Agricultural education throughout the State, and scientific farming, have developed within the last fifty years. Most of the progress has been made within the last decade. These developments are closely related to the College of Agriculture at the West Virginia University, founded in 1867.
Very few courses in agriculture were taught at the university in the earlier years of its existence. The university catalog of 1872 listed William E. Fontaine as the first instructor in agriculture. He taught chemistry and natural history in addition to all the agriculture. Woodville Latham, who succeeded Mr. Fontaine, taught agriculture, physics and chemistry.
In 1885 A. R. Whitehill was appointed instructor in agriculture, chemistry and physics. In 1890 T. C. Atkeson was appointed professor of agriculture, and later became Dean of the college.
The first student who received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture was John W. Johnson, in 1894.
The school gradually developed until it now has 307 students and more than thirty instructors, some of whom are dividing their time between teaching and research work. For 1921 the number of graduates with the bachelor’s degree in agriculture was thirty-four.
The State Agricultural Experiment Station was organized in 1888 with John A. Meyers as first director. The Experiment Station was established for the purpose of conducting investigational work in various branches of agriculture. Most of the investigational work is conducted in laboratories and on the State farms near the College of Agriculture. These farms contain about a thousand acres of land and are devoted to livestock, dairy, agronomy, poultry and horticulture. Experiments for the purpose of determining the best methods of farming are performed on each of these farms.
The State Board of Agriculture was organized in 1891 and continued until 1912, when it was abolished. In 1891 the State legislature adopted the policy of making annual appropriations to aid in conducting farmers’ institutes and other work for promoting agricultural interests and industries.
Perhaps the most important work of the Board of Agriculture was the support and direction of farmers’ institutes, the first of which was held at Buffalo, Putnam county, in 1895. In 1920
126 fanners’ institutes were held with an attendance of nearly 11,000 people.
When the Board of Agriculture was abolished its work was continued by the newly created State Department of Agriculture, whose duties are largely regulatory through police power in the field of agriculture.
Agriculture extension work was started in West Virginia in 1907 under the supervision of D. W. Working; and in 1912 the Extension Division of the College of Agriculture was formed.
Since 1891 considerable advance in agriculture has been made through the influence of farmers’ institutes, better communication, and various farmers’ organizations. In the decade after 1850 agricultural societies were formed in Marshall, Monongalia, Jefferson, Cabell and Ohio counties.
Within the last few decades farmers’ organizations have sprung up throughout the State. The Farmers’ Alliance was perhaps the first farmers’ organization of any considerable strength in West Virginia. But little of the work of this organization has survived to the present time. The Grange came next, and is still active in several sections of the State.
The organizations which have affected the farmers of West Virginia most — the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau — can be traced directly to a meeting of the State Horticultural Society at Keyser in 1909. At this meeting steps were taken to establish horticultural societies in the counties throughout the State, resulting in their organization in many counties.
In 1912, with the financial help of various business men’s organizations — such as the Board of Trade in Wood, Ohio, and Kanawha counties — county agricultural agents were brought into these counties to work with these county agricultural societies. The Extension Service of the College of Agriculture developed from this small beginning.
In 1922, the Extension Service had twenty-four members of the administrative staff and “specialists,” thirty-five county agricultural agents, eleven home demonstration agents, five men conducting cow-testing associations, forty-four agents of boys’ and girls’ clubs, and a few additional assistants.
The county Farm Bureau also evolved from the county agricultural societies. The West Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is composed of the county farm bureaus which (in 1922) have a membership of about 20,000. Each county farm bureau is composed of a number of local clubs — farmers’ clubs, farm women’s clubs, and boys’ and girls’ clubs.
The work of these various organizations may be summarized as “a country life movement in West Virginia.”
The work of the Extension Service has not been limited to teaching the rural people how to earn more money. It also encourages the things that tend to make a more satisfying rural life.
Excerpt from “History of West Virginia, old and new, in one volume, and West Virginia biography, in two additional volumes,” by James Morton Callahan, 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc., Chicago