June 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Cooperative Extension and the 1890 Land-Grant Institution: The Real Story

Extension educators are familiar with the story of the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Second Morrill Act of 1890. However, much of what is taught is not the entire story. Also, this story is usually taught from one perspective. The purpose of the study described here was to examine the people and events that led to the establishment of the 1890 land-grant institutions, the establishment of Cooperative Extension within the 1890 institutions, the individuals responsible for creating Cooperative Extension among the 1890's, and the struggles and obstacles in its development.

Marcus M. Comer
Assistant Professor
Agriscience Education
North Carolina A&T
Greensboro, North Carolina

Thasya Campbell
Graduate Student
Agriscience Education
North Carolina A&T
Greensboro, North Carolina

Kelvin Edwards
Graduate Student
Agricultural Education
North Carolina State University
Greensboro, North Carolina

John Hillison
Agricultural Education
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia


Many Extension agents and personnel are familiar with the story of the Morrill Act of 1862 that established a land-grant institution in each state. Most are familiar with how in 1890 a second Morrill Act was passed that led to the establishment of the 1890 land-grant institution for the agricultural training of Blacks. Many people are familiar with the passing of the Smith Lever Act of 1914 that established the system of Cooperative Extension to bring people the benefits of current developments in the field of agriculture, home economics, and other related subjects.

Unfortunately, most are not familiar with the entire story of how the 1890 land-grant came to be. History books hardly ever mention Extension in regards to the 1890 land grant. In a time when addressing diversity is on everyone's agenda, it is important for personnel to know the history and be able to tell the story without excluding important people and events.

The purpose of the study described here was to examine the people and events that led to the establishment of the 1890 land-grant institutions and Cooperative Extension within the 1890 land-grant institutions. The specific objectives were to:

  1. Examine the origin of the 1890 land-grant.

  2. Examine the origin of Cooperative Extension at the 1890 land-grant.

  3. Determine the individuals responsible for establishing Cooperative Extension at the 1890 land-grant.

  4. Examine the controversies and struggles of Cooperative Extension at the 1890 land-grant.

Methods and Procedures

Historical research methods were used to accomplish the objectives of the study. Both primary and secondary sources were used to obtain the information needed. Primary sources included mass media publications, congressional records, state and federal texts. Secondary sources included books. Information was collected from various libraries and relevant sites from the World Wide Web. All references were subjected to both internal and external criticism.


The Origin of the 1890 Land-Grants

The origin of the 1890 begins much like the origin of the 1862; in 1857 a Vermont Representative by the name of Justin Smith Morrill, borrowing ideas from agricultural societies, introduced a land-grant bill to Congress. The bill allowed for states to receive federal grants to establish training institutions for agriculture and industry. Opposition from Southern representatives delayed voting on the bill for 2 years. When the bill finally made it to vote Congress passed it, but President, Buchanan vetoed the bill because it violated traditional policy of the government, which generally left control of education to the states (Kelsey & Hearne, 1955; Mayberry, 1977).

Two years later in 1861 the Civil War began. Understanding the Union's desperate need for trained troops, Morrill reintroduced his land-grant bill with provisions that the proposed institutions teach military tactics. Without the representatives from the South, the bill passed with ease. In 1862 President Lincoln signed the bill. The Morrill Act provided grants for land to states for the establishment and maintenance of at least one college where the leading objective was teaching agriculture, mechanic arts, and military tactics. There was one stipulation: any state in rebellion against the government would not qualify for the grants. Many historians believe this stipulation was designed to entice the South to end the war (Smith & Wilson, 1930).

Whether the idea worked or not, a few years later economic despair in the South led to the ending of the war. Soon after the war, several schools were established across the South to train citizens in the fields of agriculture, home economics, the mechanic arts, and other useful service professions (Mayberry, 1977; Smith & Wilson, 1930). In the South under the premise of separate but equal, states were authorized to establish separate schools for blacks. However, since the majority of blacks were still in slavery at the time and the act did not divide funds on racial lines, there were no institutions established for blacks with the exception of Alcorn State University in Mississippi. There were two other black institutions that received funds prior to 1890, Hampton University in Virginia, which would later give up its land-grant status to Virginia State, and Claflin University in South Carolina, which would later become South Carolina State (Mayberry, 1977; Hightower, 1973).

After the war ended in April 1865, many blacks were granted confiscated plantations for the development of black«owned family farms. However, after Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson voided most of the land transfers. Others were granted land under the Federal "forty acres and a mule" land redistribution rulings. The federal government launched the Freedmen's Bureau, which helped establish hospitals and colleges for blacks, some of the most prominent being Howard University, Atlanta University, Fisk University, and Hampton Institute. By 1868, some states in the South had created biracial public schools for both races. Blacks were even elected to the U.S House of Representatives; however, this biracial democracy was not supported by Southern representatives and was fought extensively. Blacks in the North pressured their congressmen and state officials to ratify the Enforcement Act of May 1870, which protected black voters (Marable, 1884).

In March of 1875, the Civil Rights Act, which recognized equality of all men before the law, was passed. However, a 4-year recession known as the panic of 1873 began an inversion in all that had been accomplished in the past decade. There were increased hostilities against blacks, race riots, and the start of organized vigilante hate groups. The violence of these groups became so appalling that many members of the Republican Party began to feel that it was immoral to win elections built on black suffrage. However, by 1876 morality took a backseat to politics, and the Republican Party began making promises to overturn biracial decisions. Between the periods of 1880 and the mid-1890's, most of these biracial laws had been overturned.

In 1883, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. Southerners began to rewrite their state constitutions establishing Jim Crow, making it illegal for Blacks to vote and attend schools with Whites (Marable, 1884; Christy & Williamson, 1992). All of these events were having a catastrophic impact on the American economy. The land-grant was failing. The original charge and purpose of the 1862 Morrill Act, was to democratize higher education by establishing institutions:

To teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life (Morrill Act, 1862: section 4).

There was a shortage of teachers and a need to provide Blacks with training. Blacks were an important component of the labor pool on the farm and in industrial factories. However, the Southern states prescribed to bar blacks from the land-grants (Kelsey & Hearne, 1955; Christy & Williamson, 1992).

The government recognized the value of education to the nation, so it was decided that more must be done. The second Morrill Act was passed in 1890 to increase federal support for land-grants. This time the emphasis as stated by Senator Morrill was to create a "broader education for the American people in the arts of peace, and especially in agriculture and mechanics arts." The funds were to "be applied only to instruction in agriculture, the mechanic arts, the English language, with reference to their applications in the industries of life" (Kelsey & Hearne, 1955). The bill was signed with the premise to provide more operating money in the form of annual appropriations. To overcome the problem of non-cooperation from Southerners, Congress added a "separate but equal" provision for the establishment of colleges for blacks (Hightower, 1973; Kelsey & Hearne, 1955).

Seventeen Southern and Border states took advantage of the funding and established the institutions commonly referred to today as 1890 Land-Grants. Another school often referred to when speaking about 1890's is Tuskegee Institute. Though it is not a land-grant, its curriculum was similar to the land-grants. In 1897, when the Hatch Act was passed, state legislation established an Experiment Station for agricultural research. In 1899, the U. S. Congress granted Tuskegee Institute 25,000 acres of land and annual appropriations (Mayberry, 1977; Hightower, 1973).

The Origin of Cooperative Extension at the 1890 Land-Grants

Extension work began as a result of large groups of people working together to improve agricultural techniques and disseminate agricultural information within private organizations or agricultural societies (Smith & Wilson, 1930; Kelsey & Hearne, 1955). Around 1853, many schools and colleges of agriculture began having farmers' institutes, public meetings where lecturers presented and disseminated agricultural information. From these institutes grew the demonstration movement, whereby instructors would hold public demonstrations of new practices, sort of an "outdoor classroom."

The leader of the demonstration movement was Seaman A. Knapp, often credited as the father of Extension. Knapp believed that farmers would not adopt different practices from observing them on public facilities, but if the farmers carried out new approaches on their own farms they would be more willing to adopt (Smith & Wilson, 1930). Knapp's idea is part of the foundation that Cooperative Extension was built on.

Extension work at the 1890's began at Tuskegee Institute under the direction of Booker T. Washington. In 1896, Booker T. Washington persuaded George Washington Carver to come to Tuskegee as an instructor of practical farming. Borrowing from Knapp's idea, Washington instructed Carver to pack tools in a buggy and visit rural communities across the county and put on demonstrations (Campbell, 1969).

The passing of the Hatch Act in 1887 established an Experiment Station at Tuskegee, making it possible for the school to conduct research. Soon afterwards Carver became the director of what became known as the "movable school," a stage coach in which lecturers would travel over the county on week-ends to educate Negro farmers on new agricultural approaches based on research conducted on the institutions farm.

In February 1892, the first annual Negro Farmers Conference was held, drawing over 500 farmers to Tuskegee Institute from all over the state. This conference is said to be the spark that ignited agricultural Extension work among Negroes. The objectives of the movable school were not only to demonstrate new farm practices but also to find out the needs of the farmer and get them the information. The second objective was to get those being educated to use their education in helping the masses (Campbell, 1969; Denton, 1993).

Individuals Responsible for Establishing Cooperative Extension at the 1890 Land-Grants

There are many notable examples of courage and determination of people striving to educate black people between periods of the 1870's through the 1890's. However, two names stand out above all others, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Each was a pioneer in scientific research. They were both dedicated to helping to "lift the veil of ignorance" from black people. Not only did these two men set the foundation of Extension at the Black land-grants, but also their research and ideas in regards to outreach are very much apart of the Extension System's foundation (Christy & Williamson, 1992; Denton, 1993; Campbell, 1969).

Struggles of Extension at the 1890 Land-Grants

Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) was instrumental in the development of Extension within the 1890's. By 1900, Extension work was being conducted by over 1,000 Tuskegee students in 28 states, Cuba, Jamaica, Africa, Puerto Rico, and Barbados. Fourteen years later, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 was passed, which formally established the Cooperative Extension System (Campbell, 1969; Christy & Williamson, 1992). The Smith«Lever established a joint effort between the USDA and land-grant institutions in each state. Funding for county-level participation was also provided.

The 1890 schools were directed to cooperate with their 1862 counterparts to extend Extension benefits to the Black population. However, only the 1862's were provided funding, and they controlled all of the monies received by the 1890's. This resulted in very limited resources for the black institutions (Christy & Williamson, 1992; Hightower, 1973). Black colleges received annually $2,800,000. Once the states received the funds and divided them up, the amount many Black colleges received was substantially less. This arrangement continued for 75 years.

During the 1950's, many university Extension departments were becoming involved in sponsored research from grants. However, this was not the case for many of the 1890's until 1967, when Public Law 89-106 was passed, which provided research funds collectively for 1890 institutions in the amount of $283,000, continued at the same level each year. Although this amount was substantially smaller in comparison to funds received by 1862 institutions, it did encouraged research.

Since that time, government support has continued to grow (Christy & Williamson, 1992). In 1971, Representative Frank Evan presented a proposal to USDA that provided appropriations in the amount of $12.6 million directly to the Black colleges for research and Extension. The proposal was accepted; however, USDA set provisions whereby once the funds were appropriated, the 1862's were still in charge of the resources. 1n 1972, the research allocation was increased. In 1977, Public Law 95-113 was passed, making 1890 funding part of the Experiment Station appropriations. In 1981, Congress authorized $50 million over 5 years to upgrade agricultural research facilities, a move that put many programs into the mainstream. Although many advances were made possible through federal dollars, many programs were offset by the lack of state matching, which states had historically provided for 1862's (Christy & Williamson, 1992).

Extension at the 1890's managed to successfully fulfill its mission despite the many obstacles and limited resources. Today, the funding process for the 1890 Extension programs is very similar to the process 1862's go through, with the exception of the percentage requirement to satisfy multi-disciplinary research. However, additional funding is provided by Evans-Allen Research Formula Funds (AREERA).


The origin of the 1890 begins just as the 1862, when Justin Morrill introduced a bill to congress allowing states to receive federal grants to establish training institutions for agriculture and industry. The charge and purpose of the 1862 Morrill Act was to democratize higher education and establish institutions for educating Americans. In 1890, the second Morrill Act was passed as a result of economic, social, and political issues in the postwar reconstruction era.

Tuskegee Institute was instrumental in the development of Extension within the 1890's. Twenty-five years before Extension became an official part of the land-grant by the Smith«Lever Act, Tuskegee had conducted Extension work in 28 states and abroad.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver are credited with being the pioneers responsible for establishing Extension within the 1890 land-grants. Their research and outreach efforts helped to educate millions.

Extension among the 1890 land-grants has not experienced an easy road. For much of the 20th century, the 1890 institution has suffered considerably under the "separate and unequal" philosophy that has dominated education in the Western world. However, despite the many obstacles and limited resources, Extension at the 1890's managed to successfully fulfill its mission and help millions in the African American community.


How would Extension look if the second Morrill Act had never passed? Many of the prominent African Americans scientists of our nation may have never surfaced. Would many of the advances in technology that we enjoy today have been created? Several advances in science, particularly in agriculture, were developed or based on work conducted by African American inventors. Without the second Morrill Act, would there ever have been a 1994 land-grant? Would our nation be concerned with diversity?

Understanding the past is important in planning for the future. If we as outreach representatives of the land grant college are serious about fulfilling our educational mandate, then we must be willing to learn more about the role other people played in the history of Cooperative Extension besides the "white, male, wealthy, straight, and Christian," as Maurice Dorsey states are "the powerful people in the United States," (Dorsey, 2001). The powerful people who write "his-tory" often only tell one side of the story, as if those who do not fit the aforementioned category ever played a part. Knowing one's history is the only way to ensure that mistakes of the past don't repeat themselves.


Campbell, M.T. (1969). The movable school goes to the Negro farmer. Arno Press & The New York Times: New York.

Christy, R., & Williamson, L. (1992). A century of service: Land-grant colleges and universities, 1890-1990. Transaction Publisher: New Brunswick and London.

Denton, L. V. (1993). Booker T. Washington and the adult education movement. University Press of Florida: Gainsville.

Dorsey, M. (2001) Achieving diversity and pluralism: Our (sad) separatist model. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(6). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2001december/comm1.html

Hightower, J. (1973). Hard tomatoes, hard times. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman,

Kelsey, D.L., & Hearne, C.C. (1955). Cooperative Extension work. Comstock Pub. Associates: Ithaca, N. Y.

Marable, M. (1984). Race, reform and rebellion: The second reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1982. University Press of Mississippi: Mississippi.

Mayberry, B., D. (1977). Development of research at historically Black land-grant institutions. Association of Research Coordinators Land Grant 1890 Colleges and Universities: Jefferson City, Mo.

Morrill Land-Grant Act. (1862). U.S. Statutes at Large, 12 503.

Smith, C,B., & Wilson, M.C. (1930). The agricultural extension system of the United States. Camden, New Jersey: Haddon Craftsmen.