Willard J. Kennedy

Willard J. Kennedy

A native of Canada, Willard John Kennedy was born to Archibald and Jean (McInness) Kennedy in Vernon, Ontario, on October 1, 1876, and grew up on a farm there. His father was of Scottish descent and raised purebred livestock. Kennedy studied at the Ontario Agriculture College and received his BA degree in animal husbandry in 1898. He was instructor of Animal Husbandry at University of Illinois from 1899 to 1901. Kennedy came to Iowa State in 1901 where he was named head of the animal husbandry department. In 1906, he was named vice director of the experiment station by Dean Charles F. Curtiss. In 1910, he was naturalized as an American citizen. Kennedy was elected head of the Extension Department in 1912.

Kennedy headed the department at a time of great excitement in colleges. The question of technical versus practical had been settled; the college became Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. The seal adopted the motto "Science With Practice" in 1898. At the turn of the century there was increased wealth across the nation, in Iowa and among farmers. At the turn of the century there was increased wealth in Iowa including among farmers. Education was a focus of the legislature and promoted by those popular Iowa publications Homestead and Wallace's Farmer, as well as The Des Moines Register. Of the times, there can be little question that there was an unprecedented increase, systematization and diversification of courses in the established departments, including animal husbandry. Kennedy also excelled at training the college judging teams; his 1901, 1902 and 1903 teams brought the prestigious Spoor Trophy to Iowa State College permanently.

Early in his career Kennedy made two trips abroad during the early 1900s and spent a year studying agricultural conditions in many European countries. He returned to Europe two years later to purchase Belgian horses for breeding purposes. The advanced agricultural degree was changed to Master of Science in 1911. A prominent student of Kennedy at Iowa State was Henry A. Wallace who was Vice President of the United States at the time of Kennedy's death in 1942; Wallace also served as U. S. Secretary of Agriculture. The extension service established in 1906 at Iowa State College was an outgrowth of the long-established farm days held on campus and especially, since 1870, of farm days held all across the state to promote better agricultural practices on Iowa farms. Kennedy "was made vice-director of the Experiment Station and was then elected 'head of the Extension Department' in 1912."1 The 'department' created in 1906 with a superintendent responsible to the dean of agriculture was in 1912 made a separate service with a director responsible directly to the president.

In 1910, President Albert B. Storms was forced to resign because of state-wide factions supporting "agricultural college" versus general technological institution. The search for new leadership began. Professor Charles F. Curtiss, an avowed champion of a dominant agricultural emphasis, with support from Secretary of Agriculture "Tama Jim" Wilson was receiving wide support from the agricultural faction. Professor Curtiss combined scientific training with organizing capacity had been Wilson's successor at the College. He had enthusiastic support from the agricultural alumni as well as Homestead and Wallace's Farmer. Some believed that President Beardshear had hoped to have Curtiss as his successor. However, it was not to be, before Storms or after Storms. Following Storms' resignation, Curtiss supporters, led by Secretary Wilson, again urged his claims. There was a persistent rumor that, in the case of the Dean's elevation to the presidency, Professor Willard J. Kennedy, head of the Department of Animal Husbandry and vice-director of the station, would succeed to the headship of the agricultural division. Kennedy's skill in coaching and his energy and enthusiasm in developing stock judging and exhibitions had contributed directly to the rapid growth of his department, but unfortunately, he had become the center of a controversy that divided the agricultural interests of the state.

A group of agricultural journalists had brought charges of improper methods in stock judging and undesirable relations with commercial enterprises and had demanded the Professor's removal. In vigorous reply, Kennedy alleged that he was the victim of misrepresentation of fact and distortion of motive by disgruntled rivals. After a prolonged hearing occupying three full sessions in which both sides were represented by counsel the Board decided that the charges were "not sustained." But the controversy extending from September, 1910, to February, 1911, exciting much publicity and involving sharp differences of opinion, in itself and in addition to other complications made the selection of a president from the division concerned inadvisable.2

W. J. Kennedy as director, with his pronounced supporters and opponents, proved a storm center both in college administration and among the farmers, and finally, in May 1914, President R. A. [sic] Pearson demanded his resignation which was promptly presented. Kennedy maintained that he was the victim of unfriendly agricultural papers which brought a pressure upon the Board of Regents [sic] to which it finally gave way. He claimed that he had personally built up the largest animal husbandry department in the world and that the extension service had flourished greatly under his direction. Without questioning his marked competence and popularity as a teacher, his promotive energy, and wide and enthusiastic following, the Board and the President pointed out that, apart from the charges brought against his judging methods, he had created an impossible situation by failing to cooperate and work in harmony with the administration.

After leaving Iowa State College, he became president of Purity Serum Company of Sioux City. In 1924 he became sales manager for Anchor Serum Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he made his home. He became vice president of this company that was to become one of the world's leading serum plants. He continued to judge livestock and annually appeared at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago and the American Royal at Kansas City.

Kennedy also served as president of the Animal and Poultry Foundation of America and vice-chairman and member of the executive committee of the Serum and Virus Control Agency. He continued to write scientific bulletins. For over twenty years, he wrote for the Chicago Daily Drovers Journal.

(All photos shown here as part of the W. J. Kennedy biography have been shared with the Animal Science Department by great-grandson Jim Young of Crossville, TN, from the estate of Arlene (Kennedy's daughter), courtesy of her daughter Mary Morony of Chicago. The children are identified as daughter Arlene on the far left and Ronald A. on the far right. The other children are unidentified (ca 1913). The pony and cart belonged to the Kennedy family, it is believed. It was used for the May Day celebration to transport the Queen. These pictures are from the 1913 May Day celebration. May Day seems to have been an annual event from 1907 to 1927 and was sponsored by the Women's Physical Education Department, according to notes on file by Dr. Winifred Tilden, an early Director of Women's Physical Education. The celebration was eventually absorbed into the campus-wide VEISHEA spring celebration that was first held in 1922 and every year since except for a period in WWII. A college open house, it is the largest student-run festival in the USA, attracting thousands of visitors to campus in late April. VEISHEA is an acronym of the names of the five colleges existing at the time - Veterinary Medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics, and Agriculture. The photos seem to have been taken by Stevens, The Photo Man.)


1A History of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, by Earle D. Ross, The Iowa State College Press, Ames, 1942, p 259.

2The Land-grant Idea at Iowa State College, by Earle D. Ross, The Iowa State College Press, Ames, 1958, p 266.

We give grateful acknowledgement to the family of W. J. Kennedy for much of this biography.