Isaac P. Roberts

The author of this autobiography, Professor Isaac Phillips Roberts, was born in Seneca County, New York, July 24, 1833, of native American parents. His father, Aaron Phillips Roberts, emigrated from Harbortown, New Jersey, to Central New York about 1816 and in 1820 married Elizabeth Burroughs, the daughter of Joseph Burroughs, who had come from the same neighborhood in New Jersey in 1812. Professor Roberts was educated in the district school of the town of Varick and at the Seneca Falls Academy. He never attended College but in 1875 he received from the Iowa State Agricultural College the degree of Master of Agriculture.

In early manhood he went from East Varick to La Porte, Indiana, where he practised (sic) the trade of carpenter until he was able to buy a farm, and taught school during the winters. In 1857 he married at Kingsbury, Indiana, Margaret Jane Marr, the daughter of a prosperous farmer, and in 1862 emigrated with his wife and daughter in a pioneer wagon from Indiana to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he settled down to farming.

In 1869 he was called to the position of Superintendent of the Farm and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Agricultural College at Ames, and shortly afterward was made Professor of Agriculture. In 1873 he accepted a similar position at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and a little later was made Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Director of the Experiment Station. During the thirty years of his service at Cornell he wrote voluminously on agricultural subjects, as Associate Editor on the staff of The Country Gentleman, about fourteen hundred short articles chiefly in answer to queries; and four scientific books, i.e.,The Fertililty of the Land which has gone to several editions and is still in general use as a College textbook; The Farmers' Business handbook of which a second edition has recenty been published; The Farmstead and The Horse.

At the age of seventy he retired with the title of Professor Emeritus, receiving an honorary pension from the Carnegie Foundation for his services; and settled in Palo Alto, California. At the death of his wife in December, 1913, he went to live with his youngest son at Fresno, California, where he spends his winters. In the summer of 1915 he finished this narrative at the home of his daughter in Berkeley, California.


by Liberty Hyde Bailey2

For thirty years Professor Roberts led the work in agriculture at Cornell University. These were the eventful and triumphant years of 1873 to 1903. They began in doubt and with small things, but they were large with faith. He developed one of the best institutions of it kind.

Only ten or eleven years had elapsed since the passage of the Land Grant Act, at which time instruction in agriculture was given a national sanction. A few colleges had made the effort to organize the subject into teaching form and to college the equipment and develop the farms that were necessary to the new enterprise. Even Michigan, the oldest of the existing North American colleges of agriculture, had been under way only sixteen years. Cornell had given instruction five years. From the first, agriculture had had its appointed place in the institution; but the work was not really established until Professor Roberts came. He came from a farm and with the traditions of farming. He had had experience in the new institution in Iowa. He put himself to the task bravely, as one sets out to plow and to fit a prairie domain the boundaries of which are unseen and the promise of which is unknown but to the few.

For thirty years Professor Roberts and his associates stood for agriculture, always for agriculture - not for natural science under the name of agriculture nor for some pleasant combination of studies that would satisfy the law. In an eastern university, with the great tide of migration sweeping past him to the West, with decreasing values, with old fields, with hindering traditions, he stood, - like a prophet.

It is this courage, this steadfastness in the determination to hold the field for agriculture, that grows larger in my estimation as the years go by. I speak of his work in the past tense, for I too look backward; but I am glad that he is still keen to follow the result of his labors. It was not then a day for erudition, or for high technical scholarship, but a time for clear faith, homely and direct relations with the people, wisdom in giving advice. From the first years that I knew him he was a philosopher and a forecaster, always practical, always driving home the point, always with his feet squarely on the ground.

He loved the farm; from the rail fence to the back lot, the trees in the pasture, the woodside, the orchard, every animal in stall or field, the high land and the low land, all were his to walk over, to question, to inspect with care, and to improve. It was one of the delights of his teaching to take his "boys" to the farm. He was a master in the practice of observing farm conditions, - why the grass was thin here and heavy there, why the weeds came in, why the animals chose the spot on which to lie, how to run the drains, to build a fence, to put up a shed or barn, to paint a building, how to break a horse, how to breed a herd from a common foundation, how to sell a crop, what the weather meant, how to bring an old field back into good condition. He did not teach some small department of farm knowledge as we do in these days, but the whole farm and the farmer and the wife and the children and the hired man; and he taught it with a quiet and genial philosophy, often quaint and always full of good humor. He was the real teacher of the small group, preferring the out-of-doors and the barns and the herds to the formal laboratories I have never known anyone to make such good educational use of an entire farm and its equipment.

Yet, with all his knowledge of the fields, Professor Roberts was singularly sympathetic with every range of science teaching, with every indoor laboratory, with good work in every department of knowledge. Unlike many practical men, he did not insist that all science should have immediate application. He saw the educational result. So he gathered about him many specialists, gave them every facility and equipment he could secure, and left them with great freedom.

His hold on the students and on the people of the state was remarkable. His talks and addresses always had a practical wisdom combined with vision, he was patient and self-contained under criticism, he made friends and he held them. To this day all over New York his students hold him in affection, and old men with broken step inquire of him with tenderness.

Professor Roberts retired at seventy, but fortunately retained his connection with Cornell as professor emeritus, a relationship that he still holds. The men of his active generation have mostly passed the years of service. Many of his immediately succeeding colleagues carry still the responsibilities that he left to them, and they are ever mindful of what he would have them to do.




When my sons and daughter were little, they, like other children, wanted me to tell them stories; and as I had never read much fiction and was not very imaginative, I used to describe how things were made and relate the simple adventures of my limited travels. But best of all they liked the stories of my boyhood and the tales of the neighborhood in which I was born and grew to manhood. The country of my nativity - East Varick, Seneca County, New York - is situated on the west bank of Cayuga Lake, about opposite the town of Aurora, and when they went there later to visit their relatives it appeared to be an old settled place. But to me it always had the glamour of a pioneer region, for it was a wilderness when my grandparents came from New Jersey to settle there in 1812, and the tales of their experiences and of my parents' early life had all the picturesqueness of western adventure.

Since I retired from my professorship at Cornell University in 1903 and moved to California, my children have repeatedly asked me to write out in detail not only those early recollections but a complete autobiography. My daughter, Mary, on one of her visits to the old homestead of the Roberts family in New York, found some tattered yellow papers in a market basket under the business desk belonging to my eldest brother, Ralph, These proved to be the private papers of her great-grandfather, Joseph Burroughs, which had been taken from an old desk in the Burroughs farmhouse and which have been destroyed, perhaps, but for her interest in them.

These documents - essays, poems, riddles, et cetera, - had no great literary merit but reflected the taste of the time and showed that my grandfather Burroughs, who was a school teacher in his youth and a farmer throughout his adult life, had at any rate, intellectual aspirations. My daughter, therefore, proposed that I should continue the literary tradition and leave this information account of my life to my children and grandchildren.

I realize that this is a somewhat difficult undertaking, as I have no notes or letters of the earlier period to guide me, the few papers I had having been destroyed when my house was burned in 1863. In old age, however, one is likely to remember the scenes of youth better than those of later years; though one is apt also to exaggerate the importance of happenings in youth and to get some things out of focus. As to dates, many of them will not be exact, and I shall often have to say "about"' but, at any rate, I shall not set down anything in malice nor for the purpose of leading my children and friends to think "What a big man am I."

I began this autobiography in 1904-5 and handed over a lengthy manuscript to my daughter for criticism. But on April 18, 1906, at 5.20 in the morning, a severe earthquake occurred in San Francisco, California, where she was then living. Fires soon afterward broke out and, as the water mains were shattered, the flames spread almost immediately and very rapidly. Mary was living at a Settlement on South Park near Third Street at that time and lost nearly all of her belongs, my manuscript with the rest.

In Palo Alto, where I was living, the chimney of our house was destroyed, as were almost all the others in the town; much plastering cracked and fell, a few buildings were thrown out of plumb, and two recently constructed concrete-block buildings were leveled to the ground. The Stanford University buildings suffered most, the damage to them being estimated at more than one-half million dollars. The greatest movement or cleavage was along the foothills near which the University buildings stand; and in one place the slip of the earth was at least six feet, as shown by the board fences. But it is not my purpose to give a detailed account of the earthquake and fire, as than can be found elsewhere, in print - only to relate so much of it as came within my purview.

One more digression I must permit myself before I set out on my personal narrative. If this history of a farm boy should ever come to print, I should not expect that it would interest the literary men of that time, but I should hope that it might give courage to boys on the farms who are often denied opportunity to acquire a thorough education by reason of lack of means and too strenuous physical labor. Theodore Roosevelt has said that he began to get his education young - right away after he left college. It will be seen that I began mine at a much earlier date and continued it for three-quarters of a century. The farm boys who may read this should learn from it the lesson of continuous growth, by which even the slowest may arrive at their full capacity.


How I Came to Be a College Professor3

A man may set out on a definite track but he seldom anticipates the switch which may shunt him off onto another - thus it has been with me. I never got started on a fairly straight track but that it was sure to be shunted onto another, and one which was apt to be poorly ballasted. In the latter part of May, 1869, as I was giving the last touch to my fine new barn by building a cupola on it just for looks, I heard a voice at the top of the ladder, and turning, I saw the red head of O.H.P. Buchanan just above the eaves. Said he: "Come down from there, young man, I have better work for you to do."

It seemed that Mr. Buchanan had shortly before been appointed a Trustee of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, usually known as the "I.A.C.," which was situated at Ames, Story County, Iowa. The Superintendent of the College Farm and the Secretary of the Board of Trustees was a high-tempered Scotchman (sic) who had a habit of resigning on the slightest pretext. The patience of the Trustees had at last given out and they were looking for someone to take Superintendent Thompson's place. Mr. Buchanan wished to recommend me for the position; but at first I declined to be switched off onto this new, unknown track for I still had the livestock tick in my bonnet. Though I finally consented to allow him to present my name, I declined to furnish him with any commendatory letters.

When the matter came up before the Board there were many applicants and I have been told that I was elected in the following manner: One of the Trustees, a physician, noted among other things for his strong language, remarked: "That pile of recommendations isn't worth a damn - I can get twice as many certifying that I am a good Methodist minister. Buchanan, do you know this man Roberts and what stuff he is made of?" Receiving a satisfactory answer from Mr. Buchanan, the Board unanimously elected me to the position.

To my great surprise I was asked to take charge at once, and that of necessity left Mrs. Roberts - with the help of a hired lad and a neighbor - to get in the harvest on the home farm. And so, as it turned out, I never pitched a load of hay with my fine new horse-fork nor did an hour's work in the New Barn, which was great enough in my estimation to be spelled with capitals.

Leaving home at once, I arrived at the College in June, gathered the harvest there and then, returning to my own farm, threshed and marketed the grain, stored the household goods in the upper rooms and found a tenant. With homesick hearts and with every expectation of returning in a year or two, we with our two children left the home where we had suffered much hardship and done much heavy labor but where we had also planned and saved and been happy - where our first son, Perry Buchanan Roberts, was born and where I had received the foundation of my agricultural education. Little as we imagined it then we were never to return to live in that humble house which we had loved so much.


We arrived at the College in August, 1869, and took possession of a large, two-story brick farmhouse. We were expected to board and often to lodge from six to eight workmen, the Trustees when the Board was in session, the Professors who were not yet provided with dwellings, and the indoor employes (sic) - a mixed company something amounting to thirty persons. As Secretary of the Board of Trustees, I was an employe (sic) of the State - the Commonwealth's watch dog; as Superintendent I managed the farm. The salary of the former was one thousand, of the latter seven hundred and fifty dollars per year with board, rooms, heat, light and washing for myself and family included. Mrs. Roberts superintended the farm household, her salary being included in the above. On the whole the salaries were liberal considering the newness of the College and the country.

I remember that the kitchen door, which faced on what was then the main drive, opened on the very line of the road. The wood for the stoves had been deposited in saw-log lengths at the kitchen door to be chopped up into stove-lengths. There, cutting stove-wood, I first saw Mr. W. T. Hornaday, who is now the Curator of the Bronx Park Museum and Director of the New York Zoological Gardens. I little thought then that that stubby, bronzed lad at the wood-pile would ever attain so useful and distinguished a position as he now occupies.

All college students were then required to work two and one-half hours daily. From forty to fifty were detailed each morning to the farm. Having more hands than I could easily find work for, I decided to clear up the campus, which consisted of about ninety acres. The heterogeneous rubbish due to many changes and much building was gathered in wagon loads, sorted and piled up. The knotty logs at the kitchen door were moved from their ancient resting-place and added to the useless scrap pile; and the vast accumulation of chip manure was hauled away, which widened the drive-way from about twelve to its original forty feet. When the scrap pile was burning one evening, the President came rushing over, fearing that a building was on fire, but seeing what it was, he remarked: "Mr. Superintendent, are you not burning up some things of value?" I was, probably, but I was determined to fix that old rubbish so that it could not be used again to clutter up the campus.

That part of the farm which lay between the buildings and the village of Ames, about two miles away, was low land and subject to overflow in the spring for short periods, from a crooked, sluggish stream. Weeds, from four to eight feet tall, covered the face of this wild, hummocky pasture, which was only sparsely set with coarse grasses. In this pasture several fine full-blooded animals which had been purchased at long figures in Illinois, New York and Canada, were kept with other cattle; but no one could have told whether the cattle were scrubs or Duchesses and Dukes, because of the weeds. As this land abutted the causeway across the lowland over which the main road approached the college, it was a great eyesore and gave a bad impression of our farming methods; so I sent a sturdy Norwegian, with a team of mules hitched to an old mower, to mow it. Sometimes Lars road and sometimes he didn't but when that field was mowed I paid my respects to him and the mules. Warm rains in September caused the grass, which had not seen clear daylight for years, to spring up and grow lusciously; and when the Board of Trustees travelled (sic) over it in coming from the station to the College, they could not help observing with approval the change from an unkept, weedy lowland, to a green pasture dotted with fine Shorthorn, Devon and Ayrshire cattle.

I might as well finish the history of that low-land field just here, although it will take me into the second and third years of my stay at the I.A.C. The next spring it was plowed for the first time. The accepted method of subduing wild prairie land was then to use a "breaker"' but the plow we used was not a breaker and hence would not kink the furrow so that the wild grass would "burn out," that is, perish for want of moisture during the summer. Our plow laid the furrows flat and unless something more was done the last state of that field might be worse than the first. The students, with axes in hand, followed down every fourth furrow-slice and at intervals of about four feet cut a slit in the sod, dropped some grains of corn and then cut another slit by the side of the first one which served to close the first one and to cover the corn. Before and after the seed was planted the ground was harrowed and re-harrowed again and again, but with little apparent effect - the sod was too tenacious. But I have yet to see more roughage - along with a few ears - grown per acre than grew on that marshy field, and it was just what was needed for our many cattle after the prairie grasses had dried up in the fall.

Mrs. Ellen Tupper, the College lecturer on Bee Culture, highly recommended Alsike or Swedish clover, not only as a superb honey plant but as a good forage plant, for low land. The flowers of Alsike, like those of white clover, are so shallow that honey bees can secure their sweets, while red clover flowers are so deep that only bumblebees can reach the honey they contain. This tough ground was therefore re-plowed the following spring and two bushels of imported Alsike clover - no seed could then be obtained in the United States - at a cost of thirty dollars per bushed was sowed. I have no words to describe the beauty and the perfume of that field of clover: I have never since raised so good a crop of clover of any kind. But I take little credit for it, for it was just one of those fortunate little things which come to us sometimes from following a friendly suggestion.

My purpose in relating these details is not so much to adorn my tale as to point a moral: little duties well performed often lead to larger things. For, when the Board of Trustees convened in the late fall of 1869, the first resolution they passed made me Professor of Agriculture. That widened road where the log pile had been, that burned rubbish from the campus and that beautiful green lowland pasture had won their confidence. I was certainly most fortunate; here was the livestock farm which I had longed for so many years and a great farm it was, although much of it was still in virgin prairie. There was on the place about a hundred head of cattle; two small flocks of sheep, one long-wooled and one selected fine-wooled; the possibilities of rearing a hundred Berkshire pigs yearly; and six hundred acres of prairie and woodland, to which was added later two hundred acres more. It will be seen that the I.A.C. started out on purely agriculture lines and it is because it has adhered rather closely to them that it has risen to first rank among those of its kind. 

The Difficulties of Early Agricultural Teaching

While enjoying the practical work of the farm I found here another opportunity for self-education. The lecturer on agriculture, Dr. Townsend, had gone to the State University of Ohio where he did valuable work. He was a man of unusual ability and his scope of knowledge was wide and in some lines profound. As there were few trained men in agriculture at that time, his position was not easy to fill. One day President Welch asked me why I could not teach agriculture; I replied because I did not know how. "But," said he, "can't you tell the boys how you have been doing things - I understand you have long been a successful school teacher." The President carried out his suggestion, as he usually did, and I began to tell the students what I knew about farming. It did not take me long to run short of material and then I began to consult the library. I might as well have looked for cranberries on the Rocky Mountains as for material for teaching agriculture in that library.

Thus, fortunately, I was driven to take the class to the field and farm, there to study plants, animals and tillage at first hand. So again I was shunted onto the right track by sheer necessity and ever since I have kept the rails hot on that particular spur. Much of the illustrative material necessary for agricultural teaching cannot be assembled in the class room and so I fell into the habit of taking the students to view good and poor farms; to see fine herds and scrub herds in the country round-about, even though they sometimes had to travel on freight cars. I suppose I was the first teacher of agriculture to make use, in a large way, of the fields and the stables of the countryside as laboratories. I simply found myself in the position of the boy and the woodchuck when a visit from the minister was expected - it was a ground-hog case.

One day, being short of lecture material, I went to the fields and gathered a great armful of the common weed pests. Handing them round to the class I asked for the common and the botanical names, and the methods of eradication - I received only two answers and those quite inadequate - although these twenty-five young men had spent most of their waking hours since childhood in fields where there were more weeds than useful plants. This experiment provided material for a week's classroom talk and led me to place still more emphasis on field laboratory work - "walks and talks" we called them. When the subject of the horse - breeding, age, care and management - came up, I went again to the library for help. But the horse books were all out of date, chiefly filled with information about hunters, jumpers, and racers and their wonderful feats, and a little about the European draft breeds which were then in process of formation. Although I found in them much "horsey" talk and brag, I found almost nothing that would be of use to an American farmer.

Here was a great opening for original work. It appeared to me that farmers should know how to tell the age or a horse with a reasonable degree of certainty; and hearing that many rather young horses had recently died of an epidemic in the immediate neighborhood, I had two farm hands dig them up and preserved the heads and some special parts and such limbs as had been malformed by disease. By careful inquiry I was able to fix accurately the ages of most of these animals. Arranging my material on a workbench in the open, I placed the class on the windward side and taught them the fundamental principles of horse dentition. I have found it difficult to give students a working knowledge of this subject and so have given great attention to it in my book on The Horse.

These few illustrations will serve to show how difficult it was in those early days to teach agriculture and to find proper illustrative material. There was no well-worn trail to follow as there is now, and though the work might have been criticised (sic), happily for me there was no one then fitted for the task. Of the subject of teaching in general I will speak later; of my own teaching, looking at it from this distance, it may fairly be said that it was practical and thorough as far as it went, but stopped far short of what is given in similar courses today. It served, however, to blaze the way for those who followed.

About forty rods from the farm house stood "The College," as it was then designated. It was a large brick building with two long wings and the only college building when I first arrived. In the basement of one wing was a large dining hall and the kitchen; on the first floor the chapel and the administrative offices; while the third and fourth floor were occupied by students. In the other wing was housed the library and the museum, and the upper two stories, as in the other wing, were given up to students. The women students, who were admitted from the beginning, roomed in one end of the main building on the lower floors. There were between three and four hundred students.

This was a diverse crowd to feed, govern and keep at work. After trying a few experiments the general government of the students was put in the hands of a judiciary committee composed of the President and four members of the faculty. All major infractions of rules were tried before this body, and their findings were read before the full faculty at stated periods; but all minor affairs - infractions of the ordinary rules of conduct in the classroom and in and about the campus, were tried before a student council composed of upper class men and class women. The person to be tried had the right to select one of his fellow pupils to assist him in defense, while one of the council acted in the capacity of attorney for the College. Only once during my knowledge of it, did the decisions of the student council fail to be approved by the faculty.

After seeing many experiments in student government; and after sitting in a faculty of more than fifty members for hours to try a single student for some petty infraction which often involved no turpitude but only thoughtlessness, I am convinced that this method was the most just, expedient and satisfactory of any I am acquainted with. General Geddes who was military commandant and steward, and in charge of order within the building, was an able, kind but very exacting officer The success of his administration was due in part to wide experience and in part to its military character, with the uniforms and the red tape left out.

Professor C. E. Bessey (now of the University of Nebraska) was often "officer of the day," or rather during study hours from 8 to 10 o'clock in the evening, and made the night and morning inspections. The rising bell rang at 5:30 a.m.; breakfast was at 6 and inspection at 6.45 when students' rooms had to be in order or there was prompt reckoning. All unexcused students reported for work at 7 a.m. The officers of the day as well as others were obliged to make a daily written report to the President. The students were required and the faculty requested to meet at 4.30 p.m. in the Chapel where a short reading from the scriptures and prayer was followed by directions for the next day's work and by various notices. From 5 to 8 o'clock was given to supper and recreations. On Saturdays no duties except special details were required; on Sunday attendance at the morning service was treated the same as a class exercise. Strange as it may now seem, all of these religious exercises were attended with apparent pleasure, perhaps because the students were allowed to remain afterward for a quiet social hour. The boys and girls were not allowed to mingle freely except during recreation hours and after Sunday chapel; and no scandal and few breaches of social discipline occurred during the four years of my stay.

President A. S. Welch was a keen, cultivated gentleman, of very pleasant manners, patient under defeat and usually able to turn defeat into victory. That he successfully built an excellent college out on the lonely, wind-swept prairies by the track of an uncompleted railway, marks him as a great organizer. That he was able to govern and mould that mass of crude boys and girls and inexperienced professors - picked up at first almost at random, as they had to be - into an efficient educational institution, proves him a man of rare executive ability. Had his lot been cast in a larger field and in a later time, President Welch would have been accounted by posterity one of the great college presidents of America.

President Welch organized and conducted the first Farmers' Institutes in the United States. Associated with him was Mrs. Ellen Tupper - "The Bee Woman" - Professors Jones, Mathews, Bessey and Roberts, and our experiences were those of pioneers. On one occasion after an evening meeting at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the President and I were invited to go home with a farmer who lived five miles distant. About midnight we retired to a room on the wall of which you might have written your name in the glittering frost. I slept with the President and when we touched the icy sheets, he remarked: "Roberts, I guess we will have to spoon" - and we spooned.

I have often wondered since then why this large family of faculty and students, housed mostly in one building, got on so well together. Was it because the nearest town was small and had no saloons? Or because the boys had not yet conceived the idea that colleges are chiefly to promote athletics and nocturnal episodes? Or because the system was exceptionally good; or because of the exceptional ability of its chief executive officers - or perhaps because of all these combined? One thing is certain: the President did not go fishing in term-time nor up and down the country hunting honors and notoriety. With few exceptions the faculty was composed of young, able, progressive, industrious teachers; and with a president at the head who always knew what was going on, and who not only had the courage to point out defects but the wisdom to see and appreciate good work and the sense to praise it; the instruction was of a high grade. It was, perhaps, the best that could be obtained at that time and under the conditions which then prevailed.

The requirements for admission were necessarily low and much preparatory instruction had to be given; but when once prepared, I have yet to find pupils who made such rapid advancement as did those eager, unspoiled students from the prairie farms. Later on many of the students who came to us were fitted for entrance by our own upper classmen and were therefore superior to those who had been confused by a multitude of subjects badly taught.

The college year began the last of February and closed the end of the following October with only a few days' vacation in July. There were two reasons for placing the long vacation in the winter; first, the method of warming the College building by the Routan system was an expensive failure; and second, the winter vacation gave an opportunity for all qualified students to teach in the public schools where they were much in demand. This arrangement proved advantageous in many ways. The secondary schools were benefited; attention was drawn to the College; prospective pupils received a better preparation along the lines required for entrance to college; and the student teachers acquired experience and secured funds to pay their expenses.

I wish that the methods of instruction, practice and government which prevailed in my time at the I.A.C. could be written down in detail and sent out for the use of the farm schools which are now springing up; which of necessity will be conducted under similar conditions and will receive pupils not unlike those that attended the Iowa College in the beginning. They should be fundamentally correct when applied to institutions of a similar character.

In the third year of my stay at Ames, internal troubles began - discord between the Trustees and some members of the faculty. William A. Anthony, the Professor of Physics, had made arrangements to go east and study during the winter vacation; but the Trustees required him to remain at the College to attend to the plumbing of some of the new buildings under construction. This meant his doing a large part of the work with his own hands for skilled workmen could seldom be had in this locality. He obeyed at this time but it was the straw which caused this man of exceptionally diversified and eminent qualifications to accept another position soon afterward at Cornell University.

Shortly after this there arose other troubles of a more serious nature. The State had made a liberal appropriation for a Chemical building and about the time the foundations for it were in place, it was discovered that the College Treasurer, who was also State Treasurer, had defaulted for a large sum - and the building was stopped. He was not under bonds - this formality having been overlooked - and recriminations arose in the effort to fix and shift the responsibility for the mistake. Several members of the faculty arrayed themselves against the President, charging him with dereliction in certain matters and with performing unauthorized acts in the general management of the College. In other words, a few professors tried to unseat the President but were themselves unseated finally at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees. Most of the members of the State Assembly, and virtually every newspaper in the State, took an active interest on one side or the other of this controversy. I have seldom witnessed so bitter a fight and it was very difficult for me to keep out of it.

In 1873 my eyes began to fail from over-work and especially from over-study at night; and, having a horror of being mixed up in a factional fight and Mrs. Roberts' duties at the farm house having become too burdensome, I handed in my resignation. Professor Anthony was by this time at Cornell University. He had kept himself well informed as to the trouble at the I.A.C. and knew long before I resigned that I was far from being satisfied with the outlook for the future.

As I remember, it was in October, 1873, that I received a letter from him asking if I would consider favorably a call to Cornell University. I replied that I was tired out with overwork and wrangling, and was only waiting for a suitable time to go back to my farm. In answer to this he wrote asking me to formulate a plan for the organization of the College of Agriculture at Cornell which he might show to President Andrew D. White. I forwarded a somewhat lengthy statement and about two weeks after this, Vice-President Russell of Cornell came to the College at Ames prepared to discuss these plans and to offer me a position as Superintendent of the University farm and Assistant Professor of Agriculture.


At that time the Cornell year was divided into three terms, running from September to June. I declined to consider a plan by which I should have no vacation, unless the salary was increased I also declined to take my vacation in mid-summer, since I was certain that the farm could not be successfully carried on if I should spend the three busiest months away from the University. It was agreed finally - in case I should be appointed - that I might take a vacation of three months in winter and lecture only in the fall and spring terms.

When the fall meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at the I.A.C., in November, 1873, I had not yet heard anything from Cornell and as my resignation was in President Welch's hands, and his also in the Trustees' hands, I was planning to return to my farm at Mount Pleasant. At the first session of the Board a resolution was passed vacating all positions in the college. Re-convening after dinner in a more reasonable frame of mind, the Board proceeded to the election of a President, a faculty and other officers. President Welch and all of his co-workers except three full professors, were reelected to the positions which they had previously filled. Thus I was on in the morning, off at noon, and on again by evening.

I was again offered my resignation to take effect in January, 1874, and it was accepted. A few days later while the Board of Trustees was still in session, I received a telegram informing me of my appointment to the position of Assistant Professor of Agriculture at Cornell University with a full professor's salary and the promise that no full professor should be placed over me. I showed the message to my old friend, Trustee Buchanan, and with it in his hand he preceded me to the supper table and introduced me to the Board and the company as the Professor of Agriculture at Cornell University. I believe that was one of the happiest moments of his life. It was he who had secured my appointment at the I.A.C. when I was not competent to fill it - that is, he had taken me on trust - and he had stood by me and seen me grow. Now came the fulfilled joy of having his judgment of this "diamond in the rough" justified.

The appointment pleased me, as it might any ambitious young man, for it was a testimonial to my growth and ability, and yet I hesitated to accept it. I was in a discouraged frame of mind partly from over-work and partly from a lack of appreciation on the part of those whom my work had been designed to benefit as well as by an increasing sense of the difficulties that would have to be met at Cornell. I had begun to lose faith in the college method of raising the business of farming to an intelligent and dignified calling. But fortunately, my friend Mr. Buchanan had a wider view and a stronger faith than I in the new agricultural education, and when I asked his advice about accepting the position he said: "If you don't accept it I'll never forgive you - it's the great opportunity of your life - don't hesitate a moment even though your title will be only that of Assistant Professor. If you can't change that for a full professorship very soon then you are not the man I think you are." And that's the way I came to go to Cornell - as I supposed perhaps for only a year or two, for even yet I dreamed of going back to my own farm and being independent.

Again the switch had been turned and again I had been shunted on to another road. At Ames I had enjoyed the farm end of my work greatly, but I had not become much interested in purely educational lines; that development was to come later. My own judgment and inclination said, go back to Mount Pleasant; but my trusted friend said, go to Cornell - it is an opportunity which comes to a man but once in a lifetime - you can get a big livestock farm anytime. And so I set out not knowing whither I was going.