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LOUISAN E. MAMER RURAL ELECTRIFICATION ADMINISTRATION PAPERS, 1927-2002

#862

 (10 cubic feet, 22 DB, 3Shb, 6 F/O, 1 OS Folder)

by: Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., December 2004, revised October 2007

History

 Louisan E. Mamer (1910-2006) was born on August 28, 1910 to Louis H. and Anna Mary Elizabeth Mies Mamer. She graduated from the University of Illinois, College of Agriculture with an AB in 1931. Mamer begin her government career with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), moving to the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1935. The REA was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s programs described collectively as the New Deal. The REA’s goal was to bring affordable electricity to rural America. Electrification brought prosperity and an elevated standard of living to rural areas, but initially there was a great deal of ignorance about electricity in its applications and uses. Mamer was hired by the REA as a Home Electrification Specialist, or “demonstrator,” to educate people in the uses of electricity.

Mamer was based at the REA headquarters in Washington, DC but traveled extensively throughout the Midwest performing demonstrations of electrical appliances, planning and teaching “training schools” for rural electrical co-op advisors, demonstrators, and home economics teachers initially in the states of Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. This traveling show came to be known as the “electric circus.” Her first show was in the Maquoketa Valley Rural Electric Co-op near Anamoso, Iowa. Mamer described the process in a 1975 interview: “We would usually move into a town over the weekend. Having made the move and set up the tents [two large circus tents] and gotten ready for the show during the daytime, say, on a Monday, that night we would have the home electrification specialist (which was my job) demonstrate lighting equipment. I believe the next morning we had a laundry equipment demonstration at about 10 a.m., and in the afternoon, we demonstrated small appliances and some kitchen and laundry planning along the way. The last evening, the home electrification specialist conducted a big cooking duel between two local men. That was a highlight of the whole program.” 1

The electric circus was discontinued in 1941, a victim of WWII gas shortages. Mamer continued educating rural America with the Electro-Economy Tour designed to help the war effort. This was also discontinued due to WWII shortages. After the war, Mamer began traveling and demonstrating again while also developing training courses for the REA and REA co-ops nationwide. Through her demonstrations and training materials, Mamer was not only teaching rural America in the uses of electricity but in a lifestyle reflecting the goals of the New Deal - a better life for average Americans. Mamer’s largest audiences seem to have been rural housewives but men were included as well, especially in the “cooking duel”. Mamer identified with these women and from her notes and interviews she seems to have firmly believed in her mission to better people’s lives through electricity.

In a 1948 article for Practical Home Economics magazine, Mamer briefly described her background and work:

My background is rural; locale, southern Illinois. As I grew, ‘college’ like ‘mama’s bank account’ was always with us, and we worked to get the money for it – selling pecan meats, mowing, raking, doing everything but plowing for the same pay as the hired men. Finally I had almost $1,000, a fashionable suntan, unfashionable broad shoulders and a “harrowing” walk that served me well in getting about at the University of Illinois.

That first year I planned to become a writer, but by my sophomore year I decided that I should learn something to write about. So I spent my last three years and four summers more becoming a home economist and satisfied my craving for writing on The Daily Illini and the Illinois Agriculturist, college sheets of which I was woman’s editor.

My background was, as astrologers would put it, propitious to home economics. My mother had already mothered one family of seven brothers, and she operated on a big scale. We butchered; we churned; we canned; we baked bread; we had two acres of garden, fruit, chickens and a milk route. All this-sans electricity, sans running water.

When I started teaching, an all-electric foods laboratory was a rarity, but I got one and was very proud of it. I also got a great deal of experience which came in handy when I left teaching to take a job in Washington writing for NYA.

REA was so new then that home economics hadn’t entered the picture, so I went in as a writer. In 1937, after a training period in TVA, REA sent me to Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska as a regional home economist. Except for being lent briefly to WPB I’ve been in REA ever since.

My secret ambition is to build a modern house; furnish it modern and Chinese; equip it all-electric and with a husband guaranteed not to wander; operate the whole arrangement at enough profit to provide myself with all the secretarial and other help I would like to have to do my job the way I would like to do it and write besides. 2

Mamer married Arthur C. Hagen (1911-2000), an REA electrical engineer, on March 20, 1954. She devoted her working life to the REA retiring in 1981. Mamer died in Washington, DC in January 2006.

Footnotes:

1. “Bringing Light to Rural America,” Rural Cooperatives magazine, March 1998.

2. “Methods of Teaching Home Use of Electricity,” part 1 by Louisan E. Mamer, Practical Home Economics magazine, April and May 1948.

Sources:

“Bringing Light to Rural America,” Rural Cooperatives magazine, March 1998.

Campbell, Dan, “When the Lights Came On,” Rural Cooperatives magazine, August 2000.

Troppa, Gina M., “The REA Lady – A Shining Example,” Illinois Currents, 2002

Scope and Content

 The Mamer collection materials date pre-dominantly from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. There are some materials from the late 1930s. There is only one item from 1927 and one from 1994. Many materials are undated. The collection includes a wide range of materials used to teach concepts and the usage of electricity to predominately rural audiences. Mamer kept many of her materials in labeled notebooks; other papers were filed loosely with no apparent order. The collection is divided into three series: Series 1: DEMONSTRATION & TRAINING MATERIALS; Series 2: PUBLICATIONS, 1927-1970, undated and Series 3: PHOTOGRAPHS, FILMSTRIPS, SLIDES AND VU-GRAPHS, circa 1939-1952, undated. Series 1 is divided into four sub-series: Subseries 1: Demonstrator Notes and Resources, 1936-1994 , undated, Subseries 2: Electrical Appliance and Subject Files, 1932-1952 , undated, Subseries 3: Cooperative Study Courses, 1938-1953 , undated and Subseries 4: Adviser Packets and Co-op Shop Paks, circa 1948-1974.

The arrangement is generally by type or purpose of document. Original order and subject headings have been maintained where it is readily apparent. Mamer filed some materials in broad subject categories, for instance L.P. Gas, Lighting and Electric Ranges; are in Series 1, Subseries 2. One of Mamer’s systems of keeping notes for presentations was to type talking points on paper, and then cut them into strips, and file them in envelopes under broad categories. These may have been used during oral presentations as mnemonic devices or as simple maxims pertaining to the topic being discussed. (In an October 2004 phone interview Mamer could not recall their specific use.) These can be found in Series 1 Subseries 1. Many of the documents in this collection were originally printed on highly acidic paper and extreme care is recommended in handling them.

Series 1: DEMONSTRATION & TRAINING MATERIALS is divided into four subseries. The arrangement is generally by type of record and closely follows Mamer’s designation of the nature of the materials. Subseries 1: Demonstrator Notes and Resources, 1936-1994 , undated include Mamer’s original notes; demonstration recipes and meal plans; lesson plans; scripts for demonstration, radio and reading; pamphlets and brochures produced by USDA and other agencies or information outlets; and home appliance fact sheets produced by USDA and appliance manufacturers. Mamer’s Home Electrification Notebook (three folders) is especially rich in compiling all of these items into one notebook that would have been a ready reference for the demonstrator. Within this series are also posters and floor plans for cooperative demonstration kitchens. Subseries 2: Electrical Appliance and Subject Files, 1932-1952 , undated are files created by Mamer on specific electric appliances and may include pamphlets, notes, talking points, data sheets for specific appliances and concepts, i.e., “Lighting,” and brand information. The arrangement is alphabetical by subject. Subseries 3: Cooperative Study Courses, 1938-1953 , undated are the actual lesson workbooks and teaching manuals designed for specific subjects used by Mamer and other demonstrators. These include the Electric Range School, Lighting Course, and the Small Appliance Course. This series also includes product information distributed during the course. The various school materials are in some cases annotated by Mamer with her notes on variations in recipes or teaching points. The arrangement is alphabetical by subject. Subseries 4: Adviser Packets and Co-op Shop Paks, circa 1948-1974 are informational packets put together for the use of demonstrators or to be given to electrical co-ops. These packets may contain advertisement slicks, articles for newspapers, radio commercial scripts, cook books, informational booklets and pamphlets produced by USDA or private companies such as Maytag and others detailing their appliances. The arrangement is chronological.

Series 2: PUBLICATIONS, 1927-1970, undated include publications authored by Mamer, tear sheets from national magazines, pamphlets, books, USDA and non-governmental publications. Some of these titles are duplicates of titles found in files of Series 1. The arrangement is roughly in chronological order while maintaining Mamer’s original arrangement.

Series 3: PHOTOGRAPHS, SLIDES AND VU-GRAPHS, circa 1939-1952, undated include slides and/or photographs of the Electric Circus, the Cooking Duel, Louisan Mamer and her colleagues, various lighting and electrical displays and cooking demonstrations. There are also Vu-Graphs used in Mamer’s presentations. There are photographs of electrical or cooking displays in Pulaski, Illinois (1941), Hutchinson, Kansas (1950) and Valley City, North Dakota (1952). There are photographs of meetings. There are undated photographs and slides. The series is arranged in chronological order and by size.

Provenance

Donated by Louisan E. Mamer to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian in June 2004. An addendum to this collection was donated in February 2007 by Stephen M. Mamer, brother of Louisan E. Mamer.

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