Tennessee’s First Home Demonstration Agent Figures in Plot of New Novel
Canning contest, Tennessee State Fair, 1912
Canning contest, Tennessee State Fair, 1912. Virginia P. Moore, far right. (Virginia P. Moore Collection, University of Tennessee Libraries)

Tennessee’s first home demonstration agent, Virginia P. Moore, makes a cameo appearance in The Growing Season, the latest novel by Tennessee author Jane Lorenzini. To flesh out Moore’s character, the novelist delved into the Virginia P. Moore Collection held at the University of Tennessee Libraries.

In the first decades of the 20th century, home demonstration clubs improved the lives of rural families in the South by teaching women and girls how to cultivate and preserve their own produce. Boys’ corn clubs and girls’ tomato clubs were the precursors of today’s 4-H clubs.

Girls’ tomato clubs assume an important role in The Growing Season. The plot follows twenty-seven-year-old Belle Carson who tends the gardens of world-renowned inventor Thomas Edison on his winter estate in Fort Myers, Florida. He and his family rarely visit, but when a friend of the Edisons drops in, she convinces Belle to join an agricultural movement sweeping the South — tomato clubs for girls. But just as Belle is blossoming as a mentor and mother figure, her romantic relationship and the precious tomato crop wither.

The Growing Season, released in 2024, explores another year in the lives of the characters from Lorenzini’s 2018 debut novel, After the Rain.

Karns High School canning club, 1914
Karns High School canning club, 1914. (Virginia P. Moore Collection, University of Tennessee Libraries)

While conducting research for The Growing Season, Lorenzini consulted faculty at the UT Libraries. Louisa Trott, then digital projects librarian, and Laura Romans, manuscripts archivist in the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, introduced Lorenzini to the Virginia P. Moore Collection containing letters, photographs, articles, notes, and other materials documenting Moore’s work and encouraged the author to explore the associated digital collection. The online collection proved invaluable to her project. Lorenzini noted in her Acknowledgments: “The site is thoughtfully curated with historic photos and documents that helped me develop Virginia’s personality and fueled my passion for the tomato club movement.”

In 1908, the Tennessee State Department of Education hired Virginia Pearl Moore (1880–1950) to travel the state and revitalize rural schools. In 1912, she began to dedicate her time solely to promoting canning clubs across the state. Moore moved to the University of Tennessee’s newly created Division of Extension within the College of Agriculture in 1914, becoming assistant director and state home demonstration agent. She was one of the first five home demonstration agents in the US. She concluded her career as assistant home demonstration agent for the state of Florida. Moore did indeed meet Thomas Edison, as evidenced by the photo in UT’s digital collection.

In addition to her novels, Lorenzini is a four-time New York Times best-selling writer for non-fiction books co-authored with her friend Hoda Kotb, cohost of The Today Show.

Thomas Edison, the famous American inventor, and Virginia P. Moore
Thomas Edison, the famous American inventor, and Virginia P. Moore. (Virginia P. Moore Collection, University of Tennessee Libraries)