Last week’s Friday Footnote mentioned two organizations, the Masons and the Grange, who have “secret” ceremonies. Are you aware of the existence of a “secret” agricultural education society? This secret agricultural education society is the Yellow Dogs (officially The Omnivorous and Amiable Order of the Yellow Dogs). If you are from Oregon or Montana this is not much of a secret. However, for the rest of the country, you may have never heard of the Yellow Dogs. I had been in the agricultural education profession for 20-25 years when I first learned of the Yellow Dogs.
Some years ago I decided to look through the back issues of The Agricultural Education Magazine. So, every week I would check out a bound volume of the Magazine from the library and would leisurely peruse the issues. If there was an interesting article I would read it.
I discovered the back issues often contained short news items such as John Doe was the new Northeast regional agricultural education supervisor in state X or the state agriculture teacher meeting was held in a certain city on certain dates. What caught my attention were the occasional news items about meetings of the Yellow Dogs. Just who and what were the Yellow Dogs?
To further mystify me, I was doing research on H. O. Sargent. He was the federal supervisor in the South for Black agriculture teachers and was one of the founders of the New Farmers of America (NFA). I was trying to locate his grave and succeeded in locating his son who lived in Norfolk, Virginia. I arranged for a visit. At the end of the visit, I was given a number of documents including the Yellow Dog membership certificate of H. O. Sargent (see below). I also got to see the silver tea service presented to the Sargent family upon the death of Mr. Sargent. The silver tea service was a gift from the Louisiana NFA.
Sargent’s Yellow Dog membership certificate was dated December 3, 1926 and is from the Louisville Kennel. This date and location coincides with the annual meeting of the American Vocational Association (AVA). The four signatures on the certificate are from E.E. Gallup (state supervisor from Michigan), J. T. Wheeler (a professor of Agricultural Education from the University of Georgia). H. O. Sampson (state supervisor from New Jersey) and L. H. Dennis (state supervisor in Pennsylvania, later to become the first executive secretary of the American Vocational Association).
After finding tangible proof of the Yellow Dogs (Sargent’s membership certificate) I started asking colleagues what they knew about the Yellow Dogs. Here is what I learned (even though some of my sources said “I am not supposed to be telling you this” or others who said they would have to kill me if they revealed any information about the Yellow Dogs.)
The Yellow Dogs is a “secret” society of agricultural educators designed to promote comradery and support to members of the profession. In Oregon and Montana, it is viewed as a way to welcome new agriculture teachers into the profession. Oregon is widely believed to be Kennel #1 with Montana being Kennel #2. The members are now given small membership cards (I could show you images of several but I am too young to die). There could be active Kennels in other states, but I have not found a record of any others. If there are Yellow Dogs in your state, please let me know.
A teacher in one of the western states wrote the following:
In my opinion Yellow Dogs is the single most important activity that building the family that is the Oregon Ag Teachers. While trivial and “old school” to some, the ceremony and fellowship afterwards demonstrates to the new pups that they have a whole “kennel” of fellow professionals that will always be there to support and help them be a successful ag teacher.
We initiate the new “pups” each year at our summer conference. I do not have the exact number but I know we have initiated over 1000 members since 1928.
Each member signs a bone and gets a membership card. We have a keeper of the bones. I believe we are up to five bones with signatures dating all the way back to 1928.
I believe our ceremony dates back to 1928 with only minor changes in the “script”.
I believe the bone that new initiates sign is the femur of a cow.
Dr. Jacque Deeds, one of the first female agriculture teachers in Oregon, wrote the following in the March/April 2008 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine (p. 24):
The summer after I graduated I went to my first Oregon Vocational Agriculture Teacher’s Association Conference. I knew from others about The Order of the Yellow Dog — the social organization of the Ag teachers. When I showed up at the fair grounds there was a flurry of activity. A group gathered in the corner and began passing pens and paper and another group offered me a beer. When it came time for the initiation I was moved into another room with the other new teachers until the ceremony began. I learned later that there was a quick rewrite of the ceremony and instructions to the more long-standing members about the changes expected in behavior. As part of the ceremony in addition to barking, answering questions and lifting our legs, each new member had to be vouched for by an older member. The beginning of informal mentoring of new teachers. At the banquet the next night it was pointed out that we now have a “Bitch in the Kennel.”
The Oregon Kennel was able to change the ceremonies and induction process to accommodate female agriculture teachers. However, in at least one other state, it appears this was not the case. Dr. Blannie Bowen writes in the Journal of Agricultural Education (2002, p. 7):
I attended our agriculture teacher conference. After the conference banquet ended one year, I was invited by several prominent male leaders of our teachers’ organization to come into a room. I had no idea what was about to occur. Several other males and I were inducted into the all-male Yellow Dog club. The initiation ceremony was demeaning to women, gross, and extremely offensive. As I hurriedly left the room, I encountered a group of our women teachers. They were extremely upset that I had participated in such a blatantly sexist activity. Within days, I sent a letter to all teachers and the Department apologizing for my conduct and condemning the existence of the Yellow Dogs. Virtually all of the letters and comments I received supported my very strong stance…If the Yellow Dogs exist today, it is certainly more of a covert and underground club.
I believe the Yellow Dog Kennel in this state has disbanded. So, there are different perspectives about the Yellow Dogs. This could lead to an interesting in-depth discussion.
In preparing this Friday’s Footnote I did a quick Google search and found the following tidbits of information:
- During the 1910-1930 era there were numerous Yellow Dog groups.
A. The Yellow Dogs is recognized as a “side degree” for fun purposes by some Masonic groups. So it appears the origins of the Yellow Dogs could be in the Masons. https://www.myfreemasonry.com/threads/yellow-dog-degree.29373/ and http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread323733/pg5
B. At the University of Nebraska, College of Agriculture, there was a Yellow Dog organization in 1924. It was described as “a fun organization composed of university professors and other Lincoln men.”
C. The Poultry Science Association had a Yellow Dog Group. I have found references to it in 1921 and 1931. In an early edition of the journal Poultry Science, there is a discussion of an upcoming meeting. The author writes “The only cloud on the horizon is that all the hotels refuse to allow us to hold our sacred Yellow Dog initiation within their walls.” But the writer is sure the problem will be resolved. He writes “…do not stay away for fear there will be no Yellow Dog meeting. It is sure to take place.” Later on, in this journal, there is a report that Kennel 606 of the Yellow Dogs of America held a regular meeting and inducted 47 members.
D. In an article in The American Farm Youth magazine, there is a reference to a high school agricultural student being inducted into the Yellow Dogs which is described as a “harmless social group”. Perhaps some high school agricultural departments had Yellow Dog clubs for students.
2. A quick Google search reveals a number of different Yellow Dog membership cards.
3. I am not sure how secret the Yellow Dogs are if the program for the 2016 annual teachers conference in Oregon states “3:30 Depart for Silvies Valley Ranch Tour, followed by Dinner/Yellow Dogs” and the name of the Ag Teachers newsletter is “Old Yeller”. There is even a 2015 photo on Facebook of a newly inducted Yellow Dog signing the bone.
4. An agriculture teacher in Montana published an Agricultural Education Teachers’ Calendar and Checklist. One of the items listed for June was “Become a Yellow Dog”
5. The 2015 obituary for Ernest Davis of Oregon lists “Yellow Dogs” Vocational Agriculture Teachers fraternity as an organization to which he belonged.
6. There was an organization of county agents in Pennsylvania in the 50s and 60s that were called Yellow Dogs.
7. There is an agriculture teacher organization in Colorado but it is called the International Order of Old Bastards.
8. The Clearfield Progress Newspaper in Clearfield, PA published this notice on Jan. 10, 1945. Interesting.
Trying to write this Friday Footnote was sort of like putting together a picture puzzle without the box to look at. I am not a Yellow Dog so I was pulling fragments of conversations, some email correspondence, online searches and anything else I could find to write this. What we really need to do is carefully and accurately document the Yellow Dogs (hint to graduate students). We need to preserve the history. I would really like to know how the group started. I would welcome and encourage anyone who has information to contribute about the Yellow Dogs to share it with the profession (as much as your vows allow). This footnote is only scratching the surface. It appears there are a number of agricultural groups that also have or had Yellow Dog groups.
I like to send out the Friday Footnote first thing on Friday morning but that didn’t happen today. I was in Montana yesterday speaking to the Montana Farm Bureau and got home about midnight. While I had some information outlined, it did take some time today to pull it all together. Sorry about that.
Bowen, B. (2002). Advancing Agricultural Education within the Context of an Increasingly Diverse Society. Journal of Agricultural Education. Vol. 43, No. 1.
Deeds, J. (2008). Mystery Speech. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Volume 80, Issue 5.