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.
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.