Rural Electrification

Louisan Mamer was born on a farm in Southern Illinois. There was no running water or electricity in her home. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in Home Economics in 1931. Her degree had a heavy science emphasis, and she learned how cooking changes food. She also had a strong interest in writing while serving on the university’s newspaper.

In 1935, Congress passed an initiative by President Franklin Roosevelt called the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Private utility companies were reluctant to serve rural areas, and the REA legislation was designed to bring electricity access to areas not being served by public utilities. Ninety percent of farms had no electricity when the legislation was passed. The REA allowed rural communities to create electric cooperatives through low-interest loans.

The challenge that the REA faced was that rural families had no experience with electric appliances. That’s where Louisan became the hidden hero. She would travel throughout the country to teach rural families how to use the electric access they would soon have available to them. Demonstrations were conducted in circus tents. Women learned how to use appliances in the house while men learned about farm use of electricity (e.g. milking machines).

Louisan’s personal background led to her acceptance. In addition to her personal appearances, she also wrote a number the publications issued by the REA. She also developed healthy recipes and used these in her demonstrations. She became the Julia Child for rural America. Her colleagues often referred to her as the First Lady of the REA.

We don’t often think of the connection between electricity and democracy. But electricity is empowering. It helps bind communities together. The lack of electricity places a tremendous burden on living. What Louisan did was to help rural America change the way it lived. What she did was accelerate the acceptance and use of electricity. And that kept rural America economically viable.

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“Electricity can transform people’s lives, not just economically, but also socially.”- Piyush Goyal (Indian Politician)

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