The Purnell Act of 1925 provided federal money to state Agricultural Experiment Stations for research on agriculture and related economic and sociological factors. With those funds, AES director James Jardine hired Maud Wilson to conduct an intensive study of living standards in Oregon farm homes, a study that began Wilson’s career developing standards of health, safety, and modernization for rural homes throughout the U.S.
Wilson was said to have an admirable background for this research, having boarded in farm homes as a teacher in rural Nebraska. Later, she led Extension work with farm women in Nebraska and Washington. Her first research in Oregon was to document time spent on daily tasks, the drudgery of a farm woman’s work. In the 1920s in Oregon, very few rural kitchens had plumbing, electricity, or any standard for workspace and storage. Washing clothes, preparing meals, butchering, canning, and babysitting were all done in a small space of often haphazardly arranged tables, chairs, and barrels. Wilson’s work led to standards for working-surface heights and other ergonomic, sanitary, and efficiency improvements of rural home design.