponsored by the American Country Life Association and the USDA and held in Washington, DC. It brought together women’s groups and agricultural organizations from across the country to discuss issues of concern to rural communities. Groups that attended included: The National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the YWCA, the Rural Library, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Frysinger was also extensively involved with the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). Based in London, England, but with branches all over the world, the ACWW is committed to providing worldwide support to rural women and their communities. Frysinger participated in many of the ACWW’s annual conferences. As part of her work with the ACWW, Frysinger met and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II to promote the activities of the organization.
Frysinger played a vital role in exploring the use of female labour on US farms in World War II. In 1942, the USDA Extension Service formed a three-person committee to study the possibility of placing women in temporary agricultural roles. The committee was known as the “Rokahr Committee” and consisted of Mary Rokahr, its chairwoman, Florence L. Hall, later to become the Director of the Women’s Land Army, and Frysinger. All three women were senior home economists at the USDA. Frysinger’s work on the committee helped to form a positive view of employing women on farms in wartime. Their findings and others by the USDA led to the formation of the Women’s Land Army in 1943.
Frysinger’s lifelong dedication to training others in home economics and supporting rural communities was recognized by Drexel Institute of Technology during World War II. On June 13, 1942, the school awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science degree. The citation for the degree read,
"Home economist of international distinction and expert in the problems of rural life. As an educator and writer she has rendered invaluable service in the improvement of rural life in all parts of the world, especially in America where, by virtue of her high position as senior home economist in the Department of Agriculture, she has made outstanding contributions to the improvement of the standards of living in the rural communities of our country."
Eleanor Roosevelt also spoke positively of Frysinger’s contributions to the rural community. Roosevelt wrote, that Frysinger and the USDA “do an outstanding useful piece of work for the government and for the people of the country.”
Frysinger died in March 1979. Her legacy of support to agricultural communities worldwide continues. The Women’s National Farm and Garden Association Incorporated and the ACWW set up the Grace E. Frysinger Exchange Fellowship in 1957. The award, which is granted every three years, is given to an American woman, who is a member of the Farm and Garden Association and an affiliated member in another country. Winners of the fellowship participate in a one-month exchange to visit each other’s countries in order to learn about the other’s culture and customs, and to support discussions on women’s issues.
By Dr. Kelly Spring
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MLA – Spring, Kelly. "Grace Frysinger." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, 2017. Date accessed.
Chicago- Spring, Kelly. "Grace Frysinger" National Women's History Museum. 2017. www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/grace-frysinger.
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