History of Virginia Cooperative Extension
By: Laura Dainton, Jacob Hodges, Jama Coartney
The timeline was primarily organized by a team of undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech. Jacob Hodges and Jama Coartney led the team with assistance from Nicole Nunoo and Maggie Daly. 2021 VCE Intern Laura Dainton worked to improve the timeline and provide the ADA compliant version.
The land currently known as Virginia has always thrived with agricultural activity. As early
as the 1100s, Native Americans mastered plant breeding and cultivation with corn from
Mexico and mixed culture agriculture with the well-known “three sisters” (corn, squash
1800-1850s: The Agricultural Revolution and Agricultural Fairs
While an agricultural revolution was at hand, there were few educational opportunities to
learn and study how to become a successful farmer. Sharing information broadly was
difficult; however the organization of county, in 1819, and state, in 1854, fairs created
one such place to share agricultural information and host friendly competitions.
1855: Michigan State Agricultural School
In 1855, Michigan authorized the creation of a state agricultural school with the goal of
educating common people in both classical studies and practical knowledge. The
Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was created and opened to students in
- The success of the college encouraged the continued effort to pass the Morrill Act
and have federal land grants to fund higher education in every state.
1861: The Education of Slaves, Free Blacks and Mulattos in Hampton, Virginia
Going against the 1831 law forbidding education to slaves or free blacks, Mary Peake, a
free Negro, taught a class on September 17, 1861. The class was held underneath a
simple oak tree, now known as the Emancipation Oak since it was where the first
southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation occurred (1863), located at what is
now Hampton University.
1862: Morrill Land Grant Act
Through the Morrill Land Grant Act, 30,000 acres of federal land was given to each state
to be sold and the proceeds used to create a land-grant institution. The goal was to
educate the industrial class in both classical and scientific studies as well as agricultural
and mechanical arts. Enrolling the working class, and dedicating scholarly resources to
solving practical problems revolutionized the university system.
1865: 13th Amendment
The 13th Amendment, added to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, abolished slavery, thereby
formally ending Virginia’s major agricultural labor force.
1868: Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton Institute) was founded in
1868 to provide industrial education and experience for African American students. In
1872, it was provided one third of the federal funds from the Morrill Land Grant.
1872: Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College
Once Virginia was readmitted to the Union (1869), higher education institutions began
competing in a lengthy struggle, named the “War of the Colleges,” to earn the provisions
stated in the Morrill Land Grant Act. In 1872, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical
College (now known as Virginia Tech) received two thirds of the funds for its founding.
The institution would later become home to agricultural extension and demonstration
1882-1887: Hatch Act
The Hatch Act provided funding for the creation of experiment stations at land-grant
institutions. Experiment stations perform production and operation research to provide
farmers with scientific data about the most effective methods in their industry.
1882: Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute
In 1882 Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University) was
founded and over a year later, in 1883, the institute finally opened. The institute was the
nation’s first fully state-supported, 4-year institute of higher education for African
Americans. In 1902 the name was changed to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute.
1906: Seaman Knapp
Seaman Knapp created the idea of demonstration work, teaching low-income farmers
how to become more profitable and self-sustainable by demonstrating the new findings
from Experiment Stations. By allowing farmers to see first hand how beneficial scientific
farming could be, it spread the knowledge beyond the well-educated members of society.
His successes provided a basis for what would eventually become extension agents.
1906: T.O. Sandy
Thomas Oldham Sandy was chosen to be the first state agent in Virginia. Teaching the
scientific farming practices he already used on his own farm, Sandy served as a traveling
agent and exhibited the Knapp method of demonstration across the state. Known as the
father of demonstration work among white farmers in Virginia, Sandy chose assistant
demonstration agents to continue to spread his work.
1906: J.B. Pierce
John Baptist Pierce became the first African American farm agent in Virginia, after
attending Hampton Institute from 1898-1902, and grew to be the district agent for Negro
demonstration work in Virginia and the Carolinas. Teaching the live-at-home method of
being a self-sustaining farmer, Pierce wanted to help increase yields so that even the
lowest income farmers were able to live at home and educate their children.
1910: Ella Agnew
Ella Agnew became the first home demonstration agent in the United States and the first
woman field worker in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She created Tomato Clubs for
girls, similar to the Corn Clubs for boys, with additional lessons about canning and
storing goods. Home demonstration work and agricultural education for women grew out
of her work.
1913: Lizzie A. Jenkins
Lizzie A. Jenkins was the first African American home demonstration agent in Virginia.
She organized clubs and supervised Jeanes teachers who spent summers traveling to
homes to teach skills such as canning, sewing, and gardening. By visiting homes Jenkins
was able to tailor her programs to focus on what families needed most, leading to
incredible community improvement.
1915: Demonstration Trains
Demonstration trains were a popular project conducted by Extension with the Norfolk
and Western railroad. The train traveled with agents who spoke, and exhibition cars
which showed machinery, farm products, and livestock. Demonstration trains reached
areas of Virginia which previously knew nothing of extension work and its benefits.
1922: 4-H All Stars
The 4-H All Stars program was created as an opportunity to recognize leadership,
service, and accomplishment. Being named a 4-H All Star has been the highest honor of
the 4-H organization since 1922. All Stars give back service to 4-H through program
planning, implementation, evaluation, reporting, fundraising, and speaking on behalf of
1938: Maude E. Wallace
In 1938 Maude E. Wallace became assistant director of Extension in charge of home
demonstration work, a position she held until 1958. During her time she grew home
demonstration work in Virginia to a new level of effectiveness and efficiency, developing
the Virginia Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs to be the largest organization of
women in Virginia at the time, and worked to enable women in Extension to get paid
equal to men.
1942: Victory Garden Program
The Victory Garden Program advocated for each rural family to raise enough food to feed
themselves and their livestock. Extension formed the State Extension Garden Committee
to promote the effort. Victory Gardens were so successful that they spread to urban areas
1945: Homemakers Organizations
Future Homemakers of America and New Homemakers of America were established as
segregated home economic student organizations for girls. In 1965 these two
organizations merged; in 1974 males were allowed to join, and in 1999 the name was
changed to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
1947: 100-Bushel Corn Club and the Corn War
Inspired by the original Corn Clubs, pamphlets instructing farmers how to produce 100
or more, bushels of corn per acre were published by the Extension agency. The program
was open to both youth and adults and attempted to show how useful Extension research
could be. The growing interest led to Virginia challenging North Carolina to a friendly
Corn War to see which state could produce more. Virginia ended up winning both years.
1964: The Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and prohibited discrimination on the basis of
race, color, religion, sex or national origin in federally assisted programs which included
the Cooperative Extension system and land-grant colleges. Within the next year the Virginia Extension service had integrated its offices and programs.
1966: First Racially Integrated 4-H Boys and Girls
The first racially integrated 4-H Boys’ & Girls’ Short Course is held at Virginia Tech. The name was changed to State 4-H Congress the following year.
1991: Clinton Turner
Clinton Turner was appointed as the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer
Services for the State of Virginia in 1991, which made him the first African American in
the nation to hold a cabinet level position in agriculture. Additionally, he studied at VSU,
was a housing and structure extension agent for Virginia, and became the first
African-American District Director for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service in
2014: Virginia Cooperative Extension Centennial
2014 marked 100 years since the Smith-Lever act and the creation of the Cooperative
Extension System. In 100 years, Virginia Cooperative Extension grew to include 107 unit
offices, 11 ARECs, and 6 4-H educational centers.
2018: Jewel Bronaugh
In 2018, Jewel Bronaugh was appointed Commissioner of the Virginia Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services. Bronaugh became the first female African American
to serve in this position. Additionally, in 2021, she was chosen to serve as the Deputy
Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture.
2020: Economic Impact of Agriculture
In 2020 it is reported that $91 billion and 442,000 jobs are generated annually in Virginia
from agriculture and forestry industries. About 90% of Virginia’s farms are small farms,
run by an individual or family
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