Was Lillian Lamb the First Smith-Hughes Agriculture Teacher? (10/9/2020)

Questions! I get questions. During a typical week, I will respond to 1-3 questions about agricultural education or FFA. During the past week I answered an inquiry about a gold FFA sweetheart jacket and this question, “I have been trying to find a source that tells me when the first female agriculture teacher started teaching agriculture in the United States and have not been able to pinpoint the start.” In this Friday Footnote, I will suggest an answer to the first female agriculture teacher question.

Who Was the First Female Agriculture Teacher?

We may never know the answer to this question, but I will “suggest” an answer. Then, I will encourage my colleagues to prove me wrong. This is a challenging question to answer because it depends upon how you want to define what constitutes being the first female agriculture teacher. Let me explain.

In Rufus Stimson’s unpublished manuscript on early leaders in agricultural education, he identifies two females who operated schools in the early 1900s. Charlotte Ware of Massachusetts started and operated the Warelands Dairy School in 1909-1913. Martha Berry started the Boys Industrial School in Georgia in 1902. It is now Berry College. So, do these two ladies qualify to be considered as the first agriculture teachers?

In the early 1900s numerous states established policies requiring the teaching of elementary agriculture in the grade schools. By 1915 21 states required instruction of agriculture in elementary schools (Hillison, 1998). Since many of the elementary teachers were females, there were hundreds of them teaching agriculture in elementary schools. It would be next to impossible to identify which elementary school teacher was the first to teach agriculture in the early 1900s.

My belief is the intent of the question was who was the first female agriculture teacher after the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act? That is the question I will attempt to address in this Footnote. I am suggesting the Lillian Louise Lamb of Indiana was the first female agriculture teacher in the Smith-Hughes era.

Figure 1. Lillian Louise Lamb

Lillian Lamb at Purdue

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 provided federal funds to support the teaching of vocational agriculture in the public schools. The act also required states who received these funds to have a plan for preparing agriculture teachers. However, numerous states had started teaching agriculture prior to 1917 and had established teaching training programs for agriculture teachers. One such state was Indiana.

In February of 1913, the Indiana State Legislature passed an act designated as the Indiana Vocational Education Law. Shortly thereafter Purdue University started preparing agriculture teachers. In 1915, Z. M. Smith, the state supervisor of agricultural education (and state 4-H leader) in Indiana prepared a four-year curriculum for Purdue University for preparing agriculture teachers. The 1915-1916 Purdue University Bulletin lists Agricultural Education as an option for agricultural students along with a four-year plan of study.

Lillian Louise Lamb enrolled in Purdue in 1915 and was a science major for her first two years according to the Purdue University Catalogs for 1915-16 and 1916-17 (it was common practice in the early 1900s to list the students in the college catalogs along with their majors). In the 1917-18 Catalog, we see that Lillian is a 3rd-year student but has changed majors – she is now listed as an agriculture student.

Figure 2. Lillian was the lone female member of Purdue’s Teachers Club

During her junior year, Lillian served as secretary of the Junior class. She also joined the staff of The Purdue Agriculturist which is a student-produced magazine. She wrote an article titled “Housing Poultry” in Volume 12 Number 1 (p. 22), October 1917. Later she wrote an article about “The House-Fly, Volume 12 No. 9 (p. 565), June 1918. “Brooding and Feeding Young Chickens” was authored by her In March of 1919 (Vol. 13, No. 6, p. 263.

Figure 3. The Purdue Agriculturist Staff

The Debris, which is the Purdue yearbook, highlights the senior students. In 1918-19, Lillian’s senior year, it is clear that she is majoring in agricultural education.

Figure 4. Lillian Lamb’s yearbook entry in her senior year.

Lillian Lamb – The Teacher

In Smith’s Some Historical Data on Vocational Agricultural Education in Indiana, from 1913 to 1931 we find Lillian Lamb listed as the agriculture teacher at Cory High School for the 1919-1920 school year. Cory is an unincorporated community in Clay county. She started her position in July of 1919 and ended it in June 1920. Her salary for the year was $1,000. The fact that she was an agriculture teacher is verified by looking in the Directory of Indiana School Officials 1919-1920. In the section listing Vocational Agriculture High School Departments for 1919-1920 (p. 17) “Miss Lillian Lamb” is listed as the vocational agriculture teacher at Cory.

Figure 5. Cory High School

The Brazil Daily Times (Brazil is the county seat of Clay County) mentions Miss Lamb five times during the 1919-20 school year. In January of 1920 Lillian presented “The Way to Plant an Orchard” at a Teacher’s Institute in Cory. In May it was reported that Lillian would remain in the community during the summer doing community work. It is highly probable that the community work was working with 4-H club members.

At the time Lillian was at Cory, the state agricultural education supervisor was Z. M. Smith. He was also the state leader of Boys’ and Girl’s Club work in Indiana. He served in both positions for nearly 30 years simultaneously before he retired in 1941 at the age of 70. One of his policies was that “Teachers of agriculture and home economics should serve as local 4-H leaders.” (Purdue, 1944, p. 14).

The 1920 Directory of County Agents, Farm Bureaus and their Co-Workers lists “Miss Lillian Lamb, Cory” as a Club Supervisor (Wilson, 1920, p. 64). This would align with Smith’s expectations for agriculture teachers to serve as club leaders.

Was Lillian a Smith-Hughes agriculture teacher? Rissler’s MS thesis would infer that she was. In his A History of Education of Clay County Indiana written in 1937 he states (p. 48):

At present only two schools in·the county are taking advantage of the Smith-Hughes Act passed in 1917, which provided for vocational education. These two schools are Brazil City and Van Buren Township. Van Buren Township also has vocational home economics on an eight months basis. This form of instruction has been discontinued in the Clay City and Cory schools.

In the Directory of Indiana School Officials 1920-1921 (p. 62) we find Lillian teaching Science in the town of Economy, Wayne County Indiana. Why did she leave Cory? Perhaps it was to return home; teachers tend to do that. Her home was in Economy. Or perhaps she recognized the future of vocational agriculture at Cory was limited. The Vo-Ag program at Cory was discontinued in 1921 (Smith, 1931). Or perhaps it was to prepare for a wedding.

Lillian Lamb – The Homemaker

Lillian Lamb married William C. Aitkenhead on May 12, 1921 in Economy, IN. This marriage was reported in both The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi (of which Lillian was a member) and The Purdue Agriculturist.

William was a 1920 graduate of Purdue University. William’s degree was in chemistry. He should have graduated in 1918 but was involved in the Purdue Ambulance Corps and spent 30 months overseas during World War I. His father was head of Agricultural Engineering at Purdue.

Figure 6. William Aitkenhead information from the 1920 Debris.

After getting married Lillian and William headed to The University of Idaho. The University of Idaho Annual Catalogs for 1920-1922 lists William as an Assistant in Agricultural Chemistry. Lillian became a mother in 1922 with daughter Jean Louise being born in Moscow, Idaho.

In 1923 Lillian and William returned to Purdue where William enrolled in graduate school. He earned a Master’s degree in chemistry in 1925. And Lillian earned her 2nd motherhood badge giving birth to Grace Louise in 1924. She would have two more children – William Lamb Aitkenhead in 1926 and Ruth A. Aitkenhead in 1934.

After earning his Master’s degree Lillian and William moved to Montana. The 1929 Purdue Alumni Directory lists Lillian as a Homemaker. William is listed as a Chief Research Engineer for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. He was a metallurgist.

In 1929 the Aitkenhead family headed overseas. William was a consultant to zinc mining companies in Norway and then spent two years in Russia designing zinc processing plants. They returned to Indiana in 1932 so William could work on his doctorate at Purdue. Lillian spoke to the Penelope Club in Lafayette in 1933 about her travels in Norway and Russia. The 1934 Purdue Alumni Directory lists the occupation of Lillian as a housewife and William as a graduate student. William earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1936.

After earning his doctorate William became nationally and internationally famous. He worked for a mining company in Arizona before becoming a faculty member at the Colorado School of Mines for 13 years. His next stop was as Director of the Mining Experiment Station at Washington State from 1950 to 1963. He was even “loaned” to the United Nations for a four-month assignment in Yugoslavia at one point in his career and during World War II was called back to the service where he analyzed the metals of Germany.

When William retired from Washington State University the Spokane-Review (June 30, 1963) reported:

For a man now 65 years young, Bill Aitkenhead has many plans for retirement. Ultimately he plans to do mining consulting work – but in the immediate future there is a trip brewing for Central America.

His wife, Lillian, was the first woman to graduate from Purdue in 1919 in agriculture. She and her husband have a distant focus today on some farm tract land in that area – “where the fishing is darn good.”

I don’t know if the trip to Central America or buying a farm materialized. I do know that William died at the age of 85 in 1983 while living in Tallahassee, Florida followed by Lillian who died in 1985 (age 87) in Tallahassee.

Concluding Remarks

Lillian, like many women of the era, gave up her teaching career to be a homemaker and mother. She raised four children and supported her husband. She appears to have been a very talented person. I found several mentions of her music performances while in her youth. If Lillian were living today, it might be interesting to see if her career path would be the same.

It was a challenge searching for information on Lillian. Once she got married the record is basically silent. And the fact that her husband, his father, and their son all had the same name – William Aitkenhead complicated the search. A special thanks goes to Jerry Peters at Purdue for providing valuable information that facilitated the search for information.

After learning more about Lillian Lamb I was not surprised that she might be the first female agriculture teacher in the Smith-Hughes era. I welcome my colleagues to see if you can find an earlier female Smith-Hughes era agriculture teacher.


Directory of Indiana School Officials. 1919-1920, 1920-1921, Indianapolis. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112033812543&view=1up&seq=7

Hillison, John (1998). Agriculture in the Classroom: Early 1900s Style. Journal of Agricultural Education, Volume 39, Number 2.

Purdue University. Department of agricultural extension. (1944). Indiana – A pioneer state in agricultural education and 4-H club work. Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924000872584&view=1up&seq=3

Rissler, Herbert (1937). A History of Education of Clay County Indiana. Masters Thesis, Indiana State University. http://scholars.indstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10484/7798/isua-thesis-1937-rissler.pdf?sequence=2

Smith, Z. M. (1931). Some Historical Data on Vocational Agricultural Education in Indiana, From 1913 to 1931. Bulletin No. 109. Department of Public Instruction, State of Indiana. Indianapolis. https://earchives.lib.purdue.edu/digital/collection/ag-ed/id/1147/rec/171

Wilson, William (1920). Directory of county agents, farm bureaus and their co-workers. Cambridge, MA. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hn43ct&view=1up&seq=7