UMES joins in bicentennial celebration of House Ag Committee | University of Maryland Eastern Shore Marketing Retarget Pixel

UMES joins in bicentennial celebration of House Ag Committee

  • PA Academy Class of 1894The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture is in the midst of celebrating its 200th anniversary. UMES’ School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences would like to help spotlight the significant moments throughout the committee’s history and mission of establishing federal agricultural policy and providing funding to ensure safe and affordable food, support agricultural research and development, and ensure the competitiveness of American agriculture.

    To this end, The National Agricultural Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture assembled a digital timeline highlighting significant events and people, along with farming, food and nutrition legislation in the committee’s history.

    The Committee on Agriculture was formed on May 3, 1820 as the brainchild of U.S. Rep. Lewis Williams (N.C.).  Williams suggested creating a permanent standing committee to ensure that farmers would have representation in Congress and that agriculture would continue to develop.

    President Abraham Lincoln would play a leading role in the growth of agriculture as the nation expanded westward.  The Organic Act of 1862 established the U.S Department of Agriculture, for which Lincoln chose an agriculturalist instead of a politician as its first commissioner.  Lincoln signed the Morrill Act of 1862 into law on July 2 to expand education and provide access to practical education to a broader segment of the population.  Federally controlled land was granted to the states to sell to raise funds to establish and endow land-grant colleges to teach agriculture and mechanical arts. The year also saw the first USDA research publication, “Report on the Chemical Analysis of Grapes,” written on October 1 by Charles Wetherill, the first head of the department’s chemical division. 

    After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862) and the end of the Civil War (1865), Rep. Richard Harvey Cain (S.C.) would be the first African American to serve on the House Agriculture Committee (1873-75 and 1877-79).  He was active in civil and land rights organizations during the Reconstruction era and worked in his state for land to be purchased and resold to both Black freedmen and the formerly enslaved. 

    The idea of experiment stations were introduced to the U.S. in 1875 and modeled after a similar program in Germany that helped improve agricultural research and development.  Named after House Agriculture Chair William Henry Hatch, the Hatch Act of 1887 funded the creation of experiment stations at land-grant colleges.  George Washington Carver, head of Tuskegee’s agricultural department and administrator of its agricultural experiment station farms would be the first to write agricultural “bulletins” for the broader public rather than just for researchers.

    Pivotal legislation for African Americans came in the form of the Second Morrill Act (August 30, 1890) designed to increase the number of institutions educating the formerly enslaved.  The act mandated that African Americans be included in the land-grant university higher education system, specifically that states with separate colleges for Black and white students were required to have an equivalent institution for agriculture and mechanical arts instruction for Black students.  The schools that subsequently opened or were designated came to be known as the 1890 institutions. Nineteen 1890 institutions have been established in 19 Southern and border states as part of the Second Morrill Act.

    With the passing of the Second Morrill Act, the Methodist Episcopal Church’s private Delaware Conference Academy that opened on September 13, 1886 with 16 acres, nine students and two educators would be renamed Princess Anne Academy, the forerunner of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, as Maryland’s 1890 land-grant institution.  A photo of the Princess Anne Academy Class of 1894, the earliest known image of students at the institution, is featured in the timeline.  The campus has since grown to an over 1,000-acre, public research institution with 38 disciplines and 16 graduate programs.

    The 1900s would bring about legislation affecting food safety (Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906), farm commodity surpluses and decreased farm income following WWI (Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933—the first U.S. farm bill), soil conservation following the Dust Bowl (Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935), price supports and federal crop insurance (Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938), and programs to assist farmers following the economic crisis of the 80s (Agricultural Credit Act of 1987) and the drought (The Disaster Assistance Act of 1988). 

    The House Committee on Agriculture’s focus on health and nutrition came following the Great Depression (1929-1933), when it lent its support to the pioneering research of Dr. Hazel Stiebeling, head of the USDA’s Bureau of Home Economics, Food Economics section.  Her work was the basis for modern nutrition research.  Since then, the farm bills have addressed food assistance and nutrition.  The Food Stamp Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program along with the Food Security Act of 1985 have proven important means to combat domestic hunger.  More recent farm bills have provided healthy school meals (Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the National School Lunch Act) and fresh foods for underserved communities (Healthy Food Financing Initiative).Congressman David Scott

    Most recently, the 2018 Farm Bill continues support for commodity, nutrition and conservation programs.  It also advocates for expansion of broadband connectivity in rural areas that lack access necessary for producers to use emerging technologies incorporating Global Positioning Systems such as precision agriculture and auto-steer tractors.  These technologies “improve yields, conserve natural resources and feed a growing global population.”

    Congressman David Scott (GA-13), who has served on the House Agriculture Committee since 2003, played a key role in the past three farm bills.  He was appointed this year as the committee’s first African American chairman and helped secure $80 million for new scholarships for students attending 1890 land-grant colleges and universities.

    Photo Caption:
    The earliest known image of students at Princess Anne Academy that would later become the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Maryland's 1890 Land-Grant Institution, is featured in the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture's 200th anniversary digital timeline.  The Class of 1894, pictured above, from left, are:  (seated) Estelle Stansberry, H. Alverta Waters Johnson, Annie Green, Annie Riley, Estena White, Ella Horsey (standing) Charles Winder, Joseph Hayman, John Waters, Walter Moore, Isaac Dennis and Robert Pinkett.  Photo courtesy of UMES' archive at the Frederick Douglass Library.

    This article written with information provided by the National Agricultural Library of the USDA's digital timeline of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.

    Gail Stephens, agricultural communications, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences,, 410-621-3850.