Levi Stockbridge Reports on the first semester at Mass Aggie – Part I

The Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the State Board of Agriculture met “for lectures and discussions” in the Concord Town Hall from December 10-13, 1867.  Thirty-three leading farmers from throughout the Commonwealth were chosen to attend by the many local Agricultural Societies.  Three representatives were appointed by the Governor including Professor Louis Agassiz of Harvard College and four members were ex officio, including the President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, Professor William S. Clark.


The Fifteenth Annual Report states that William Clark, President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, was “detained by his duties at the College and that his place would be supplied by the Hon. Levi Stockbridge.”  The following excerpts were taken from Professor Stockbridge’s report on the first two months at Mass Aggie (students arrived on campus on October 1, 1867).

Let me assure you – we have an Agricultural College!

Gentlemen of the Board, I desire to ask your attention to the few remarks which I may make as a plea for the agriculture of Massachusetts, and for the agricultural education of the farmers of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Agricultural College.  You are by law the overseers of that institution.  Being connected with it temporarily, as one of its officers, I have been upon the ground ever since the first blow was struck the present year towards putting up the buildings and getting the institution in order for the reception of ·students; and I have been, to say the least, a very attentive observer of all    that has taken place there.  I can, therefore, speak of the facts as many others, who are equally interested but who were not upon the ground, cannot speak.

In the first place, I find there is a great deal of ignorance in relation to the institution.  Why…. a man who has a son in the institution told me in this room, tonight, that he had hardly any idea that there was such an institution in the State, or that there was to be one, before his son started to go to Amherst. It is so, generally throughout the Commonwealth.  The people have had no idea that we were really to have an Agricultural College, notwithstanding the talk there has been about it, and notwithstanding the money that has been appropriated for it.  They have had the idea that there would be no college; that it was all talk, and nothing else.

Now, gentlemen, I can say that there is an Agricultural College in Massachusetts. In the first place, it is located, as you know in the town of Amherst.  We have there, in my judgement, a beautiful farm for the institution, of 400 acres, finely located in the valley of the Connecticut, with a great variety of soil.   I say, therefore, we have got a farm, we have got a college, and we have the encouraging feeling that we may possibly succeed.

I located myself upon the farm the first of April.  At that time, we had no buildings; the first blow, in fact, had not been struck. We have erected the past season, in the first place, a large dormitory building, four stories high, 100 x 50.

The Old South College Dormitory

The lower story is divided into recitation-room, reading-room, and cabinet; the three upper stories are rooms for the students, of which we have twenty-four, designed for two students each; giving each two students a sitting-room or parlor, 15 x 16; each of them a fine bed-room; each of them a fine clothes-press or wardrobe. These are the accommodations we give our students.


Sitting room or parlor in the Old South College Dormitory

We erected a laboratory, so-called, in which is to be placed the chemical apparatus of the professor of chemistry, and which is to be the working chemical-room.  In the upper story, we have a dining-hall, 50 x 16, where it is proposed by the trustees of the institution, that all the boys shall take their meals, if they desire it.


The Chemistry Lab

We have erected a convenient botanical building, with a recitation-room for the class in botany, on the lower floor, and a specimen-room for the reception of all sorts of specimens in the hall above it.  We have erected a large conservatory, 100 x 70, with propagating pits, and all the conveniences of the best modern houses.

These are the buildings which have been erected during the past year.  You will see from what I have stated with reference to our dormitory building, that the trustees have laid a plan for a college of forty-eight students, and yet today, the college building is full.  Our term commenced the 2nd of October, and we have a Freshmen class of forty-six, with the prospect of double the number for the next class.  One of the rooms is occupied by a professor, so that we are now full.


The campus as it appeared when the students arrived on October 1, 1867

NOTE: There were many in Massachusetts who thought the Massachusetts Agricultural College would never succeed.  Professor Stockbridge, more than anyone else, was instrumental toward insuring the early success of the college.  In this speech he made it clear that “we have an Agricultural College” in Massachusetts. The above text represents part of his speech on December 10, 1867.  For the full text see:

Levi Stockbridge Address to the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture

Further remarks will be included in future blog posts….


Stockbridge supports “universal education”

Prof Stock; circa 1873

On October 2, 1867, Levi Stockbridge welcomed the first class of 34 young men to what would become the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  The early days for these first students who attended the Massachusetts Agricultural College (Mass Aggie) have been described in a previous blog post.

The following selection taken directly from the first UMass lecture presents Professor Stockbridge’s thoughts on universal education.  Stockbridge welcomed the students with the following statement….

Now for the first time there has been assembled in our Commonwealth a School of Agriculture, and I assure you young gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this institution and to all the pleasures, instruction and profit that it may impart.  I hope the relationship which is now to be formed between myself as one of the officers of this institution and with you will be pleasant and profitable.

Mass Aggie was indeed an experiment in education, representing the first state institution focused on agriculture not affiliated with another college.  While Amherst College, Williams College an Harvard College all offered to host the new agricultural school, the state legislature decided to create a new college focused on agricultural education.

Massachusetts Agricultural College campus in 1868

All of the other colleges in Massachusetts at the time provided education for the clergy, law and medicine.  Great debates on the need for agricultural education had proceeded the opening of Mass Aggie for at least 20 years.  The decision to invest in agricultural education was part of a democratization movement which recognized that higher education should be available to all.  Stockbridge continued….

I therefore desire to call your attention to the system of education in our state and the life and animus as it exists in the beliefs, thoughts and practices of our people.  The highest best interest of the State can only be secured by the universal education of its people; not that education which selects pupils from position or takes individuals who are designed for certain pursuits or professions and fits them for the discharge of their special duties, but the only education worthy of a state dispensing its privileges equally to the high and low, the rich and poor, the foreign and the native born, and holding out inducements and rising compulsions that every child may be educated to command the respect of his fellows and fittest for the discharge of his duties as a man and a citizen.

This was indeed a revolutionary idea at the time.  Universal education was not the common practice nor generally accepted by many people who according to Stockbridge believed that “castes and grades” (that is social stratification) remained “in the hearts of our people.”  He wrote….

Universal education to a certain extent is the written law of Massachusetts and the doors of our higher education institutions are thrown open to all who please to enter. But the system in the hearts of our people is one of caste and grades.  Our children are educated under the false and erroneous notion that certain pursuits are vastly more important and the degree and quality of the education for these pursuits should correspond.  The influence of this system and these false notions has been injurious to all the so called industrial pursuits and especially to agriculture.

Prof Stock, as he was called by his students, argued that education must be available to “the industrial classes” as well as those students with social “position” in society.  His argument on behalf of universal education and especially on the need for agricultural education was based less on social equity than on utility.  Future blog posts will elaborate on his reasoning.

Handwritten address presented by Levi Stockbridge on October 2, 1867

What was it like for the first class at UMass Amherst?

This blog is available in a printable format here.



The first students to arrive at UMass Amherst, on October 1, 1867, 150 years ago, were greeted by four faculty members, several (not quite finished) buildings, 311 acres of run down farmland and meadows cobbled together from 6 different farms – and a dream.

According to one of those freshmen students, L.B. Caswell, who wrote in his “Brief History of the Massachusetts Agricultural College” …

“Never did pioneer settlers, nor those engaged in any great work or cause, face greater difficulties and problems than did the professors of this new college and the Pioneer Class of 1871 in this great … experiment in agricultural education. 

“It was fortunate that the faith of the students was great, and that they became imbued with the enthusiasm and optimism of the faculty and trustees of that time.”

University of Massachusetts campus in 1868 – NOTE: (the Durfee Plant House in the foreground is in the same place today as it was then but today it is smaller)

Upon arrival on October 1, 1867, the students took an entrance exam covering reading, writing, spelling, geography and math.  William H. Bowker, reported in an address given at the 40th anniversary of the opening of Mass Aggie that some of the new students…

“…were dressed in home-made clothes, faded at that, and some in broadcloth and fine linen… for they came from town and city, and from every station in life.  

“Some of them had left home on the spur of the moment, without preparation for this ordeal, and had never before seen printed examination papers.”

Here are a few questions from the first entrance exam


All of the young men who showed up on the first day to enroll in what was to grow into the University of Massachusetts Amherst passed the examination.  Admission seemingly was “based on the looks or ‘hang’ of the boy, rather than on his attainments,” according to Bowker.  Levi Stockbridge, Farm Superintendent and the first faculty member hired by UMass, believed that all of “the boys” accepted on that day were ready to begin classes in geometry, chemistry, physiology and practical agriculture.


Thirty-four students moved into the South College Building, which had two classrooms, and a reading room on the lower level, and 24 rooms with parlor and two bedrooms each on the three upper floors.  This building (which burned down in 1885) stood at the site of the recently renovated South College Academic Facility.

The “Old” South College Residence Hall and Classroom Building

Classes begin the day after the entrance examination, October 2, 1867.  In a welcoming address to the first class, Levi Stockbridge said…

“Now for the first time there has assembled in our Commonwealth a School of Agriculture, and I assure you, young gentlemen, it gives me pleasure to welcome you to this institution and to all the pleasure, instruction and profit it may impart.”  

Levi Stockbridge; 1870

Lectures were presented by the famous “Faculty of Four”.  Professor Ebenezer Snell taught mathematics.  Henry Goodell taught modern languages, gymnastics and military tactics. The President of the College, William Clark, lectured on botany, and of course, Levi Stockbridge taught all things related to agriculture.  Levi Stockbridge was the only member of the faculty who did not hold a college degree, but was well-respected by the students and other members of the faculty for his experience and broad knowledge.

In addition to attending class, students were required to do field work for two hours in the morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Those choosing to do more work were paid for the extra hours.  Caswell wrote about the first day in class…

“Members of the first class well remember the opening term at the college and their first meeting with Professor Stockbridge.  At this meeting the class was divided into squads of six or seven with one of their member as captain, and was sent out upon the farm to dig up old apple trees, husk and sort corn, pick apples, dig ditches for drainage, fork over manure heaps, etc. while the professor with his trousers tucked into his boots, superintended the work of the squads.”  

 While the value of experiential education is well understood today, this was new in 1867.  In an 1867 report to the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture, Stockbridge wrote…

“Then the question comes, ‘how do you make labor and study go together?’  If I should answer it in the off-hand way I sometimes do, I should say ‘first rate.'”


“…the best scholars in the school, those who regularly mark highest in their studies, are the very best men we have in our labor companies.  They take hold, and then all the rest, as it were by their influence, follow.”

There were no agricultural textbooks at the time nor a standard curriculum as there were no models in the U.S. for this experiment in practical education.  All the other colleges in Massachusetts, Harvard, Williams, and Amherst College for example, were organized to prepare young men for the ministry, law or finance.  Practical education was a new idea, so the “Faculty of Four” had to build the road while walking.

Stockbridge reported to the Massachusetts Board of Agricultural…

“Commencing with the soil, our course of instruction has been to give its origin; the manner in which it was prepared for the purposes of cropping; the material in the soil by which plant-food is formed; then the influences in the soil which go to make that raw material up into food for plants; then the manner in which the plants themselves take up and appropriate that food to their own uses; and form their bodies and roots from it….”

It was in this manner they taught soil formation and geology, chemistry, plant physiology and more in a manner that was practical yet based in the best science of the day.

At the close of the term in December, 46 young men had joined the pioneering class and 27 of them graduated four years later in 1871.


The first lecture ever given at the University of Massachusetts is believed to have been delivered by Levi Stockbridge.   An original handwritten copy of this address is preserved by the UMass Special Collections and University Archives.

Handwritten Address by Levi Stockbridge given to the first class at Mass Aggie in October, 1867

The following quotes were taken directly from the original copy of the address.

“The highest best interest of the State can only be secured by the universal education of its people…”


“While it is universally admitted that the young man designed for the legal or medical profession should go through a complete and thorough course of education, of mental discipline and training, and then should spend years in those special studies designed to fit him for his profession, it is by this system assumed and the assumption acted upon that the young man who chooses any industrial pursuit and especially if it be that of a tiller of the soil needs no training or education beyond that which is necessary to transact the simplest business operations.”

Yet according to Stockbridge….

“He who farms an acre of soil with full intelligence of all the processes that are going on under his hand and of all the principles involved, needs more knowledge of every known branch of natural science than all other pursuits and professions combined.

“In agriculture, no science is too high, abstract, or far reaching, if properly understood, to minister to its advancement. 

Stockbridge was convinced that…

“The men who a generation hence will manage and control the mercantile world, who will support and honor every interest of the community… and give direction to the great affairs of the country, will not be the sons of merchants, leaders and statesmen of today, but will be the sons of yeoman who have been schooled and disciplined, who have learned self-reliance, who have acquired energy and perseverance while engaged in agricultural pursuits.”

This address was made to the 34 freshmen who arrived on campus on October 2, presumably in one of the two buildings that held a classroom, either the South College or College Hall (which was also known as the Chemistry Building).  The original manuscript is titled “First address on agriculture to the first class of the Mass. Agr. College” and dated Sept. 1867, in Levi Stockbridge’s own handwriting.



The full address by Professor Stockbridge is in the process of being transcribed for publication since it represents the first lecture ever given at the University of Massachusetts.  To see an early draft of the transcription, see:



The legacy of those early days is carried forward by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  Stockbridge is an academic department in the College of Natural Sciences and offers both online and residential degree programs.  For information, go to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture Webpage.


UMass Student Farmers Yesterday and Today


15th Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture – 1867.  Statement by Levi Stockbridge Pertaining to the Massachusetts Agricultural College.  Pages 56-66.

Bowker, W.H. 1904.  A Tribute to Levi Stockbridge.  Read at the Memorial Exercises at Commencement, Amherst MA, June 15, 1904.

Bowker, W.H. 1907.  The Old Guard: the Famous “Faculty of Four:” the Mission and Future of the College; its Dept to Amherst College, Harvard College and other Institutions.  Read at the 40th anniversary of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, October 2, 1907.

Caswell, L.B. 1917.  Brief History of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, Semi-centennial.  

Stockbridge, L. 1867.  First Address on Agriculture to the First Class of Massachusetts Agricultural College. Handwritten notes. University of Massachusetts Archives.

Levi Stockbridge’s Ag Research

The East Experiment Station was constructed in 1889 with federal funds provided by the Hatch Act of 1887 for agricultural research

The General Catalogue of the Massachusetts Agricultural College provides a list of 44 research articles published by faculty of the MAC between the years 1869 and 1886.   The following were the research publications attributed to Professor Stockbridge over this period.

  1. Experiments with compound commercial fertilizers to test their comparative agricultural value and their value as compared with single elements. 1874.
  2. Experiments to determine what elements will make practically a complete manure on our average soils.  1974.
  3. To determine in feeding substances, the proportions of different elements of nutrition required to save needless expense, and to produce the most certain results.  1874.
  4. Experiments on the continuous growth of crops on the same soil with chemical fertilizers alone.  1874.
  5. Investigations on the temperature of soil and air, and on deposition of dew on the soil and plant.  1878.
  6. Investigations in relation to evaporation and percolation of water from the soil. 1878.
  7. The tilling of soils of different characteristics as affecting the loss of water by evaporation.  1878.
  8. Investigations in relation to the comparative temperature of the soil and air by day and by night.  1878.
  9. The determination of the elements of plant nutrition lost from the soil by leaching, and of those it retains.  1879.
  10. Report on lysymetre.  1879.

While Professor Stockbridge is best known as a beloved teacher and adviser, he also was a committed research scientist focused largely on plant nutrition and the development of  crop fertilizers.  According to a bulletin printed by W.H. Bowker & Co. titled “Stockbridge Fertilizers and Formulas”….

“the Stockbridge Fertilizers are compounded for different crops by formulas worked out by Hon. Levi Stockbridge, Professor of Agriculture in the Massachusetts Agricultural College.  They are the result of much patient investigation and experiment, and may be relied upon a being in theory and practice pretty nearly correct.” 

liebig_rgb-461x500Professor Stockbridge had studied the writings of Justus von Liebig, the renowned German chemist who is considered the founder of modern chemistry.  Liebig’s famous “law of the minimum” reminded farmers that crop yield is not dependent as much on the total nutrients available as on the one essential element that is most scarce or limiting.

According to graduate of the pioneering class of 1871 W.H. Bowker, Professor Stockbridge, who never formally attended college, read Liebig on his own and also studied the research of Lawes and Gilbert who did long term fertilizer trials at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in England.  Stockbridge repeated some of this famous work in the U.S.  According to Bowker’s publication on the Stockbridge Fertilizers…

“All experiments which have thus far been tried with these fertilizers… have gone on to show that they did not exhaust the soil; but, on the contrary, left it richer, by actual test.

The experiment on potatoes… prove clearly that the soil was enriched rather than impoverished.  The experiments of Lawes and Gilbert, in England, are, however, more conclusive, inasmuch as they were conducted on the same land and extended over a period of twenty years.”

 The following report was published in Scientific Farmer in December of 1875.

Professor Stockbridge’s Experiments on Crop Feeding


The 1937 publication of the U.S.D.A. titled “A History of Agricultural Experimentation and Research in the United States: 1607 – 1925″ reports on his experimental methods…

“…in 1867 he began experiments with commercial fertilizers.  Soils from different parts of the college farm and adjoining farms were placed in pots in the plant house and in them were sown seeds of various crops.  The plants were fed from time to time with chemical elements which they were known to contain, and in an absolutely soluble condition. The elements were occasionally varied and sometimes compounded in such proportions as they had been found to exhibit in the several varieties.”

This early work continued until 1874 in cooperation with chemistry professor, Charles Goessmann.  It was determined that…

“the only substances the farmer must supply were nitrogen, potash and phosphoric acid; and second,that there was a marked relation between the quantity of the crop produced and the elements applied….”

Stockbridge developed the theory that fertilization should be based on the needs of specific crops, which could be determined its chemical composition.  While this is well understood today, this was new knowledge at the time.  Based on these experiments, Stockbridge developed a formula for each crop and which were published in bulletins and pamphlets of the day.  Here is the recommendation for fertilizing potatoes.


While the formulas were shared freely for all to use, the Stockbridge name was attached only to those fertilizers sold by W.H. Bowker and Co.  William Bowker himself claimed in his tribute to Professor Stockbridge that the first monetary royalties paid to Professor Stockbridge (in 1878) for use of his name…

“…was devoted to experimental work at Amherst, which practically laid the foundation for the first experiment station to be established in this country in connection with an agricultural college.”

The Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station was established in 1882, five years prior to the federal Hatch Act which provided federal funds for the creation of agricultural experiment stations in all states.  The commitment to scientific research by Stockbridge and the other 3 faculty of the MAC, when most U.S. colleges were focused on literature and the arts, made the Massachusetts Agricultural College unique at the time.

Other experiments by Professor Stockbridge focused on water availability from soil and water loss from plants and results were published by the Massachusetts Agricultural College Experiment Station.


Much of Levi Stockbridge’s research is published in the Annual of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, particularly in the Thirteenth Report (1876) and the Sixteenth Report (1879).

Science and Practice: the Stockbridge Legacy

Students who choose to major in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass Amherst are encouraged to seek practical experience in the form of internships, either during the summer or school year.  The value of these experiences are acknowledged by awarding academic credit of up to 9 credits during the summer or 12 credits during the regular semester.  While any faculty member may sponsor an internship, one member of the faculty is specifically assigned the responsibility to insure the experience is indeed educational and appropriate to receive academic credit.

Nevertheless, some faculty and administrators have questioned the value of professional practice, claiming this experience should be valued as an elective or perhaps not receive credit at all.   The tension between the perceived value of classroom education and professional practice goes back to the early days of UMass, when the same question was raised by faculty of the “old college” – Amherst College – about the “new college” – Massachusetts Agricultural College (Mass Aggie).

cropped-lefi.jpgIndeed, Levi Stockbridge and his colleagues were engaged in this debate 150 years ago. Professor Stockbridge wrote in his report to the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture in 1867, about the first class accepted into Mass Aggie….  “the plan was adopted, I say, that every young man who came there should work upon the land six hours in a week ; that the·whole class should work, upon  the  land, as a part of their regular school education,…” Continue reading Science and Practice: the Stockbridge Legacy

Who was French Hall named after?


Have you ever wonder who French Hall was named after?

You have surely walked by the plaque near the front door commemorating Henry Flagg French, the first President of Massachusetts Agricultural College (Mass Aggie).

henryfrenchA native of New Hampshire and graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, French loved agriculture but spent most of his career as a lawyer and a judge.  He operated a farm, did his own agricultural research and was considered a leader in the emerging application of science to agriculture.

French held the post of president for two years, resigning in 1866 even before any students had arrived.  According to Henry Bowker, a student who entered Mass Aggie with the first class in 1867, and remained connected as an alum and trustee for many years, “Judge” French “was a keen, sensitive man, with q good mind, highly trained and well informed, rather distant in manner, but kindly in nature.”   Professor French was said to be well ahead of his time in his thinking on agriculture. Continue reading Who was French Hall named after?

What can we learn today from "Prof Stock"?