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Employment: Home Industries

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      Home Industries refers to the making of products in the home that were then marketed and sold by an outside agency. In Iowa, the Commission for the Blind's Home Industries program arranged for the creation and selling of a variety of handcrafted items.  A Home Teacher was one of the first positions hired by the Commission when it was established in 1925. The role of the Home Teacher was to travel the state to teach blind adults, usually women, how to produce handcrafts that could be marketed and sold through the Commission.

      Initially, the Home Industries program provided blind adults with materials to create rugs. Commission Board meeting minutes show that they utilized a salesman to sell the rugs around Iowa and out of state. The Commission made arrangements with the Lions Club to sell rugs made by blind Iowans at their regional and state meetings. Starting in the 1930s, private companies were contracted to sell the products for the Commission, specifically Midwest Blind Products Company and later the Iowa Blind Products Company. The Iowa Federation of Women's Club had perhaps the longest association with the Commission in selling Home Industries products. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing through the 1980s, the Federation of Women's Club sold these products at local and statewide meetings. In addition, the club appointed a Towel Chairperson who distributed catalogs and coordinated sales with the Commission.

      The Depression of the 1930s had somewhat of an impact on the Commission's Home Industries program. Letters from Mrs. Holmes, director of the Commission, note that requests for assistance in selling materials had to be turned down because of an overstock of goods. Commission Board meeting minutes also show that they had to subsidize the cost of the materials for the blind workers in the program as the costs were increasing beyond their purchasing power. Despite these issues, the program grew throughout the 1930s and 1940s to produce and sell a wider variety of rugs, towels, mops, leather goods (belts and billfolds), suspenders, pot holders, and more.

      Minutes during the war years show that it had a much greater impact on the program than the Depression. It was noted that the Commission had difficulty in obtaining raw goods to manufacture the products, particularly rubber for mats. Rationing of fuel made the delivering and marketing by salesmen slow or impossible. They also note that in 1942 the Iowa Blind Products Company manager, Mr. Parameter, was set to go to War and discussions were held about the future of the company.

      The Home Industries program experienced a decline in the 1950s. As noted in the April 4, 1952 minutes, "Mrs. Holmes reported that about $8000.00 worth of products was sold to the Iowa Blind Products Company as against $30,000 yearly before the war." Fewer individuals were recruited for the program in the 1960s and 1970s as the focus on competitive employment grew at the Commission. The Home Industries program remained part of the Commission, albeit in a much more limited way, until 1986.

      Read the February 12, 1945 board minutes, which lists type, number, and price of products which were being made and sold by the Home Industries program.

      Read a selection of letters from the Commission to blind Iowans regarding the Home Industries program (1927- 1950).

      Review a copy of a Home Industries catalog from 1976.

      Lucy Bagley was involved with the Home Industries program during its final years as an employee of the Commission. Mrs. Bagley discusses the Home Industries program in her oral history.