The act of Congress donating public lands to the several States and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts, approved July 2, 1862, granted to each State an area of land equal to 30,000 acres for each member of its representation in Congress under the census of 1860. States were required to express their acceptance within two years, but the time was extended two years later to July 2. 1866, and then extended again until July 2, 1867. In October, 1866, before a special session of the legislature, Governor Humphreys “earnestly recommended” that the grant be accepted and laws passed to take advantage of it. The legislature acted accordingly. But there was some politics involved, the relation of the State to the Union being a political issue. Governor Humphreys plainly intimated that he meant the transaction to show that Mississippi was no longer “an insurrectionary State.” He reported in his message of January 24, 1867, that he had received no reply to his communication to the Land office at Washington, and understood that the issue of scrip to the Southern States had been suspended. The land scrip was issued, covering an area of 210,000 acres, while General Alcorn was governor, in 1871, from the sale of which the receipts were $175,000, which was invested in Mississippi State bonds, of the face value of $190,000, for the benefit of agricultural departments to be added to the Oxford and Alcorn universities. Part of the scrip was burned in the great Chicago fire, and reissued by the Land office. $30,000 was advanced for the purchase of Oakland college for the Alcorn university. These bonds were due January 1, 1896, to the amount of $212,150.
An agricultural department of the University of Mississippi was organized in 1872, to be supported by State appropriations in addition to the Congressional endowment. The faculty of the department at Oxford was composed of the Chancellor Dr. John N. Wad-dell, Prof. C. W. Sears, Prof. L. C. Garland, Dr. George Little, Dr. E. W. Hilgard and Dr. J. A. Lyon, together with a number of adjunct professors. But in spite of “a strong and distinguished faculty, an excellent course of study, a farm well and conveniently located, and in every way adapted to the purposes of the Department of Agriculture, Horticulture and Botany, this school of agriculture and mechanic arts under the surroundings and environments of the University was not popular or attractive to students, consequently, comparatively few registered for work in that college, and during the six years of its existence in connection with the University, no evidence is found that a single student took the entire course or that a single graduate was turned out. After 1876, for lack of funds to properly equip the farm it was abandoned. ( Miss. A. & M. Coll., White.)
A determined effort was made by the farmers, and particularly by the State Grange, toward the establishment of an agricultural college. The Agricultural and Mechanical college was founded by an act of legislature approved February 28, 1878. The board of trustees, appointed under the act, were delayed by the yellow fever epidemic, and did not make the location until the following winter, at Starkville, where the citizens donated $9,000. The board purchased 350 acres for $2,450, and work was begun in July, 1879, on the first building, expected to cost $16,000. The expense so far was met by the Starkville donation, and the interest paid by the State on the bonds belonging to the fund. The legislature had appropriated for the new college a sum equal to that theretofore appropriated for Alcorn university, but had appropriated it out of the principal of the fund, which was unavailable, under the terms of the donation by Congress.
In 1884, Governor Lowry reported: “The college has received from the State in the aggregate $205,000.” This and the local donation, the land fund interest and the sale of $15,000 bonds under an act of 1882, supported the institution for three years. In 1880, Gen. Stephen D. Lee was elected president. His administration lasted until 1899, and the institution owes a very great proportion of its success and prosperity to his remarkable executive ability and powerful influence.
Ex-Governor John M. Stone succeeded General Lee, but died after only eleven months of service. He was followed by J. C. Hardy, A. M., the present head of the institution.
Its trustees have been men of high standing, who have taken great interest in the welfare of the college, some of them having been members of the board for many years. Col. W. B. Montgomery, one of the original trustees, remained on the board until 1904. Maj. T. C. Dockery was one of the original members and has served ever since, and Col. H. M. Street was a trustee for more than twenty years. The board in 1905 was Frank L. Hogan, T. C. Dockery, J. C. Bradford, James T. Harrison, T. L. Wainright, W. C. George, A. T. Dent, James W. Norment, W. A. Dickson, and the State superintendent.
In organizing the new college, the Michigan agricultural college was studied especially, and a committee of the trustees was sent to Michigan for that purpose. Two of the members of the first faculty were from Michigan, but the best methods of all the agricultural colleges have been incorporated into the Mississippi college organization. The number of its students and the value of its property have increased rapidly. The enrollment of students for its first session was 354. Its present enrollment is over 700. In 1883, the college property was valued at $174,857; in 1905 it was appraised at $662,000. In 1882, women were admitted to the college, but there is no provision made for their living at the college, and they must find board and rooms in town or in private houses on the college campus. The college is one and a half miles from Starkville, on a branch of the Mobile & Ohio railroad, and has its own railroad station, post office and express office. It has a very substantial and attractive group of buildings, prominent among them being the large dormitory, which contains 150 bedrooms, and is equipped with the best sanitary appliances as well as steam heat, electric light, etc. There is a small dormitory containing 39 bedrooms. The college has its own central heating plant, which supplies the buildings with steam heat, its own electric light plant, sewerage system and water works, and owns and operates a steam laundry. The water is pumped from a well 1,000 feet deep, and the slope of the grounds gives fine natural drainage, making the location excellent from the standpoint of health. March 11, 1884, the buildings were damaged by a cyclone, and the legislature appropriated $10,000 for repairs.
The handsome new textile building, erected at a cost of $30,000, is splendidly lighted and arranged and has an equipment valued at $35,000, much of which has been presented by manufacturers, in recognition of the important work being done in this department. There are also the academic building, science hall, chemical laboratory, dairy building, agricultural hall, and mechanical department buildings. The James Z. George infirmary was named in honor of the distinguished senator who was one of the early trustees.
The experiment station, established under the Hatch Act in 1887, is closely affiliated in its work with that of the agricultural college, but has its own independent organization and endowment. The whole fund granted to Mississippi under this act of Congress was given by the legislature to this station. It has a creamery building, office, fine large barn for storage and general purposes, barn for dairy cattle, barn for beef cattle, sheep barn, and greenhouses covering an acre of ground.
According to law, 300 students are given free tuition and then apportioned among the counties of the State according to the number of educable white boys in the county in proportion to the whole number in the State. Other students are welcome, on payment of tuition fee, with the same privileges as the free students. The free students are accommodated first in the college dormitory, where board is furnished at cost, fuel, light, and water being incidental expenses, the exact cost being divided among the students. The legislature appropriates money to be paid for student labor, by means of which many students supplement scanty resources, and earn enough to complete the full four years’ course. The earnings of spare hours are credited to the students for board, etc., and they are only paid cash in final settlement. The students do all kinds of work on the campus, farming, gardening, work in the buildings, care of equipments, etc. One of the main objects of the college is to promote practical and industrial education, and to this end manual labor is encouraged in every possible way. Considerable practical industrial work is required without pay and the students are taught the dignity of hand work. There is also a practical course offered, by means of which students can work all day and go to school at night, thereby saving enough money to enter the regular course. In 1903 sixteen students took this course, six of them entering the regular course the following year.
For the first ten years the college offered only one course, the agricultural. Now there are four main courses, agricultural, engineering, textile, and industrial pedagogy, each having its own director. In the first a student may specialize in agriculture, horticulture, dairying, veterinary science, biology or chemistry; in the second, in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, rural engineering, geology, or mining; the third includes exceptionally thorough courses in dyeing, weaving, and designing. Laboratory work, shop work, field work, and other kinds of practical industrial work play a very important part in the different courses. The B. S. degree is conferred upon the completion of any one of the main courses. Graduate work is also encouraged and opportunity offered for its pursuit in any of the departments. A short course in agriculture is offered, consisting of ten weeks in the winter for two years.
At the experiment station much valuable work is being done. An extensive study of soils and water supplies of soils is being carried on, also of field crops, feeding, fertilizers and all of the problems of interest to the farmer. In the horticultural department many varieties of fruits are being raised; new varieties of peaches, plums, small fruits, etc., are constantly being tested. The results of these investigations are published in bulletins, and through these bulletins and the farmers’ institutes, the farmers keep in touch with the work that is being done at the college. A yearly institute is held at the college, when speakers of prominence from other parts of the United States give talks on matters of interest to the agriculturist.
It is hoped to have the county farmers’ institutes on a permanent basis, so that they will send delegates from the county institutes to the college institute. This work is of the very greatest importance, as it gives the farmers the benefit of the best results being accomplished, the world over, in their special branches.
For the support of this institution, Congress donated another section of land in 1894, which was sold for $141,532 by the State, which pays 6 per cent annual interest thereon to the college.
The textile school, urged by Govs. McLaurin and Longino, was established in the administration of the latter.
The State appropriations for the four years, 1900-03, were $338,000, more than half of which was expended on the textile building, the infirmary, the scientific, agricultural and horticultural building, and other permanent improvements.
A branch experimental station was established at McNeil, Pearl River county, in 1900, the results of which have been published in bulletins. In 1904 the legislature made a small appropriation for another branch station in the brown-loam region of northwest Mississippi, and another in the Yazoo delta. A donation of land was accepted near Holly Springs for the northwestern station, and the people of Washington county raised a fund of $15,000 and purchased 200 acres at Stoneville, near Greenville, for the Delta station, which was accepted. These stations were begun in 1906.
The practical working boys’ course was organized four years ago to meet the needs of boys unable to raise the $40 or $50 necessary to enter a regular course. The legislature appropriated $3,000 for quartet’s for such students in 1904. Negro labor has been discarded entirely in three of the departments, and it is the intention to discard it altogether, so that white boys willing to work their way through may not be shut out. Work is not a specialty, however; four-fifths of the boys help themselves in this- way, and those who are most independent are the most popular. W. C. George, who founded the J. Z. George scholarship, in 1897, with an income of $250 a year, discontinued it as a prize, and the money is loaned to deserving students. Another loan fund has been begun.
The military department is of great value to the State. Through it seven hundred boys are trained in personal cleanliness and physical exercise, and prepared for intelligent military service in case of need. The preparatory department is invaluable. Under the management of Professor Garner, it is especially devoted to the help of the boy without financial endowment. The library now includes over 10,000 volumes.
The department of industrial pedagogy was established in 1903, in response to the suggestion of the State Teachers’ Association; and has furnished superintendents to Okolona, Starkville, Durant, McComb City, Gulfport, Greenwood and many of the county and high schools. The summer normal is part of this work, begun in 1905. The department of foreign languages, particularly for instruction in Spanish and German, was founded in 1904. The school of agriculture has just been enlarged by adding the department of animal industry, to promote the live stock business in the State, and the department of agronomy, particularly for the improvement of corn culture. The department of chemistry, under the direction of Prof. W. F. Hand, is of great importance as bearing on the analysis of soils, and co-operation with the geological department in the geological survey, also through the fact that the head of the department is State chemist and has charge of the analysis of fertilizers. The college also had charge of the quarantine against the boll weevil in the recent years, and the inoculation of cattle against Texas fever.
Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.