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Agricultural History Society (AHS) Records


The Records of the Agricultural History Society were collected over the years by O. C. Stine, Everett E. Edwards, Arthur Peterson, Gladys Baker, Wayne D. Rasmussen, Jane Martin Porter, Vivian Wiser, Douglas Bowers, and their assistants. Most of the chronological files for the first sixty-three years of the Society were deposited with the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library. Certain working files were retained by the Society with the hope that they and the post-1982 files would eventually come to NAL.

At the time of this inventory the records were found in document boxes. Series I (Meetings) had been neatly refiled in acid-free folders. Series II (Correspondence) by contrast was in the original file folders or, in many cases, in brown manila envelopes.

The records span the years 1919 to 1982. The collection is 16.0 linear feet and occupies 38 5" archival boxes. No materials were discarded. The collection was processed by Lowell K. Dyson, employee of the Economic Research Service and Secretary-Treasurer of the Agricultural History Society since 1993. There are no restrictions on the collection.

Finding Aid File


Historical Sketch

The first professional history society, the American Historical Association (AHA) was formed in 1888. It was later followed by others such as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA), which eventually became the Organization of American Historians (OAH). The Agricultural History Society (AHS) was among the very first specialized historical groups. A small meeting, convened by J. F. Jameson of the AHA met at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC on February 14, 1919. The distinguished botanist, Rodney H. True, was chosen as chair and later elected the first president of the Society. Professor William J. Trimble presented the very first paper that evening, entitled "The Great Surplus Period 1862 to 1902," and was elected vice president.

The original members of the AHS were a diverse lot -- not only historians from the Land Grants, the Ivies, and the normal schools, but also sociologists, scientists such as Rodney True, and economists such as O. C. Stine. What drew them together was a belief that they could better understand their individual fields through an understanding of the history of agriculture.

In many ways the driving force behind the Society was the pioneer agricultural economist, O. C. Stine, a member of the original executive committee. Stine, who had received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, was a firm believer that economics could never be fathomed without an understanding of history, and he had done part-time historical research for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as early as the summer of 1915. He came to work full time for USDA in 1916. Stine was for many years in charge of statistical and historical research for the Bureau of Agricultural Economics within USDA. He retired in 1951. Stine served for a considerable period as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Society. He was the first editor of the Society's journal, Agricultural History, and was also an early president. Stine also established the custom that one of his employees devote as much time as necessary to the business of the AHS.

In 1927 Stine hired Everett E. Edwards, a Minnesota farm boy and an M.A. from Harvard. Edwards became assistant editor of Agricultural History and succeeded Stine as editor in 1931. He was, before his early death in 1952, the quiet mentor of the next generation of agricultural historians.

The Society grew more slowly than the founders had hoped, and it faced almost constant financial crises. The journal was well respected, but by 1939 it was about $1200 in debt to its printer -- a very significant sum in those days. Dr. Arthur Peterson succeeded Stine in that year as Secretary-Treasurer and through economy and a drive to enroll new members brought the Society back into the black within four years. The financial crisis of the journal came ironically at a time when agricultural history reached something of an apex. In 1938, Dr. M. L. Wilson, the Under Secretary of Agriculture served as president and convened several meetings with distinguished participants including Secretary Henry A. Wallace whose father, Secretary Henry C. Wallace had addressed the AHS more than a decade earlier.

In the years after World War II, the Society grew slowly but steadily. USDA continued to hire historians such as Wayne Rasmussen and the political scientist Gladys Baker. Rasmussen succeeded Edwards as Secretary-Treasurer and served for over forty years in that position with time out for a year as president. Agricultural History became an increasingly respected journal under a succession of able editors, although its financial situation was often precarious as correspondence scattered throughout this collection indicates. NAL has a file of Agricultural History in its periodical collection.

In the early years the AHS held its annual business meeting in Washington where the bulk of its membership was then located. It maintained close ties with the American Historical Association and often arranged to have joint sessions at the annual meetings of the latter. It also established early ties with the Mississippi Valley Historical Association and also held joint sessions at its meetings. By the 1960s when the MVHA changed its name to the Organization of American Historians in order to reflect the growth of its scope, the AHS began to hold its annual business meeting with it. Occasionally it also held meetings with the American Farm Economics Association with which Stine and others of the founders had close ties.

Scope and Content Note

This collection comprises 16.0 linear feet of the Records of the Agricultural History Society from 1919 to 1982. From its founding on St.Valentines Day 1919, the Society has had a close association with the United States Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and successor organizations. One or more employees of USDA have served as Secretary-Treasurer or editor of Agricultural History or both. Until recent years, many administrators such as Secretaries Henry C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, and Orville Freeman have taken an active interest in the Society and the history of agriculture. The records are arranged into two series and housed in 38 archival boxes in the National Agricultural Library. The general condition of the papers is good, although there are a good number of onion skin carbon copies.

Series I of the collection contains material dealing with every meeting of the Society beginning with the first. This includes a diversity of items, not only the minutes, but in many cases invitations and programs. There is, for example, a notice of cancellation for the meeting scheduled for late December 1941 (shortly after Pearl Harbor) because of the heavy movement of troops and supplies. Somewhat later the Secretary-Treasurer reports that despite all of the bombing and shelling around the world, the Society had lost no members, although ten in belligerent countries were suspended until peacetime.

Series II contains the correspondence for the same time period. It is arranged alphabetically by name and chronologically within the folders.

Series Description

Series I: Meetings. 1919-1982. 14 boxes.

Includes minutes, programs, invitations, notices, notes, constitution, bylaws, elections, financial statements, reports, correspondence, and miscellaneous items related to meetings of the Agricultural History Society. Arranged chronologically.

Series II: Correspondence. 1919-1984. 23 boxes.

Consists of correspondence with organizations and individuals related to a variety of topics. Arranged alphabetically.

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