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

BoardMeet1867coverThe 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.

In Part I of this story, I reported on the development of the campus infrastructure.  This post examines admission requirements, lessons and activities of the students.  The following was taken from the address given by Professor Stockbridge to the Board of Agriculture.

According to Professor Stockbridge….

What are the terms of admission?

The question is often asked, “What are the terms of admission?”  The candidate is examined in the common English branches, reading, writing, spelling, geography and arithmetic, and we mean that the examination shall be thorough and exhaustive.  We do not examine them in Latin or Greek, for those languages are not taught at the institution.  We teach geometry, chemistry, physiology, and practical agriculture; and some of our students, have taken German.

What have the boys been doing in agriculture? 

The next question you will ask me is, “What have the boys been doing in agriculture?  What have the boys been taught?”  Before the school commenced, the plan was adopted that every young man who came there should be taught to work upon the land.  Some, perhaps knew how to work, some did not; some had no sort of acquaintance with agricultural operations.  The plan was adopted, I say, that every young 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, two hours on Monday, two hours on Wednesday, and two on Friday.   And then we held out the inducement, that if there were any young men in the Commonwealth who desired a first-rate intellectual education and thorough discipline (for that the trustees designed to give,) they would give them wages for just such an amount of labor as they could perform, without detriment to their studies.  The consequence has been, that we have some twenty students who have been at work during the entire term for wages, from one up to four hours a day, besides their two hours work with the class every other day in the week.

Well dressed Stockies working in the field

What have you set them about?

Well, they came at a very unpropitious time of the year.  I can imagine that I could interest them if they came in April, when we were planting our gardens, and when everything was starting with the new life of spring; but they came in the fall, when our work was the hardest and least interesting.  Now, I have put those boys upon the hardest work – upon everything that has to be done upon a farm.  I have made no selection, taking that which would be the nicest or the easiest, but they have been called upon to do in these hours of labor, whatever there was to be done.  They have husked all our corn, some 1,800 bushels; dug all our potatoes and all our root-crops; spread all our manure; and everything those boys did with the utmost cheerfulness and alacrity.  They took hold and worked like men.

When the crops were harvested, what next?

“When the crops were harvested, what next?”  We had upon the farm some old orchards, whose day had gone by.  The trees had become worthless, and the boys were set to work digging around them, digging up the roots, and taking the tree down, stem, root and branch.  They have made a clean sweep of something like five acres, cutting up every tree in good shape.  Then, as I have said, our land was covered with bushes, our pastures were overrun with brush.  A large number of bush-cutters were purchased, and the boys were turned out and took out the bushes by the roots.  They went into it with alacrity, and apparent pleasure, and something like nine acres have been cleared of every bush by the boys.

What have you taught them in relation to agriculture?

Another question you will ask is, “What have you taught the boys in relation to agriculture?”  So far as my teaching is concerned, I have taught them what the Board of Agriculture taught me.  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 soils 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 their roots from it; next the effect of cropping upon the soil itself – what the process is, what the effect upon the soil is, and what the condition of the soil is after a course of cropping, running down to exhaustion; next the methods by which the fertility of the soil can be increased; or how, without manuring, the soil can be restored from barrenness to fertility; next ploughing in green crops as one method, under-draining, irrigation, the use of muck, ploughing and stirring the soil, as sources of fertility; then animal manures, their character, their composition, how they act in the soil, chemically, mechanically, etc.  That has been the course of instruction in the institution, and that is as far as we have got; and if I have learned anything, I think the young men have learned something in return, of agriculture, both theoretically and practically.

AUTHOR’S 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



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s