History of Virginia Cooperative Extension

Children work on a project at summer camp in the 1950s.
Campers at Camp Farrar in Virginia Beach work on a lanyard-making project. (1951)

Morrill Acts

A land-grant college or university is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original mission of these institutions, as set forth in the first Morrill Act, was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.

Hatch Act

The Hatch Act of 1887 created the agricultural experiment station program and authorized direct payment of federal grant funds to each state to establish an agricultural experiment station in connection with the state’s land-grant institution. Each state must match a major portion of these federal funds.

First Extension Agent

In 1903, Seaman A. Knapp, special agent in the United States Department of Agriculture, was invited to Terrell, Texas, to discuss with businessmen the serious condition of agriculture and business caused by the spread of the cotton boll weevil over Texas.

On February 29, 1903, with the cooperation of the businessmen of Terrell, Dr. Knapp established in Kaufman County the first privately owned demonstration farm. It was managed by Walter C. Porter, son of the owner and supervised by Dr. Knapp.

The businessmen of Terrell guaranteed the owner against any loss as a result of carrying out recommended practices. At the end of the year, Mr. Porter reported that he had cleared $700 more than he could have expected under the ordinary methods of farming.

As a result of this success, Farmers Cooperative Demonstration Work was organized in the Bureau of Plant Industry, U. S. Department of Agriculture, January 15, 1904. Funds for this new department were furnished from an appropriation made by the Congress to combat the boll weevil.

In 1904, Dr. Knapp reported on the Porter demonstration: "The object of all such demonstrations is to test or prove some important fact bearing upon agricultural conditions. If these demonstrations are conducted in such a way that few persons see the result, or learn about them, little is accomplished."

The idea of demonstration work spread readily. Men were employed to travel along the railroads, establishing demonstrations on farms near the towns where there was sufficient local interest. In 1904, 33 special agents were employed by Dr. Knapp to establish demonstration farms. These agents worked 2 to 6 months in the early part of the year and were paid from $60 to $80 per month plus traveling expenses.

First County Agent

In 1906, the businessmen of Terrell, Texas, appealed to Dr. Knapp for a man to give his entire time to their county. They offered to pay a part of his salary. As a result, the first agent to work exclusively in one county was appointed November 12, 1906. This first county agriculture agent was W. C. Stallin.

Men work in a lab with jars and beakers in the 1940s.
L.L. Davis, left, works in his food processing lab at Virginia Cooperative Extension. (1949)

Extension in Virginia

In 1906, Dr. J. D. Eggleston, then State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Virginia, on learning about the work of Dr. Knapp invited him to Virginia. While in the state, Dr. Knapp got T. O. Sandy of Burkeville, Virginia, to be a demonstrator. The demonstrations conducted by Mr. Sandy under Dr. Knapp's direction were so satisfactory that in 1907 Dr. Knapp made him state agent and gave him authority to appoint 8 or 10 additional agents to help with the work. Mr. Sandy set to work immediately and soon surrounded himself with a group of practical and devoted men.

From the beginning, those in charge of farm demonstration work realized that in the southern states improvement of living standards among the African-American farmers was just as important as among whites, and that the best way to do this work with the African-Americans was through African-American agents. The first such agent to be appointed in this state was J. B. Pierce in 1906 of Hampton Institute, who worked in Gloucester County.

The first of these assistants was F. S. Farrar of Amelia County, who began work October 1, 1907. Early in 1909, he organized about 100 young boys in Dinwiddie and Chesterfield Counties into "corn clubs." These boys soon averaged 65 bushels of corn per acre on farms which had produced only 17 bushels per acre.

Demonstration was a new thing in education. Here and there, school superintendents and others began to show interest. W. C. Shackelford was appointed demonstration agent with headquarters at Charlottesville and J. H. Quinsenberry with headquarters at Louisa. Within the next year or two, W. P. Moore in Bedford and J. C. Bruce in Culpeper were appointed.

History of Extension in Renewable Natural Resources (PDF | 4MB)

Girls Join In

Girls' club work in Virginia started in Nottoway and Halifax Counties in 1910 under the direction of Miss Ella G. Agnew of Nottoway County. This work was first known as "girls' canning club work." It gave the farm girls in their homes the same type of instruction that was being given to farm boys on their farms. Within a few years, girls' canning club work had gained so much favorable recognition that the agents directing it became known as home demonstration agents.

Smith-Lever Act 

On May 14, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Smith-Lever Act establishing the Cooperative Extension system, and by doing so significantly broadened the mission of the nation's developing land-grant institutions.  It marked the beginning of a partnership among federal government, state government, and higher education in working cooperatively towards the solution of social and economic problems. It elevated the posture of higher educational institutions as social actors accountable to the social systems they helped to produce. It changed the view of university as a training ground for the elite by expanding its mission to the public domain.

Virginia Tech becomes Headquarters

After the passage of the Smith Lever Act, the headquarters for work in Virginia was moved from Burkeville to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia, and this type of education became known as Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics. The first acting director of this work was Dr. J. D. Eggleston, then President of V.P.I.

Legislative Milestones

The Enabling Act establishing the Department of Agriculture says in part: "There shall be at the seat of government a Department of Agriculture, the general design and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with Agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word."

The Hatch Act of 1887 provided for the establishment of experiment stations at the land-grant colleges. Smith Lever Act - The Smith Lever Act was the basic legislation which authorized Cooperative Extension work between the land-grant colleges and the United States Department of Agriculture. There were numerous supplemental acts which followed the passing of the original act and includes: Cappers-Ketcham Acts, May 1928; Bankhead-Jones Act, July 1935; Bankhead-Flannagan Act, June 1945; and a consolidated act approved in June 1953. The current amended Smith-Lever Act was passed in October 1962.

Appropriations Act of 1914 - In 1914, the General Assembly of Virginia enacted laws providing for Extension work in cooperation with the USDA, as provided by the Smith Lever Act. It is known as Appropriation Act of 1914 (Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1914, Chapter 353, page 710). Required funds were appropriated to offset the federal funds and county boards of supervisors were authorized to appropriate for salaries and other costs of County Extension Agents. Few amendments were made in the original act until the passing of the 1966 act by the Virginia General Assembly establishing the V.P.I. Extension Division. Extension Division Act of 1966 - Approved April 1, 1966.

In 1995 the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station Division was established. The Code of Virginia also recognized the "Cooperative Extension Service."

Code 23-132.1: ..."The Cooperative Extension Service Program shall be operated cooperatively by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Virginia State University..."