Science as Service: Establishing and Reformulating American Land-Grant Universities, 1865-1930

Science as Service: Establishing and Reformulating American Land-Grant Universities, 1865-1930

Hardcover(1st Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817318680
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 08/15/2015
Series: Nexus Series , #1
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Alan I Marcus is the author or coauthor of several publications, including The Future Is Now: Science and Technology Policy in the United States Since 1950, Building Western Civilization: From the Advent of Writing to the Age of Steam, and Technology in America: A Brief History.

Read an Excerpt

Science as Service

Establishing and Reformulating Land-Grant Universities 1865â?"1930

By Alan I. Marcus

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2015 the University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8818-8


Land-Grant Colleges and the Pre-Modern Era of American Higher Education, 1850–1890


State legislatures pursued their individualized Morrill mandates in a murky educational atmosphere. Roger Geiger's essay reminds us that a plethora of other institutional forms already existed before creation of the land-grant institutions, each of which sought viability.

Geiger notes that the land-grant institutions possessed no more right to survival than any of the other new forms. Each competed in the marketplace for students and ideas. What enabled the land-grant institutions to survive and ultimately flourish was their willingness to bend to the political will and then successfully to reshape that will in a way that would privilege themselves. Buffeted by the political pressure of the Grange and other agricultural organizations, state legislatures by the 1880s required land-grant institutions to assume an additional duty, one that initially had little to do with students. Land-grant institutions were to assist agriculturalists — farmers — in becoming more productive and profitable. The new schools quickly enlisted the authority of science to the cause. Science was the expertise — the means — to reform agriculture. It would ultimately serve as the basis for much of the education provided at the new land-grant universities. Scientists as the ultimate arbiters of that expertise would become entrenched as the face and fact of land-grant colleges in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

* * *

Traditional historiography divides the evolution of American higher education at the Civil War. Education before 1861 is portrayed as the era of the old-time classical college, which is mistakenly described as having changed little since the founding of Harvard. After 1865, "modern" institutions appear in rapid succession: land-grant colleges after 1862; Vassar for ladies and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for engineers in 1865; Cornell opened in 1868; Charles W. Eliot took charge of Harvard the next year; and Johns Hopkins introduced research and PhDs in 1876. This view ignores a lengthy period that straddled the Civil War, in which the characteristic institutions resembled neither classical colleges nor modern universities. I call this period the premodern era for lack of a better term, and it is characterized by its own distinctive set of institutions. All of these institutions emerged before the Civil War, and all became obsolete after the real modernizing revolution that occurred circa 1885 to 1895, probably the most sweeping period of change in American higher education. Premodern institutions persisted or adapted, as might be expected, and their premodern forms lingered far longer than is acknowledged before fading away after World War I.

What were these institutions?

• Early high schools
• Normal schools
• "Female" colleges and seminaries
• Schools of science
• Multipurpose colleges
• Proprietary medical and law schools
• Polytechnic institutes

And, what did they have in common?

• These institutions operated wholly or partially in the educational space between the common schools and degree-granting colleges — what we now call secondary education, but overlapping with higher education.

• Admissions were exceedingly fluid, reflecting the diverse and problematic preparation of students.

• Students were consequently heterogeneous.

• The institutions provided career-oriented educational upgrading, for the most part, although the credentials, with the partial exception of the MD, had little tangible value.

• Hence, completing a full course and graduation was more the exception than the rule.


High Schools, or the People's Colleges

The Boston English High School was the first to be established in the United States (1821). The school taught an academic curriculum that extended beyond academy subjects (English, geography, history) to mathematics, science, and modern languages — "branches of great practical importance which have usually been taught only at the Colleges." The high school thus offered a terminal course — a "people's college." Boys' High was an immediate success, attracting sons of white-collar and artisan families for the most part, who were then readily hired by the city's commercial establishments. Because these vocations did not pertain to girls, the city governors saw no reason to expend tax money for their advanced education. In 1854, the need for teachers justified founding the Boston Girls' High and Normal School.

Philadelphia opened Central High School in 1838 to provide "a liberal education for those intended for business life." Its first principal, Alexander Dallas Bache (1838–1842), left his University of Pennsylvania professorship to take this position. The school realized the vision of his great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin. Central taught a practical curriculum that was particularly strong in science, supplemented with philosophical apparatus and an observatory. A rigorous entrance examination kept enrollments fairly stable at five hundred to six hundred from the 1840s to the 1890s. In 1849, the Pennsylvania General Assembly granted Central the right to award college degrees, although this had little effect on the school or its clientele. The school consistently prepared sons of the commercial middle class to enter the world of Philadelphia business. In the 1880s, it enlarged its offerings with vocational and college preparatory tracks.

The College of the City of New York opened in 1849 as a "Free Academy" to provide liberal and practical education for students from the city's public schools. The proposal anticipated the language of the Morrill Act, envisioning a "College ... in no way inferior to any of our colleges" to educate children of the "laboring class" in "chemistry, mechanics, architecture, agriculture, navigation, physical as well as moral or mental science, &, &." The college was open to male school graduates — a free female normal school opened in 1870 (later Hunter College). It offered a unique five-year college course in which the first, "sub-freshman" year compensated for the absence of public high schools in the city. However, few completed the four-year classical course that followed. This model produced a closed system where students from public schools were not qualified to attend other colleges, nor were outsiders likely to attend the College of the City of New York.

Elsewhere, urban high schools largely followed the people's college model of providing a terminal academic course that prepared students for the "business of life" — actually, a life in the city's business community. These schools were created following the formal organization of the common school system. They thus developed from below and reflected the desires of middle-class tax payers for immediately useful education.

An alternative role for public high schools was to serve as the "connecting link" between the common schools and colleges. The several states that attempted to organize education from the top down, most notably Michigan, sought to institutionalize this approach, which required teaching classical languages. However, states proved unable to fund local high schools, and city tax payers usually balked at the cost of preparing students for college. High schools tended to offer Latin, at least, and patterns of enrollment varied across cities; but in most high schools, a large majority of students sought only preparation for immediate employment in local businesses. Even Michigan had difficulty forging the connecting link. In the 1870s, the Kalamazoo decision by the Michigan Supreme Court validated the authority of public school districts to fund high schools with tax revenues, and the University of Michigan pioneered a system of certifying high schools to admit their graduates without examination. Still, before 1881, only 4 percent of the state's high school graduates planned to attend college. However, the decade of the 1880s saw the transformation of American high schools. The number of public high schools grew tenfold as they became the advanced level of common schooling. Still, in 1890, high school graduates represented roughly one-third of students prepared for college, with the rest coming from private academies or college preparatory departments.

Normal Schools

The model for separate schools for the training of elementary teachers was created by Prussia, and the term "normal" was copied from the French adaptation of that pattern (écoles normales). The model was first used by Massachusetts in 1839. The three normal schools the state established were humble affairs, offering a course of up to three years (which few completed) of professional training for teachers of rural primary schools. Their accomplishments were modest too. Rural boys and girls attended them as the only available education beyond common schools. Most became teachers, as promised, in order to receive free tuition; but not for long, given the miserable pay and working conditions in rural school districts. The movement to establish normal schools was led by educational reformers, who advocated systems of public education to advance and unify the nation, while deploring the hodgepodge of private schools. They addressed, on one hand, a crying need for trained teachers for the nation's mushrooming schoolrooms. On the other hand, potential students like those in Massachusetts sought any form of further education and were scarcely content to remain elementary school teachers. Normal schools developed slowly before the Civil War, as only a few states yielded to the entreaties of educational reformers. Those states established single, central normal schools, unlike Massachusetts's rural strategy. The New York State Normal School at Albany was founded in 1844, followed in 1849 by charters in Connecticut and Michigan. In Illinois, agitation for an agricultural college resulted instead in the Illinois State Normal School (1857). That same year, a Pennsylvania law created twelve normal school districts, but left it to private stockholders to actually establish the schools. After the war, normal schools grew in numbers and in scope.

At the end of the 1860s, thirty-five state normal schools were operating, and in the next decade that figure doubled. Large numbers of fairly ephemeral private normal schools operated in these decades. The largest number of public normal schools was opened in the 1890s (42 schools, ten new states), producing a total of 139 in 1900. The overriding issue during the early stages of this development was the tension created by a narrow focus on instilling professional teaching skills versus providing teachers with a broader academic culture. Over time, most normal schools experienced academic drift, offering a two-year elementary course and a four-year advanced course. The former represented secondary studies, while the final two years of the advanced course contained college-level material. The late-nineteenth-century normal school thus straddled secondary and higher education.

In 1899, the Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti became a four-year, degree-granting college — Michigan State Normal College (later Eastern Michigan University). This change in status marked the beginning of an inexorable transformation of normal schools into teacher's colleges. Most of these conversions took place in the 1920s. Eventually, two hundred normal schools became teacher's colleges. However, even these institutions retained a premodern flavor, being confined in most states strictly to teacher education. Ultimately, these institutions became full colleges and universities after World War II.

Female Colleges

The women's colleges of the South and Midwest represent a single type. Although often named institutes or seminaries as well as colleges, almost all included female in their titles. They taught an English course that was weighted toward science and English composition and offered ornamental electives. Most schools began with a three-year course but added an optional four-year course by the 1860s that included a smattering of Latin. Their students tended to be relatively young, needed work in preparatory departments, and seldom persisted through to graduation. This approach to women's education was paralleled in early coeducational colleges by a "ladies' course," omitting Latin and Greek and usually occupying three years. At Oberlin, for example, most women took the ladies' course, even though they were allowed in the classical course. At female colleges, too, the ladies' course was more popular than the four-year course. In 1880, 155 female colleges granted college degrees; 59 of them had been founded in the 1850s, and 58 in the following two decades; 107 were located in southern and south-central states.

Contemporaries regarded the female colleges as inferior to men's colleges, comparing them with the stronger rather than the weaker examples of the latter. Consequently, efforts began in the 1850s to provide young women with a true collegiate — that is, classical — course. Mary Sharp College for Young Ladies in Tennessee and Elmira Female College in New York were the first to offer such courses and conferred their first AB degrees in 1855 and 1859, respectively. Matthew Vassar, Sophia Smith, and William Durant soon aimed even higher, founding Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley colleges to be analogues of Harvard and Yale. Initially hampered by the lack of women with preparation in the classical languages, they soon rose in size and stature.

In 1887, the Bureau of Education classified this group as division A colleges and the female colleges as division B. In effect, it labeled these premodern schools as anachronisms. Given their attempt to offer preparatory, ornamental, basic education, and "mental discipline and culture," the Bureau of Education opined, "it is obvious that some part of the scheme must fail of satisfactory results." From 1880 to 1900, division A colleges grew from eight hundred to five thousand; women in coeducational colleges increased from four thousand to twenty-two thousand; but division B stagnated at eleven thousand students. Still, as late as 1890, division B colleges were educating roughly one-half of collegiate women.

This class of colleges proved incapable of adapting to the modern era. Lacking endowments, patrons, or effective leaders, even long-established female colleges succumbed. Mary Sharp (1853–1895), Wesleyan Female College in Delaware (1841–1885), and Pittsburgh Female College (1854–1896) all closed after forty-plus years of operations. Ingham University (1857–1892) had its property foreclosed by one of its trustees. The educational space that the female colleges had occupied from the 1840s to the 1890s was gradually claimed by high schools, normal schools, and modern women's and coeducational colleges.

Multipurpose Colleges

These institutions were the modal institution of American higher education from the 1840s to the 1890s. Ninety-two such colleges were opened in the 1860s, and sixty-one and sixty-nine in the following two decades. These numbers dwarf the new land-grant colleges, institutes of technology, or endowed universities. Multipurpose colleges all had religious sponsorship or links. At their core was the classical AB course, organized into four separate classes, each performing fifteen recitations a week. In addition, nearly all included a preparatory department. From this base, they offered additional courses according to local demand: almost all had a less demanding English course leading to a bachelor of science degree; teacher's courses and a ladies' course were common; and additional ornamental and commercial subjects were also offered according to demand. Such curricula could be offered by a small, unspecialized faculty and adjunct instructors. The average number of college students was seventy-eight in 1840 and eighty-eight in 1880, but most institutions enrolled a larger number in preparatory and special classes. They thus served the eclectic educational needs of the island communities of rural America, untouched by high schools or normal schools. They were also entirely unsuited for the educational system of modern America that emerged at the end of the century.


Excerpted from Science as Service by Alan I. Marcus. Copyright © 2015 the University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction Alan I Marcus 1

1 Land-Grant Colleges and the Pre-Modern Era of American Higher Education, 1850-1890 Roger L. Geiger 9

Part 1 Science Assumes Center Stage

2 Transnational Exchanges of Agricultural Scientific Thought from the Morrill Act through the Hatch Act Mark R. Finlay 33

3 The Rise and Fall of the Grange's Yankee Land-Grant Colleges, 1873-1901 Nathan M. Sorber 61

4 Is Milk the Measure of All Things? Babcock Tests, Breed Associations, and Land-Grant Scientists, 1890-1920 Micah Rueber 93

5 Engineering National Character: Early Land-Grant College Science and the Quest for an American Identity Paul K. Nienkamp 115

6 People's Colleges for Other Citizens: Black Land-Grant Institutions and the Politics of Educational Expansion in the Post-Civil War Era Debra A. Reid 141

Part 2 Extending the Scientific/Technical Toolbox

7 The Morrill Land-Grant Act and American Cities: The Neglected Story Robert B. Fairbanks 175

8 Generating Knowledge and Power: The Role of Land-Grant Colleges in Electrifying America Richard F. Hirsh 193

9 Spreading Their Butter Too Thin: Land-Grant Libraries, 1900-1940 Sara E. Morris 239

10 Engineering and the Land-Grant Tradition at the University of Illinois, 1868-1950 Bruce E. Seely 269

Conclusion Alan I Marcus 297

Appendix: US Congressional Acts Pertaining to the Land-Grant Institutions 299

Selected Bibliography 307

Contributors 321

Index 323

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews