After I wrote the Friday Footnote a month or so ago about the passing of Mrs. Henry C. Groseclose I realized that the profession now probably knew more about Marie Groseclose than they did about Henry Groseclose, the Father of the FFA. Basically, we teach our students that Henry Groseclose was the Father of the FFA and he was on the faculty at Virginia Tech. But, other than that, Henry Groseclose is just a name to be memorized. Our students memorize the name but they know nothing more about the person. This Friday Footnote will attempt to introduce us to Henry C. Groseclose, the man.
Henry Caspar Groseclose II
Henry Caspar Groseclose II was born in the village of Ceres in Bland County, Virginia on May 17, 1892. Henry’s father was a dry goods merchant but was also a farmer. Bland County is in a mountainous region of Virginia located on the West Virginia border. It is one of the least populated counties in Virginia and is one of only a few counties in the United States that contains no incorporated municipalities. The Jefferson National Forest covers much of Bland County and the Appalachian Trail traverses its ridges and valleys. General livestock farming with small fields of grain crops are the agricultural mainstays.
A farm in Bland County, Virginia
To say that Henry Groseclose came from a rural background would be an understatement. It is fitting that Henry came from the village of Ceres – which was named after the Roman Goddess of Agriculture and Grain. Henry received his basic education in the public schools of Bland County. Then he enrolled at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia where he attended from 1909 to 1912. Mueller (1955, p. 6) wrote:
When Henry Groseclose enrolled as a freshman at Washington and Lee University to prepare for a career in vocational agriculture, he was a bashful, self-conscious boy from a mountain farm. He had kept growing since choosing his high school graduation suit, and his ill-fitting clothes, provincial way of speaking, and homemade haircut were the object of ridicule on the part of some of his city classmates.
Three years later Henry, who had learned to select clothes and wear them well, stood in line to register for the fall semester. He looked at the long line of freshman boys on the other side of the hall and thought how easy it was to single out the farm boys with their ruddy faces, work-hardened hands, and skimpy or odd-colored suits. Groseclose, remembering his own painful experiences as a freshman, wished there was something he could do to help farm boys overcome the feeling of inferiority and shyness they feel in the company of their city classmates. He dreamed of starting an organization in which farm boys could have some social experiences comparable with those of city boys, a club where they would develop self-confidence and pride in their rural heritage.
It would be several years before Henry realized his dream.
Henry started his career as an agriculture teacher at Buckingham High School in central Virginia. His monthly report for May 22, 1919 indicated “Organized agriculture club in school – 20 members” (Bryant, 2001, p. 41). So it should be no surprise later, when the subject of a club for agricultural students surfaced, that he was favorable to the idea. Henry completing both a bachelors degree in agricultural education (1923) and a master’s degree in agricultural education in 1927 at Virginia Tech. (Kinnear, 1952).
While teaching high school Groseclose had his Buckingham students make a survey of agricultural practices on 100 farms in 1919 (Stimson & Lathrop, 1942). This formed the basis for the curriculum he taught. He also served as a principal at a school in Painter, Virginia (Hillison, 1992) at some point in time before joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1924.
In 1917 (September 8) Henry married Dorothy Saxton. She was from Ohio. I don’t know where or how they met. The wedding was in Ohio. Dorothy and Henry had two children – Henry Groseclose III and Tom Saxton Groseclose.
In 1924 Henry moved to Virginia Tech to help with training agriculture teachers (Kinnear, 1952). A year later his responsibilities changed to that of an Itinerant Teacher Trainer. As an itinerant teacher trainer, Henry was responsible for traveling across the state working with new agriculture teachers – basically, he was teaching agriculture teachers how to teach while on the job.
At a meeting at Virginia Tech in September of 1925 the decision was made to create a state-wide organization of boys enrolled in vocational agriculture (Noblin, 1942). Walter Newman, the new state supervisor for agricultural education, suggested the such an organization was needed. E. C. Magill, Head of the Department and Harry Sanders, an agricultural education faculty member were in the meeting along with Henry Groseclose. At this meeting Henry was assigned the responsibility for developing the plan for the proposed organization.
However, fate intervened. Two months after the September meeting Henry was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Maryland where he was confined for about six months (Admitted on November 10, 1925 – Returned to Virginia Tech on May 23, 1926). While convalescing he developed a tentative constitution and a set of by-laws for the youth organization (Magill, 1931). Upon his return to Virginia Tech a copy of the proposed plans for the Future Farmers of Virginia was mailed to all the agriculture instructors in the state on June 14, 1926. At the summer agriculture teachers conference Henry made a presentation about “A State Organization of Students Enrolled in Agriculture”. Shortly thereafter, the Future Farmers of Virginia came into being.
The Future Farmers of Virginia became the model for other states and led the way to a national organization. In the summer of 1928, the federal agricultural education officials called Groseclose and Newman to Washington to consult on the development of the national organization. Noblin (1942, p. 9) summarizes the efforts of Henry Groseclose in establishing the FFA:
Groseclose originated the name; produced the constitution and bylaws which, with some minor revisions, was accepted by both the state and national organizations; he gave the idea of progressive membership based on achievement and the names for the degrees; developed the emblem, the key, and the seal which was almost identical with that of today with the exception of the cross-section of an ear of corn; he perfected the induction ceremony for the Greenhand; wrote the first handbook and arranged for financing it with the Farm Journal Company; secured the plow emblems from John Deere Company; and played an important part in securing incorporation for the national organization. He was the first executive secretary, and for more than twelve years served as national treasurer. In recognition of his services he was the first to receive the … Honorary American Farmer.
Supposedly the idea of naming the organization the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV) came to Groseclose one night while taking a hot bath. There was a prestigious group in Virginia known as the First Families of Virginia (FFV) and included the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It would be an honor for the agricultural students to share the same initials.
After the national FFA was established Henry continued in his teacher education position at Virginia Tech (except for a one-year assignment as State Supervisor of Secondary Education for Virginia in 1929). He served as the National FFA executive secretary from 1928 until 1930 and then was National FFA treasurer from 1928 to 1941 until he resigned because of ill-health.
The home of Henry Groseclose in Ceres, Virginia
On July 1, 1945 Henry retired from Virginia Tech on the advice of the university physician (Groseclose, 1945). He moved back to his home county (Bland) and became Superintendent of Schools. Henry died on June 4, 1950 at the age of 58. He was preceded in death by his first wife Dorothy Saxton who died on January 3, 1947. He was survived by his 2nd wife Marie Carr (whom he married on November 7, 1947). Marie passed away on May 5, 2019. All three are buried in the Sharon Lutheran Church Cemetery in Ceres, Virginia. Dorothy’s grave is beside Henry’s grave, while Marie’s grave is immediately below Henry’s grave.
Henry’s Grave in the Sharon Lutheran Church Cemetary, Ceres, Virginia
In 1947 Henry was recognized by Progressive Farmer as their man of the year. A highway marker sign was erected in honor of Henry on June 15, 2003 in Ceres. A Henry Groseclose/FFA Museum has been created in the old agriculture building in Ceres, Virginia. In the next Friday Footnote, we will explore that museum.
Groseclose marker in Ceres, Virginia. Henry’s house is about 100 yards away.
Henry Groseclose, like many agricultural educators, came from humble beginnings but he didn’t let his background stop him. In Henry’s situation, going to college helped him advance in life. Today, we have the FFA and further educational opportunities to help our students advance in life. We need to encourage our students to take advantage of these opportunities.
Even when life handed Henry a lemon, being hospitalized for six months, he used this time to full advantage. So when we face obstacles in our lives, we need to figure out a way to overcome them. I am reminded of a noteworthy quote from Booker T. Washington:
I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.
When you teach about Henry Groseclose perhaps you can use some of the information in this Footnote to enhance your teaching. I wish to thank John Hillison of Virginia Tech for providing some of the information found in this Footnote.
Bryant, B. W. (2001) History of the Virginia FFA Association. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Virginia Tech.
“Groseclose, State Advisor of FFA Since Its Start, Retires. Chapter Chats, (1945, September).
Hillison, John (1992). The Role of Virginia in the Development of the FFA. Southern Research Conference for Agricultural Education. New Orleans.
Kinnear, D. L. (1952). A History of Agricultural Education in Virginia with Special Emphasis on the Secondary School Level. Doctoral Dissertation. The Ohio State Univesity.
Magill, E. C. (1931, March). “Future Farmers in Virginia Celebrates Fifth Anniversary,” Chapter Chats, IV.
Mueller, A. H. (1955). That Inspiring Past. Webb Publishing: St. Paul, MN.
Noblin, E. Y. (1942). The FFA Chapter Its Organization and Activities. Virginia Polytechnic Institute: Blacksburg, VA.
Stimson, R. W. & Lathrop, F. W. (1942). History of Agricultural Education of Less Than College Grade in the United States. U. S. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC.