For the Morrill Act’s 150th Anniversary: Now Online – Papers of Iowa State’s First President, Adonijah Welch

We are happy to announce that the papers of Iowa State’s first president, Adonijah Strong Welch, are now available online!  In addition to documenting his life here at Iowa State and the early history of our university, the papers also shed light on how our first president viewed and presented a new educational movement which was taking place in our country.

An early view of campus circa 1897.  Old Main, the second building on campus after the Farm House, can be seen on the left.  When it was built (1864) and for many years after, it held the entire college.  Morrill Hall (built 1890) is located on the far right.

The 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act is today (Monday, July 2nd).  The Morrill Act was signed by Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, on July 2nd, 1862.  What is so important about the Morrill Act, you may ask?  The Morrill Act established land-grant universities by granting states (if they accepted its terms) land and land script to fund higher education in agriculture and the mechanic arts.  Iowa State, on September 11, 1862, was the first to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act.  Although plans for the State Agricultural College and Model Farm (informally Iowa Agricultural College, now Iowa State University) had started earlier, the funding helped get the new agricultural college on its feet.   Iowa Agricultural College had been founded on March 22, 1858 when Governor Ralph P. Lowe signed a bill to establish a State Agricultural College and Model Farm “which shall be connected with the entire agricultural interests of the state.”

When the Morrill Act was signed, not only was the country in the middle of a civil war, but the industrial revolution was taking place.  Change was occurring, and public education needed to catch up to the rapidly changing needs of the country and its citizens. Agriculture, technology, and the mechanic arts were all important players in the industrial revolution.  The “industrial classes” needed an appropriate education, and this was the intent of the Morrill Act.

Adriance and Buckeye Harvesting Machinery catalog cover, 1896.  As the cover’s famous Daniel Webster quote states, “When tillage begins, other arts follow.  The farmer therefore is the founder of human civilization.”  Notice the industry in the  background (from the Lawrence H. Skromme Agricultural Machinery Literature Collection, RS 21/7/227).

Each state which accepted the Morrill Act’s provisions needed to use the funds:

“to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, 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.”

Adonijah Welch (Iowa State’s first president) was often asked to address farmers’ gatherings, horticultural meetings, and breeders’ conventions.  In many of these speeches Welch expresses his ideas on the “liberal and practical education” that the Morrill Act helped expand here in the United States.  Reading through his speeches can be fascinating, and gives us an idea of how the first president of our university saw Iowa State’s place in this land-grant movement.

Adonijah Welch

Below are just a few examples from the Adonijah Strong Welch Papers (RS 2/1):

Inaugural address:  “When the industry and commerce of many generations had produced comparative wealth and leisure, recognizing tardily their own intellectual necessities, planted, at last, the rude germs that have since, as the centuries revolved, grown into the great Universities of Europe. But modern science and art have wonderfully quickened…The railroad no longer follows, but leads civilizations…A magnificent structure devoted to industrial science, rising towards heaven with its noble towers, is finished, furnished, and peopled with students…The college and new orchard are planted side by side, and will ripen their fruits together…Learning and labor, leaping the gulf that lay between, have joined hands, each lending aid and dignity to the other…” [pages 1-2]

Old Main, the building Welch is probably referring to above in his inaugural address “rising towards heaven with its noble towers.”

Problem of a Reasonable Education – in his conclusion of this speech, Welch states with no uncertainty the necessity for the education land-grant universities were to provide:

“Nevertheless, the need of a special training in the facts and principles that underlie each line of industry, is so urgent that it cannot be overstated.  The vast annual losses to the country which spring from lack of industrial education, baffle all attempt at numerical statement.  The values that go to waste from incompetent farming, the destruction of life in our cities from defective ventilation and drainage, the wholesale slaughter which follows defective rail road engineering, are mere trifles compared with the sum total of yearly loss in life and money born of technical incapacity. ”

Read more of Adonijah Welch’s speeches, correspondence, and other materials online.  A biography and description of the Adonijah Strong Welch Papers can be found in the finding aid.  Resources in the Special Collections Department which will provide more detail on the relationship of the Morrill Act, the land-grant movement, and Iowa State can found in our Morrill Act Subject Guide.  Some of the resources in the library’s General Collection are listed here and online resources here (includes more on the Morrill Act).  Also check out the display on the first floor of  Parks Library (as you enter, head towards Bookends), and the University Museums exhibit “The People’s College: the Morrill Act and Iowa State,” on the ground floor of Morrill Hall.

Finally, if you have time today at noon, pause and take note of the 150 tolls of the Campanile’s bells in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Morill Act.  And if you’re not on campus or unable to make it outside, you can view it on the live webcast!

One thought on “For the Morrill Act’s 150th Anniversary: Now Online – Papers of Iowa State’s First President, Adonijah Welch

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on the Presidents’ Papers – Adonijih Welch | Cardinal Tales

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