All posts by jgerber123

I teach sustainable food and farming at the University of Massachusetts and try to contribute to my local community without causing too much harm....

Stockbridge – a radical tradition


The following excerpt is taken from a 1913 tribute to Professor Levi Stockbridge by William H. Bowker, one of the students in the first 1867 class at Mass Aggie.  In his 1904 eulogy he stated that had Stockbridge been born in the 20th century  “he would have become, in the best sense of the word, a socialist.”

Definition of the word radical….. in a medieval philosophical sense, from Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” or “going to the origin” or “basic principles”.

Speaking with affection about Professor Stockbridge, William Bowditch states….

He was thoroughly and sincerely democratic.  He had no love for an aristocracy, and especially no love for any kind of a ruling class whose power came from wealth (a plutocracy).  In one of his class lectures he broke out one day with the remark, “no one should hog it all, no one has the right to more than a stated amount of property – for example, a million dollars.”  Some years after when reminded of this remark he was asked how he would regulate the size of fortunes….  he Continue reading Stockbridge – a radical tradition

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

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

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. Continue reading Stockbridge supports “universal education”

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

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”…. Continue reading Levi Stockbridge’s Ag Research

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?