December 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT6
The Happier Way - A Film Review
The article discusses The Happier Way, a circa 1920s, 20-minute, black and white silent film about Extension. The author describes the film as an Extension "home movie," recounting the plot and addressing the film's historical significance. The author hopes that anyone with more information about the film will contact her.
Extension Service (circa 1920s). The Happier Way. A 20-minute, silent, black and white feature film. (May be viewed at Archives II, near the University of Maryland, or loaned on a limited-time basis from the author of this review.)
When we hear about the need to save deteriorated black and white silent movies, we often think of Hollywood's Clara Bow, Abbot and Costello, and the like. But how many of you know about Extension's 20-minute feature film, The Happier Way?
I happened to see this film several years ago at a conference at Cornell University. A very talented piano player provided the accompaniment, which added to my enjoyment. I was intrigued enough to have a video copy made (at great expense, I might add) from the National Archives.
Fred Perkins is credited as the cinematographer, and Mignon Quaw and George R. Goergrens are credited as producers. But little is known about them, the actors, or how the film would have been seen (at movie theatres?).
The Happier Way is the story of Louisa Little, from Pleasant View (USA), who is working herself to an early grave packing water from outside the house. The film tells us that she "keeps a cheerful disposition except during wash day." When she becomes exhausted, the doctor orders her to bed, and the rest of the family takes over her chores. The farmer, who has the latest field equipment, realizes just how hard his wife has been working.
While he tends the chores, he sends Grandpa and son to the Extension office to find information on plumbing and other labor-saving devices. Later, Grandpa carries out a "scientific" study at home: measuring how much water Louisa has been lifting and the distance from the water source to the house (54 tons of water and 62 miles a year). According to Grandpa, "progress is made by the lazy ones--the hard workers are too busy to think of easier methods."
With calculations in hand, Louisa's concerned relatives purchase the needed supplies at WW. Reeder Tin Shoppe. When Louisa rallies, she invites the women in the neighborhood to see her new kitchen. In the closing scene, she is seen rocking peacefully outside the home in the evening.
What is interesting about this film is not just the story, but that it is a record of the times--virtually a tour of the home and Extension office of the 20s. You see both "home demonstration" and agricultural agents working together with the family to reach a desired solution. The secretary is running around the office (in a fashionable hat!), pulling out resources to aid the discussion. You can reflect on how little Extension work has changed when you see the home demonstration agent sending out a labor-saving questionnaire, followed by a scene where the family is exasperated at receiving yet another survey!
You can actually witness what was known at the time as a "result demonstration" created when the neighborhood ladies see the "resulting" improvements made to the house.
There is tragedy and concern in this film, but humor, too. It is the type of film that makes you feel good to be a part of the Extension family--a bit like watching a well-produced "home movie."
If any of you have more information about The Happier Way, please let me know.