Many years ago I was observing a student teacher in a rural high school in Indiana. In between classes I was perusing the books in the bookshelf when a book, The Green Hand, caught my attention. I had never seen or heard of this book, and that was after having studied at three different universities and receiving three degrees in Agricultural Education. I asked to borrow the book, went home, and read it from cover to cover. I was intrigued by it. It was a novel about the FFA. The Footnote for this week is about that book (and subsequent movie).
The Greenhand was written by Paul Chapman in 1932 (four years after the founding of the FFA and at the height of the great depression). In this novel a backwoods rowdy, Fred Dale, after disrupting a Future Farmers of America Banquet and accidentally shooting the vocational agriculture teacher during a deer hunt, is persuaded to enroll in vocational agriculture and join the FFA. Slowly he becomes involved in the FFA and public speaking, much to the dismay of “Red” Holt, a rival. He gets the vocational agriculture students involved in a cooperative project growing tomatoes for a soup company, falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the soup company president, and wins the national FFA public speaking contest just in time to rescue the home farm on which he and his widow mother live from the clutches of the about-to-foreclose evil judge. His winning FFA speech is about the South and how modern agricultural practices can lead the South out of poverty. He also wins the heart of the girl.
The author, Paul Chapman, was the state director of vocational education in Georgia when he wrote the book. He was the first Smith-Hughes Ag Teacher in Missouri, then became the State Director of Vocational Agriculture in Missouri. He was persuaded to move to Georgia and became the state director of Vocational Education from 1926 – 1934. In 1931 he was president of the American Vocational Association. In 1934 he became Dean of the Agriculture College at the University of Georgia and remained in the position until 1947.
Basically the moral of the story was that FFA can make a difference in the lives of individuals, agriculture is a worthy profession, and modern farming practices should be followed. And I thought that was the end of the story, but I was mistaken.
About 10 years after finding the book I stumbled across an article in the January 1940 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine titled “Future Farmers in the Movies.” I was excited to learn the book was made into a movie. After some more digging, I learned The Greenhand was made into a 90-minute movie by the Sears Roebuck Foundation in 1939. In describing the movie, the Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife (Andersen, 1940, p. 43) describe it as “…a romance-coated plug for scientific agriculture and better farming in the South.” The movie was filmed in Georgia.
The actors were all amateurs and included state and federal vocational agricultural officials. The main character, Fred Dale, was played by UGA sophomore Alpha Fowler, Jr., the son of a state legislator. Alpha was also the immediate past-president of the Georgia FFA. A “big man on campus” in the 1940s, Fowler, Jr. went on to his own career as a state legislator. Paul Chapman was even in the movie. A list of the “actors” and more information about the film can be found at http://www.libs.uga.edu/media/collections/uga/lawlibrary.html
The theatrical premiere was on January 12, 1940, in Athens, Georgia. The governor of Georgia was in attendance (just a month earlier he attended the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta). Henry Groseclose was also in attendance. The movie was shown in theaters all across the South.
I decided to see if I could find a copy of the film. At this point in time, there was no Internet (thus no YouTube or Vimeo). A couple of companies (The Farm Film Foundation and Venard Films) loaned agricultural films to school teachers, so I contacted both of them. They did not have the film. Even though Venard had produced the film, they could not find a copy of it. I contacted the Sears-Roebuck Foundation archivist and she sheepishly admitted that the only copy they had was accidentally destroyed.
I next wrote several colleagues in Georgia (this was in the 1980s) asking if they had a copy of the film. I assumed there had to be some copies in Georgia. But the answer was a disappointing “No”. However, Dr. Frank Flanders indicated that he would continue searching for the film.
So, in Frank’s own words:
The Greenhand movie was used extensively in agriculture classes across Georgia, as well as nationally, during the 1940’s and 1950’s. By the time I entered my first agriculture class in the late 1960’s the film was 30 years old and dated. I learned about the film’s existence in 1983 while completing a master’s thesis on Leaders in Vocational Agriculture in Georgia. I began a search for the movie, but most copies had long since been discarded. Charlie Majeski, a former District Supervisor in Georgia (Department of Education) located the only known copy in a storage closet of his offices in the Rural Life Building on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. With Mr. Majeski’s permission, the film was donated to the University of Georgia Library.
The mailing label on the film indicated it had been in storage about 20 years. It took a number of years from when Frank and I started trying to find the film that it was found, but the film was located and has been digitized. Thanks to Dr. Flanders, this important aspect of the history of the FFA and agricultural education has been preserved.
The Green Hand has been recognized as one of the 25 most important corporate sponsored films of all time.
Print copies of The Greenhand book are rare but one can download a pdf version of the book from https://www.georgiaffa.org/docs/17881_green_hand_book.pdf.
A copy of The Greenhand movie can be downloaded from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RVUuU9ve57FfHFKL-Ty4Mo1nh3gBjPsL/view?usp=sharing
- Show the video. However, before you show the video, you should do what all good teachers do – preview the video in advance. There are several scenes where the racist views prevalent in the 1930 era South is depicted. Handled correctly, one could use these scenes as a learning experience. You should also be aware the film starts with some local “talent” at an FFA banquet. Some of the entertainment might be classified as corny and your students might roll their eyes. As you preview the film, you should make a list of questions to share with your students that they are to answer.
- Divide your students into groups; have them outline a “sequel” movie based on The Greenhand that would be appropriate for the modern era.
Anderson, L. Q. (1940, May). Young America. Farm Journal and Farmer’s Wife, p. 43.
Chapman, P. W (1932). The Greenhand. Chicago: J. P. Lippincott.
Future Farmers in the Movies (1940). The Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 7, p. 137.
Green Hand on Screen (1940, February). Georgia Association of Future Farmers of America Magazine, 8(3), 1-2.
The Agriculturist, 1939. The University of Georgia, College of Agriculture. Athens, Georgia.
Thompson, Scott (August 28, 2015). The Green Hand. Pieces of Our Past Web Site. http://dublinlaurenscountygeorgia.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-green-hand.html
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