Girls’ Tomato Clubs in Mississippi: A “Glimpse” Into Women’s History Lesson Plan

Martha Hutson


A study of the Girls’ Tomato Club movement in Mississippi offers a brief glimpse into the lives of a portion of the state’s female population at the turn of the century. From a very modest beginning, the movement became a part of the national 4-H Club network and was a predecessor to women’s home demonstration clubs which played a significant role in both the education and social life of rural women. While this lesson will present the details of how the movement developed in Mississippi, students will also be asked to look at the much broader spectrum of women’s issues such as the difficulty of obtaining primary resources and what “women’s work” is and how it is valued.


Mississippi Studies

  • MS.9.4 - Analyze the current trends and historic record of poverty and wealth distribution in Mississippi.

Introduction to Geography

  • ITG.11.1 - Compare how characteristics of the physical environment can be both opportunities and constraints depending on people’s knowledge, technology, and choices.


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.


  • Mississippi History Now article
  • Butcher paper (for timelines) and markers


Students will:

  • determine reasons for the development of the tomato club movement in Mississippi;
  • construct a timeline depicting significant events in the development and expansion of the movement in Mississippi;
  • evaluate the success of the movement;
  • describe the work of women in Mississippi’s past and present;
  • examine past and present attitudes towards women’s work
  • cite reasons for the difficulties in learning about women’s history.


  1. On the board or overhead, write the following: “ORDINARY PEOPLE MAKE HISTORY.” Ask students to consider the statement in light of how history is taught in the schools. Let them respond in a large-group discussion on the topic, leading them to think about how current history in being made (and by whom) in their own community.
  2. On the board, list these groups: WHITE MALES; ENSLAVED PEOPLE; FEMALES; IMMIGRANTS. Ask students to describe the availability of primary documents and records detailing their histories in the United States. Ask students to brainstorm some reasons why it is difficult to learn about the lives of enslaved people, immigrants, and females.
  3. Since the focus of this lesson is on girls and women in Mississippi, put special emphasis on the problems faced by researchers in obtaining data on women’s history, i.e. women often were illiterate and could not leave records; if they did leave records, they were not considered as significant as the writing of males and were not saved; prevailing attitudes that women were not as important as men and that housework was not as valuable as the work of men.
  4. If teacher can obtain home-canned jars of vegetables and fruits, these should be displayed around the classroom as a graphic representation. Have students write a “recipe” for canning and speculate on the time involved. Tell them that the lesson will focus on tomato clubs established in Mississippi but ask them to think about the issues of women’s work, women’s history, and “ordinary” history as the lesson progresses.


  1. Students will read the first three paragraphs of the Mississippi History Now article to get an accurate understanding of life in Mississippi in 1910. Be certain students know the meaning of the term rural. In small groups, have students write out a “schedule” of a day in the life of a Mississippi homemaker in 1910. They may enjoy sharing their ideas. Have them examine their perspective on this type of work.
  2. Students will draw a web in their notes to show the reasons for the tomato club movement in Mississippi after they read and discuss the next two paragraphs of the article.
  3. Using an illustrated time-line format, students will trace the development and growth of the movement, from 1903 through the beginning of the home demonstration clubs for women. This can be accomplished either as an individual or a small group project. Ask students to study their timelines and to make observations about how the movement grew and expanded and to indicate any problems in the movement.
  4. Have students create a game, quiz, crossword puzzle, mural, or fair diorama to reinforce the information on the timeline.
  5. Ask students to revisit their web detailing the reasons for the tomato club movement and to add evidence to support the success or failure of the movement.
  6. Lead a class discussion comparing/contrasting women’s work in the past with work done by women in the present. Ask students to share their views concerning the value of women’s work across different periods of time.
  7. Ask students to write a thoughtful essay on what they have learned or how their opinions/attitudes have changed as a result of the lesson. Teacher may wish to give a list of points to cover or a rubric of some kind.


Students should conduct interviews with women in their community, particularly ordinary citizens. regarding their work. Interviews should be bound and submitted to the school and public libraries in an effort to establish primary sources for future research.


  1. Participation in time-line construction.
  2. Creation of reinforcement activity: # 4.
  3. Participation in class discussions.
  4. Essay.
  5. Interview.


  1. Students may want to create a t-shirt, poem, or song for the tomato club movement
  2. Interpret the motto, “Making the Best Better.”
  3. Is there a 4-H Club in the community? If so, interview its officers and members to prepare a report.
  4. Write thank-you notes to ordinary citizens, especially women, who have made history.