Public health official. Marian Baxter Paul gave thirty years of public service to South Carolina as the supervisor of Negro Home Demonstration Work, which provided instruction to thousands of rural black households in food preparation and production, hygiene, and sanitation. Her tenure was the longest of any supervisor with that organization—from 1931 until 1959. She was born on April 4, 1897, in Georgetown County, the daughter of Jonathan and Harriet Baxter. She married R. Hopton Paul, a Columbia tailor. They had no children. Nothing is known about her formative education. She attended Hampton University before graduating with a degree in home economics from Pennsylvania State College. After returning home, she worked as a Jeanes rural teacher supervisor in Georgetown County. She later taught at Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia until she became state agent for Negro Home Demonstration Work. In South Carolina, as well as other southern and border states, the extension service was racially segregated.
In 1931 there were only eight counties that employed Negro Home Demonstration agents. Many of these women lacked college degrees. It was directly through the efforts of Marian Paul that the staff employed thirty-five agents and six assistant agents by 1957. Paul recruited agents mostly from South Carolina State College, giving many college-educated African American women employment opportunities outside school teaching. Paul taught her agents to carry out demonstration programs effectively. She encouraged them to respond to local needs and to encourage community involvement in the planning of their programs and also through clubs and county extension councils. These activities gave black South Carolinians practical experience in organization and leadership that would become vital during the civil rights era.
One of the singular accomplishments of Paul’s career was her idea to build a modern home in a rural community to offer blacks an opportunity to learn that they could afford modestly priced, yet comfortable homes. She played a key role in securing a grant from the General Education Board for the home’s construction. The house was erected in the Jeremiah Community of Williamsburg County. Negro Home Demonstration agents from around the state brought clients to “vacation” in the house and to learn skills ranging from home design to homemaking.
Paul’s work ranged far afield. State government agencies routinely used her as a conduit to provide services to blacks in need. She worked with federal agencies during the New Deal era to help rural blacks gain access to a variety of relief and recovery services. During World War II she actively worked with the United Service Organization (USO) and with war bond drives. She was one of two black members of the executive board of the South Carolina Human Relations Council. In her annual reports, Paul commented on the politics of her time and pointed out the unjust treatment of African Americans in South Carolina. Her service to her race placed her in the vanguard of the state’s black leadership. Paul died on June 27, 1980, and was buried in Palmetto Cemetery, Columbia.
Harris, Carmen V. “Grace under Pressure: The Black Home Extension Service in South Carolina, 1919–1966.” In Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession, edited by Sarah Stage and Virginia Vincenti. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.