“G” is for Georgia – Part 1: Agricultural Education in the Early Years (11/2/2023)

Does the name Martha Berry ring a bell? I am guessing she had a school bell that she rang in 1896 when she started teaching a small group of children in a deserted log cabin near her home. Her students were children of local tenant farmers. She taught what the boys would find most useful in adult life, which included agriculture.

Figure 1. Left – Young Martha Berry, Right – Older Martha Berry

In 1902 the Berry School was renamed the Boys’ Industrial School. In 1903 the school was incorporated with a Board of Trustees composed of prominent men from across the state. Miss Berry deeded the Board 82 acres of land. At the end of the year there were 50 students and five teachers.

Miss Berry believed (Wheeler, 1948, p. 21) “that the best education is that which trains by doing.” The students spent half the time in the school and the other half working on the farm. In 1909 the Martha Berry School for Girls was added.

What Miss Berry started near Rome, Georgia is now known as Berry College with 2,100 students and some 27,000 acres of land. She was elected to the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2002. There is a short video about Martha Berry on YouTube.

Georgia Congressional District Agricultural Schools

In 1902 Joseph Terrell, the newly elected governor of Georgia, recommended to the General Assembly that agricultural schools be established in Georgia in each congressional district. He stated (Wheeler, 1948, p.48):

Such schools would furnish an opportunity for the intelligent teaching and training annually of several thousands of our young men and women engaged in agriculture and kindred pursuits…Agriculture would take on a new life, and the desire on the part of the many of our noble young men and women to leave the farm for towns and cities would be checked.

Unfortunately, the timing was not right for a bill to be introduced but the idea resulted in state-wide discussions of the need for agricultural education of less than college grade in Georgia. However, some progress toward agricultural education in public schools was made.

The Public School Act of 1903 made it mandatory that (Wheeler, 1948, p. 27) “elementary principles of agriculture shall be taught in the common public schools of Georgia,” This phrase was repeated in subsequent years in the school laws of Georgia.

Governor Terrell was reelected in the fall of 1904 along with new legislators. The Congressional District Agricultural Schools Act was finally passed in 1906. The provisions of the Act were:

  1. An industrial and agricultural school was to be established in each congressional district.
  2. Fees received by the Department of Agriculture for inspection of fertilizers, oils and other such items were to be placed in a fund to support the schools.
  3. The Governor will appoint a person in each county in the respective congressional districts to be a school trustee.
  4. The Governor was authorized to receive land donations (not less than 200 acres) along with other finances, buildings, etc. from any county that wanted to have the school located in their county.
  5. The curriculum of the schools should include English and “practical treatise or lectures on agriculture in all its branches and the mechanical arts.”
  6. The faculty of the school shall consist of a principal who is to be an intelligent farmer, one superintendent and instructor of farm work, and one intelligent mechanic who is to direct mechanical work in and out of the shops.
  7.  Tuition is free.

Often there was spirited competition in the congressional districts to see which county would land the school. An article published in The Atlanta Journal (November 20, 1906) described how the process worked. Five locations were under consideration for the Second Congressional District Agricultural School and each location had submitted a sealed bid. In a morning meeting the Trustees of the district opened and examined the bids. Then there was an afternoon session where the competing delegations could make their case and also amend their bids. This process resulted in Tift County winning the school.

Figure 2. The Atlanta Journal, November 20, 1906

The manner in which the school locations were selected presented some problems. There was an unsystematic geographic distribution of the schools, and a good bit of the donated land was unproductive. Some of the faculty were predominantly academic in training and experience. Even though the General Board of Trustees from the University of Georgia were to provide oversight of the schools, each school ended up developing their own direction.

In 1911 the General Assembly changed the name of the schools to “District Agricultural and Mechanical School.” After this action, the schools were typically designated as the “A. & M. Schools.”

Figure 3. Students in the 4th Congressional District Agricultural School in Carrollton
looking at farming implements in 1910-11. Photograph from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

In 1916 two USDA officials (Crosby and Lane) made a study of the schools and issued a summary of what they found. Some of the findings were:

  1. All schools admitted students from outside the congressional district.
  2. 85% of the students boarded at the schools.
  3. Boys had to be 14 years old to be admitted, girls 13 years old.
  4. Students received 10 cents an hour for productive labor.
  5. Two schools featured military training.
  6. Nearly all the schools taught piano to the girls.
  7. Each girl had to take a year’s work in agriculture and a four-year course in home economics.
  8. All maintenance work at the school was done by students in the shop classes.
  9. Five schools offered short courses in the summer for rural teachers in adjoining counties.

To help the public understand the operation of the Congressional District Schools a letter from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the 10th District Congressional School was published in in the Atlanta Semi-Weekly Journal in 1909. The original article has one paragraph that is damaged, so that paragraph has been retyped below Figure 4. That letter follows.

 Figure 4. Atlanta Semi-Weekly Journal, January 8, 1909. The damaged paragraph reads:

The pupils have also found that their expenses here are less than almost anywhere else., for the only charges are ten dollars a month for board (including everything) and even this is materially reduced by the ten cents per hour paid them for their work during the month. Thus many will be enabled to attend this school who are financially barred from going elsewhere. But we desire it to be distinctly understood that the claims for patronage are not based on its minimum cost, but upon the fact that it is to be a school of agriculture and domestic science.

If the Georgia district agricultural schools are to …

A Change in Direction

In some locations the residents wanted to identify the schools as colleges. Beginning in the early 1920s some of the schools changed their names to reflect the idea they wanted to become colleges. Some of the name changes were “South Georgia Teachers College” and “Middle Georgia College.” In 1932 all of the A. & M. schools were taken over as part of the reorganization of the University System of Georgia. Table 1 shows the current name of the original 12 Congressional District Agricultural Schools. However, this table might not be totally accurate as some institutions today don’t acknowledge their origins and several have gone through several name changes.

Table 1. Evolution of the Congressional District Agricultural Schools in Georgia



Location Current Name
First Statesboro Georgia Southern University
Second Tifton Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Third Americus Georgia Southwestern State University
Fourth Carrolton University of West Georgia
Fifth Monroe Housed North Walton High School at one time
Sixth Barnesville Absorbed into Gordon Military College
Seventh Powder Springs McEachern High School
Eighth Madison Closed 1933
Nineth Clarkesville North Georgia Technical College
Tenth Sparta Closed 1932
Eleventh Douglas South Georgia State College
Twelfth Cochran Middle Georgia State University – Cochran Campus

Georgia Southern University was originally the First Congressional District Agricultural School. They are not ashamed of this fact as the historical marker on campus plainly states. See Figure 5.

Figure 5. Historical Marker at Georgia Southern University.

The Seed is Planted

When Governor Terrell failed to get support from the Georgia state legislature for the Congressional District Agriculture Schools in the early 1900s, he resorted to Plan B. What was Plan B? Governor Terrell persuaded two Georgia lawmakers in the U.S. Congress to introduce bills providing Federal aid to all Congressional Districts in the United States for the establishment of agricultural schools. This bill was introduced in the House on December 18, 1906 and in the Senate on January 21, 1907. Who do you think the Congressional sponsors were? No – it was not Smith and Hughes.

Congressman Leonidas Livingston sponsored the bill in the House and Alexander Clay sponsored the bill in the Senate. The bill was supported by many but did not become law. However, it was the beginning for what would eventually become the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. More about that next week.

Wheeler reports (1948, p. 71):

The nation had its eyes on the A. and M. School movement in Georgia. Educators came from every state in the nation to study this daring experiment. Colleges and Universities sent committees to the state to see what Georgia was attempting. National educational organizations selected Atlanta for their annual meeting place in order to visit the Congressional District schools. This venture in education held the spotlight in America for more than a decade.

Closing Remarks

Whenever we teach about the history of agricultural education we often start with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. However, we really should start earlier as this Footnote shows. In addition to Georgia there were Congressional District Agricultural Schools in Alabama (started in 1889) and Virginia (started in 1908-1910). There were a variety of other state and local efforts to teach agriculture in high schools (and elementary schools) prior to 1917. The Congressional District Agricultural Schools helped pave the way for the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act.

A brief synopsis of pre Smith-Hughes agricultural education can be found in the article “The Status of Agricultural Education Prior to the Smith‑Hughes Act” published in The Agricultural Education Magazine in 1987 (Volume 59, issue 8, pages 8‑10). To learn more about Congressional District Schools read John Hillison’s article Congressional District Schools: Forerunner of Federally Supported Vocational Agriculture in the Journal of Agricultural Education (1989, Volume 30, No. 4, pages 7-13).


Wheeler, J. T. (1948). Two Hundred Years of Agricultural Education in Georgia. Interstate, Danville, IL.