NEGenWeb Project
Resource Center
On-Line Library




Letter/label or iconHE fifteen-year period from about 1875 to 1890 was marked by at least three important developments in the history of the College of Agriculture. One was the changing of the name of the Agricultural College to that of Industrial College and the consequent development of an engineering department within the Industrial College, as well as the reorganization of the work of the college. The second was the founding of the Agricultural Experiment Station with government funds supplied under the Hatch Act. The third important development was the erection of Nebraska Hall, a building to house the Industrial College, on the uptown campus of the University.

   At the beginning of this period the Agricultural College was in operation but certainly in none too prosperous a condition. Its biggest attraction still, remained the free rooms in the "dormitory" and the labor supplied students on the farm. There were two buildings of consequence at the farm, one the little stone house that was on the property when it was purchased by the University and the other the large frame house, erected in 1875, which was torn down in the fall of 1923.

   "At the farm house he [a student] can find a pleasant home, far enough from the city to be out of the way of its temptations to idleness and worse, and yet near enough to enjoy all its literary and public advantages," reads the catalog printed in 1875. "With all of the advantages of quiet and retirement for study, the student has yet the opportunity to be part of a young and growing university."

   The catalog states that "students in this college will be required to work at least two hours each day for five days in the week, unless excused for good reasons. This labor




will be paid for at the rate of from ten to fifteen cents an hour, according to the individual's skill and fidelity. Under this arrangement a faithful student may earn fully half his necessary expenses. . . . This labor is designed to be educational in its character, and is planned with reference to illustrating and enforcing the lessons given in the class-room."

   For a while the students at the farm paid $3 a week for board, which included the use of rooms, partially furnished. Later this seems to have been reduced to around $2 a week. The rooms at the farm house were furnished with a "stove, bedstead, table, two chairs, and a coal bucket." The occupants of the room had to furnish everything else. The rooms in the dormitory at the farm were listed as being "free" but there was no provision for "self-boarding" at the farm.

   The downtown campus of the University was still the headquarters of the Agricultural College for many years. The early catalogs provided that "class recitations in purely agricultural studies will be either at the farm house or at the University building, as may be found most convenient. All other recitations will be made to the regular professors in the academical department." As more ambitious agricultural courses were established, they appear to have been housed in old University Hall, or in Nebraska Hall, erected later on.

   An advantage offered to the students of agriculture for a while was the opportunity to teach school during the winter. For a brief period it was the custom in this department to hold school in the fall, spring, and summer. Students could then secure positions in the country schools of the state for the winter. Another purpose behind this plan was the idea that students should have some experience with the actual growing of crops and could be furnished more employment during the summer. This plan was announced in the catalogs published in 1875 and 1876, but Chancellor Benton in his report for 1876 con-




sidered it a questionable advantage, and it was apparently abandoned soon thereafter.

   The recommendation of Chancellor Benton and the notation of the Board of Regents that the agricultural course should be of a more technical nature does not seem to have been followed out. In fact, the catalogs from 1875 to 1879 stated that "it will be seen that students taking the full course will study agricultural studies about one-third of the time; literary and scientific studies about two-thirds." Among the somewhat unusual subjects listed in the agricultural course of 1878 were fish culture, ornithology, history of agriculture, moral philosophy, and international law. The catalog published in 1877 announced a four-year course in agriculture, besides one year preparatory, and a shorter course of two years, besides one year preparatory.

   The first graduate of the Agricultural College was Harvey Culbertson, who was afterward to become acting professor of agriculture and superintendent of the farm, and later professor of horticulture. In the catalog of 1874-75 Mr. Culbertson was listed as the only fourth-year student in the Agricultural College, also holding the position of "foreman of the garden." In his report for 1875 Chancellor Benton announced that "there will be no graduating exercises, although one student will complete the course prescribed for graduation in the Agricultural Department." The following year the chancellor recommended that Mr. Culbertson be given "the diploma of Bachelor of Agriculture at the approaching commencement." Mr. Culbertson had previously studied in Indiana, and came to Nebraska with advanced credit. Mr. Culbertson is reported to be living at El Cajon, Cal. The second graduate of the Agricultural College was Charles Brainard, who received his degree in June, 1877. Mr. Brainard took all of his work at the University of Nebraska. He now lives in Denver. Students listed in the catalogs from 1875 to 1880 as taking the course in agriculture numbered for the respective years 15, 13, 16, 9, 9, 12.





   But a legislative enactment that was to change the complexion of the Agricultural College for many years to come was that passed by the legislature in 1877. It provided for "an industrial college, embracing agriculture, practical science, civil engineering, and the mechanic arts." It will be recalled that in 1869 the Legislature had provided for a College of Agriculture, and also a College of Practical Science, Civil Engineering and Mechanics. The latter had not yet been established, but the new law combined it with the Agricultural College. Thus things were to remain for more than thirty years.

   The original land grant act passed by Congress had provided for "such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts." Perhaps it was the idea that the provision for instruction in the mechanic arts must be complied with or perhaps it was the idea that since the Agricultural College was not succeeding particularly well, it might be strengthened by combining with it another line of activity.

   The following excerpts from the report of the Board of Regents for the two years ending in 1878 throw some light on this point:

   "It is true that a school of agriculture has for many years been established and in connection therewith a model farm. . . . Owing, however, to the seeming necessity of making the farm self-sustaining, so far as possible, very little has been done during the past two years not looking to immediate profit. It is submitted to your consideration if the agricultural interests of the state do not demand a different management of this particular institution. It has already cost the state a large amount of money, not less than $25,000. Its management should therefore benefit the whole state, not by raising grain for sale, but by experimenting in those directions most beneficial to the whole state. . . .

   "While, as shown by the above, something has been done in the department of agriculture, nothing whatever has been attempted in the direction of teaching those branches of learning related to the




mechanical arts, and nothing can be done until a suitable building is provided therefor. . . . Such schools, under the act of congress before mentioned, are in successful operation in connection with the Illinois Industrial and Cornell Universities. They ought to become successful and valuable departments of the University of Nebraska. It is evident that the act before mentioned had in view in a very large degree the practical education of the industrial classes, not of course in exclusion of other branches of learning, but in addition thereto."

   It was many years before much semblance of an engineering department began to appear, and ten years before the Industrial College had its own building. Lieut. E. S. Dudley, who was the first army officer detailed to look after the military department of the University under the land grant act, was chosen by the Board of Regents in April, 1877, to give instruction in civil engineering the following year at a salary of $400. At the end of that year, however, he was relieved of such duties, because of a retrenchment in expenditures, and that instruction was handed over to other members of the faculty without additional compensation.

   Professor S. R. Thompson had resigned from the position of both professor and dean of the College of Agriculture in December, 1875. This professorship remained vacant until a meeting of the Board of Regents in June, 1878, when Harvey Culbertson, "who theretofore had given instruction in the agricultural department, was made acting professor of agriculture at a salary of $400. His duties as superintendent of the farm at a salary of $600 continuing." Professor Thompson returned to the service of the University and was both professor and dean of the Industrial College in 1882.

   Members of the faculty who carried on instruction mainly in the academic college of the University found a place among the list of faculty members of the Agricultural and later the Industrial College. Among such, in 1877, were Hiram Collier, professor of chemistry and physics; H. E. Hitchcock, professor of mathematics; Samuel Aughey, professor of natural sciences; G. E. Bailey, first a tutor and




then professor of agricultural and analytical chemistry; and First Lieut. Edgar S. Dudley, professor of surveying and civil engineering.


   These were troublous days in the University, with many changes in the faculty. Chancellor Benton had been succeeded in 1876 by Chancellor Edmund Burke Fairfield. In January, 1882, the Board of Regents dismissed three of the professors in the academic college, and followed this up the following June by dismissing Chancellor Fairfield himself. Clement Chase in the Semi-Centennial Anniversary Book of the University of Nebraska tells something of this period:

   "The administration of Chancellor Fairfield at Nebraska was a somewhat tempestuous period in the history of the University. It was characterized by a factional struggle in the faculty, accounts of which may be read in the Omaha and Lincoln papers of the day. On the one side were the head of the institution and his supporters, largely of denominational school training, and on the other side were the young and vigorous champions of non-sectarianism in the conduct of the institution and of new and liberal views in education. Those of the radical faction who were chiefly involved were three men of unusual brilliance, namely George E. Woodberry, of the department of English literature, later the noted poet and critic; Harrington Emerson of the department of foreign languages, to whom is chiefly due the nation-wide 'efficiency' movement and slogan of the last decade; and George E. Church of the chair of Latin. The upshot of the factional struggle was that all four men, the chancellor and the three brilliant young professors, left the service of the institution."

   A new chancellor, Irving J. Manatt, was elected at a meeting of the regents December 18, 1883. Prof. H. H. Nicholson was elected to the chair of chemistry and physics in July, 1882. Mr. Nicholson was to play a large part in the Industrial College and Experiment Station later on. Prof. Samuel Aughey, who had been associated with the




academic and also the agricultural department as professor of natural sciences, tendered his resignation in 1883. On March 20, 1884 the resignations of both Prof. S. R. Thompson and Prof. Harvey Culbertson were received and accepted to take effect on September 1. At this meeting Col. E. P. Savage of Custer County (later acting governor of Nebraska) was appointed superintendent of the Industrial College farm.

   A meeting of the regents on June 10, 1884, was eventful in that it marked the election of Professor C. E. Bessey, vice president of the Iowa Agricultural College, to the chair of botany and horticulture in the Industrial College. It is said that this election to the chair at Nebraska was without his knowledge. Professor Bessey was reluctant to leave Iowa, but a second offer in August, 1884, included the deanship of the Industrial College as well. His inaugural address was delivered at the University of Nebraska in September, 1884, and his active class work began in January, 1885. Professor Bessey was the outstanding figure in this period of the University's development and for thirty years was to play an important part in the agricultural affairs of the state.

   "Pending the selection of a professor of agriculture, Mr. Henry H. Wing, B. Agr., of Cornell University, and assistant to Dr. Sturtevant at the New York Experiment Station at Geneva, was secured as instructor and began his work at the opening of the year," reads the chancellor's report of 1884. In March, 1885, Mr. Savage resigned as superintendent of the college farm and in June Mr. Wing was appointed instructor in agriculture and director of the farm. On June 15, 1888, the resignation of Mr. Wing as adjunct professor of agriculture and superintendent of the farm was accepted and John S. Kingsley was elected in December, 1888, to begin work July 1, 1889. "On July 19, 1888, the Board found it necessary to dispense with the services of Irving J. Manatt as Chancellor of the University," according to a report of the Board of Regents.




   Doctor Bessey was elected dean of the academic faculty for the year beginning September 1, 1888, and he also became acting chancellor of the University. Doctor Bessey was now the leading figure in the development of the Industrial College and the University. Lewis E. Hicks, professor of geology, was now dean of the Industrial College.

   We are concerned primarily with the development of the agricultural side of the Industrial College, but probably it will be worth while to take a look at the roster of the members of the faculty connected with the Industrial College. Most of them, it must be remembered, served also in the academic department. The catalog issued in 1889 lists the following: Lewis E. Hicks, geology and applied sciences, dean; Henry E. Hitchcock, mathematics; George E. Howard, history; Hudson H. Nicholson, chemistry; Lucius A. Sherman, English literature; Charles E. Bessey, botany and horticulture; Thomas Griffith, U. S. A., military science and tactics; August H. Edgren, modern languages; DeWitt B. Brace, physics; John S. Kingsley, agriculture and biology; Charles N. Little, civil engineering; Robert W. Furnas, forestry; Howard W. Caldwell, history; Rachel Lloyd, analytical chemistry; Ebenezer W. Hunt, rhetoric and oratory; Joseph A. Fontaine, romance languages; Amos G. Warner, political and economic science; Harry K. Wolfe, philosophy; and Bohumil Shimek, zoology. By this time the Industrial College had absorbed the scientific work formerly given in the Academic College. This will be discussed a little later, along with other changes in the Industrial College.


   The important development of this period was the founding of the Agricultural Experiment Station, the federal government again coming to the aid of the agricultural colleges as it had done in the very beginning. By an Act of Congress approved March 2, 1887, $15,000 a year was




given to the land grant college or state experiment station in each state - or divided between such institutions in the same state - to promote original scientific investigation in the field of agriculture. The purposes of this so-called "Hatch Act" are stated in Section 2:

   "That it shall be the object and duty of said experiment stations to conduct original researches or verify experiments on the physiology of plants and animals; the diseases to which they are severally subject, with the remedies for the same; the chemical composition of useful plants at their different stages of growth; the comparative advantages of rotative cropping as pursued under a varying series of crops; the capacity of new plants or trees for acclimation; the analysis of soils and water; the chemical composition of manures, natural or artificial, with experiments designed to test their comparative effects on crops of different kinds; the adaptation and value of grasses and forage plants; the composition and digestibility of the different kinds of food for domestic animals; the scientific and economic questions involved in the production of butter and cheese; and such other researches or experiments bearing directly on the agricultural industry of the United States as may in each case be deemed advisable, having due regard to the varying conditions and needs of the respective states or territories."

   Each state was required to make yearly reports of the results of the work and to publish bulletins at least once in three months. The law was known as the "Hatch Act" because the bill had been introduced into the House of Representatives by William H. Hatch of Missouri. The Nebraska Legislature accepted the provisions of the act by an act approved March 31, 1887.

   But before going further, it would be well perhaps to outline in a brief way some of the earlier experimental work on the college farm. As our readers recall, some work of an experimental character had been carried on at the college farm, dating back to the first years of the college, when Professor Thompson had distributed sugar beet seeds to farmers. There was constant discussion as to whether the farm should be simply a model farm or an experimental farm.




   In 1874 Professor Thompson recommended the following agricultural experiments as being most desirable to be carried out: (1) Best method of cultivating our ordinary grains; (2) testing new varieties; (3) new kinds of fruits and vegetables suitable for our soil and climate; (4) cultivation of tame grasses; (5) breeding of stock, especially hogs and cattle. In 1875 twenty-three kinds of grass and clover were sown to test their adaptability to the climate. Thirty-eight varieties of potatoes were planted. There were six kinds of wheat, ten kinds of field and sweet corn, fourteen kinds of beans, and ten kinds of peas.

   What was probably the first report, published by itself, of experimental work in the Industrial College, appeared about 1880. It was a pamphlet of thirty-one printed pages, containing a description of the farm and its equipment, a statement of the instruction offered in agriculture, and the results of experimental work. Among other things, the experiments included a comparison of dry and soaked corn for pig feeding, cost of raising an acre of sorghum and of manufacturing it into syrup, test of varieties of wheat, depth of sowing grain, test of varieties of potatoes, test of varieties of sugar beets for feeding purposes, and a record of rainfall and temperature.

   The coming of Professor Bessey to the University had done much to put the experimental work on a more definite basis, and in 1884 we find him outlining a program of experiments:

   "There are two classes of experiments and observations, viz.: 1st, those which are popular in their character, and which aim to reach immediate results; and 2d, those which are scientific in character, in which the aim is to discover some profound principle, or establish beyond dispute some fact in nature. The popular class of experiments includes those in which the relative productiveness of different varieties of plants is tested; those by which new varieties are brought into notice; those in which the relative values of different implements and tools are tested, etc., etc. Such experiments have a value, and when properly conducted a high value, but their value in any case is limited to narrow areas, and affected by many and constantly changing conditions. . . .




   "The experiments and observations of the other class require much more time and care for their consummation, but their results when obtained have an accuracy and a wideness of application which give them a high value for all times and in all places. It would be well to draw a sharp line of demarkation between these two classes of experiments and then to adopt a fixed policy with respect to each."

   The popular experiments suggested by the dean included:

   1. Experiments with stock as to breeding and feeding.

   2. Experiments with various kinds of grain crops.

   3. Experiments with various kinds of grasses and other forage plants.

   4. Experiments upon different modes of culture for various crops, etc., etc., etc.

   The scientific experiments suggested by the dean were full meteorological observations, observations upon soil temperature, observations of the humidity of the soil, observations upon the percolation of water thru soils, chemical and physical analyses of soils, the fertility of soils as related to the texture and composition of the subjacent strata, the porosity or compactness of soils as affected by cultivation and by burrowing species of worms, insects, and rodents, the necessity and practicability of irrigation in various parts of Nebraska, the observation and study of the injurious insects of the state, the observation and study of the injurious fungi of the state, experiments upon fertilization and crossfertilization of plants, and, experiments upon proper temperatures for the germination of seeds.

   Five Press Bulletins were issued by the Industrial College in 1885. They were entitled Apple Blight, Twig Blight, or Fire Blight, The Premature Dropping of the Plum, The Condition of the Industrial College, The Industrial College Herd, and The Smut of Indian Corn. Doctor Bessey prepared four of them. They were only short bulletins, about 200 to 400 words in length.

   In 1886 Dean Bessey reported that in the popular series of experiments work had been undertaken with the breeding and feeding of stock, with the various kinds of grasses




and forage plants, and with the modes of culture for various crops. Along the line of scientific experiments, full meteorological observations and studies of the injurious fungi of the state were being made regularly. Steps had been taken toward making chemical and physical analyses of soils.

   A feature of the experimental work about this time was the employment of Dr. F. S. Billings in 1886 to solve the question of the nature and remedies for "the disease of swine, commonly known as 'hog cholera'." Doctor Billings was the first scientist employed to give his full time to experimental work. Before this there had been a conference between officers of the University and the State Board of Agriculture relative to the establishment of a school of veterinary science. It is not apparent that such a school was placed in actual operation, altho veterinary instruction was given along with the regular agricultural courses. Regarding the appointment of Doctor Billings, the report of the Board of Regents states:

   "At the June (1886) meeting, as a preliminary, the Board provided for the establishment of an experiment station for the investigation of the diseases of domestic animals, and authorized the committee to contract with Dr. Frank S. Billings, who had taken his degrees in Germany, and was highly recommended by some of the most distinguished masters in veterinary science in Europe, as its director, and appropriated $1,500 for salary and expenses up to April 1st, the term of his present engagement. Previous to his appointment, Dr. Billings had, at the invitation of the committee, availed himself of such accommodations as could be furnished him at the farm and the University building, aided by the valuable instruments, apparatus, and library, belonging to himself, to commence his investigations of the origin and nature of the swine plague or hog cholera."

   Doctor Billings occupied three rooms in the main University building uptown for a laboratory, culture room and office. There was an animal house on the city campus of the University, and a small building devoted to animal work at the college farm. At this time it was estimated that the annual losses from swine plague in Nebraska


For thirty years a leader in Nebraska agriculture


Previous page
Names index
Next page

© 2002 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller