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Series II, USDA History Collection

USDA History Collection

Series II. Class File, 1761-1995 (bulk ca. 1900-1994). 56 cubic ft.

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Overview | Major Topics | Photographs | Manuscripts | Other Topics | Arrangement | Hints


The Class File consists of articles, unpublished and published papers, research notes, bibliographies, clippings, obituaries, book reviews, serials, reports, pamphlets, booklets, conference programs, correspondence, memoranda, maps, charts, postcards, curricula vitae, and photographs. The items date from the early 19th to the late 20th century, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1900 to 1995. Records dating before 1900 are generally copies or transcriptions. Most materials are in English although there are some items in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and other languages.

This file was started by historian and editor Everett E. Edwards in the 1920s and maintained by the staff of the Agricultural and Rural History Section (ARH) until the mid-1990s. It covers agricultural and rural history in a more general way than the Documentary Files (filed in Series I), which concentrate on the work of the USDA.

The focus of the Class File is primarily the United States, but there are also files relating to the history of agriculture throughout the world. Headings such as Primitive agriculture, Roman agriculture, Prehistory, and the names of more than forty foreign counties can be found in the folder list. Among the headings for individuals and agricultural subjects, there are about 45 state names; entries for ethnic and religious groups, such as Hispanic Americans, Amish, and Quakers; wars: Civil War, Revolutionary War, and World War II; and the names of serials and other publications, including the Living Historical Farms Bulletin, The Palimpsest, and The Digest.

Major Topics

Subjects with substantial amounts of material include Cattle, Cooperatives, Corn, Cotton, Dairying, Machinery, Museums, Tobacco and Wheat. There are significant collections of writings by G. E. Fussell, Paul W. Gates, T. Swann Harding, Arthur G. Peterson, and Ulrich Bonnell Phillips.

A number of folders contain information on George Washington and on Thomas Jefferson, focusing largely, but not exclusively, on their agricultural interests. The Jefferson material is extensive and includes excerpts from his writings on gardens, farming, and Virginia; excerpts from his autobiography; a copy of his published will; and transcriptions of correspondence with many individuals, including James Madison, Thomas Mann Randolph (Jefferson's son-in-law), and Dr. John P. Emmett, Natural History professor at the University of Virginia. In some letters Jefferson is neither the writer nor the addressee, although the correspondents are generally Jefferson's contemporaries.

There is also correspondence and other records about the celebration of the Jefferson Bicentennial, including the April 13, 1944, "Pilgrimage" to Monticello; information on Monticello and the Jefferson Memorial; and photographs and diagrams of his plow mold-board. An original manuscript letter dated December 1800 from John Sinclair, which does not, however, mention Jefferson by name, was found among the correspondence. This has been moved to Series X, Historical Manuscripts.

There is one folder containing copies of correspondence of Dr. George Washington Carver, with Dr. C. L. Shear of the USDA, and others.


Over one cubic foot of photographs were included in the Class File. The bulk of these were filed under the heading "Photographs, [subject]," but a number were found in other folders throughout the series. These have been separated and filed in Series VII, subseries 1. The folder titles indicate that they were removed from Series II and include the name of the original folder. The photographs include images of USDA buildings, portraits of prominent individuals in USDA and agricultural history, photographs of animals and agricultural commodities, and general historical images.

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Original Manuscript Materials

Significant sections of primary materials are included in this file, several of which should be mentioned.

The Class File contains papers of Dr. Robert S. Fletcher (1900-1959), an agricultural economist who worked for the Bureau of Statistical and Historical Research (a precursor of the Agricultural and Rural History Section). Fletcher's papers include correspondence, memoranda, notes, data, research materials, and writings, many of which focus on the range cattle business, specifically in Montana; included are copies of minutes of the Montana Stock Growers' Association, 1889-1900. There are also writings and research materials on topics such as the price of Egyptian cotton, rubber production in Asia, and weather data and other materials relating to the states of the northern Great Plains.

Also found in this series are papers of Dr. Lewis Cecil Gray (1881-1952), an historian and economist who worked in USDA with the Division of Land Economics, and with the Resettlement Administration. These include correspondence, 1920-1939, with Dr. Richard T. Ely of the University of Wisconsin, and with the Macmillan Company, concerning the writing and publication of Gray's Introduction to Agricultural Economics and other works; and correspondence, 1923-1933, with Dr. Henry W. Farnam of Yale University about the writing of the History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860. There are articles in manuscript, a substantial collection of Gray's published writings on topics including land use, resettlement, farm credit, tenancy, and the economics of slavery; and a bibliography of his work, 1912-1940.

There are several folders of material on Horace Capron (1808-1885), the second Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, and an agricultural attache to Japan in the 1870s. There are original photographs and letters from Capron's descendants, including Banfield Capron and Albert S. Capron, Jr., written to historian Vivian Wiser, discussing Capron's career, and a journey to Japan to study Capron's legacy there. Also included are articles, letters, and manuscripts (some of which are copies) dealing with many aspects of Capron's career, including his venture as a manufacturer in Laurel, Maryland.

Many members of the Agricultural and Rural History Section staff used the Class File as a place to keep their published and unpublished papers, and other material. Among those whose papers may be found here are Gladys L. Baker, Douglas Bowers, Everett E. Edwards, Anne Effland, David E. Brewster, Joel Schor, Vivian B. Whitehead, and Vivian Wiser. The largest of these sections includes papers of Wayne D. Rasmussen who was for many years chief of the ARH. The Rasmussen material includes biographical information, writings from 1941-1993 (filed by year), references, book reviews by Rasmussen as well as reviews of his books, transcripts, articles containing quotes by Rasmussen, speeches, and commentary. Most of the material pertains to the history of the USDA specifically, and American agriculture in general. (Note that the Rassmussen materials are generally filed in reverse chronological order, opposite the usual arrangement in this collection.)

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Other Topics

Although the focus of the Class File is agricultural history in general, the ARH staff also used this file to keep general reference material on diverse topics that may or may not have any relationship to agriculture. Thus this series includes files on the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, Punctuation, Footnotes, and Holidays, including separate folders on Ground Hog's Day, Arbor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. There are folders on Kangaroos, Zebras, Naziism, and Folksongs. A folder labeled "Music" contains a collection of programs from musical and theatrical performances, mainly in Chicago or Boston, all dating from the 1920s. The folder "Names" includes articles and book reviews concerning common and uncommon given names.

Besides articles by and about historians such as Lytton Strachey, Arthur Schlesinger, Herbert A. Kellar, and Frederick Jackson Turner, there are files on literary figures Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, O. E. Rolvaag, Charles L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Erich Maria Remarque, Carl Sandburg, and Upton Sinclair; composer Antonin Dvorak; sculptor Daniel Chester French; Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Felix Frankfuter; and religious leaders Cotton Mather, Mary Baker Eddy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The items are arranged in one alphabetical list that includes personal names, subject headings, organizational names, and titles of publications.

  • Personal Name Headings

    Folders with personal name headings may contain materials about an individual, or written by that person. To distinguish these, folders that contain only materials about an individual are labeled with the person's name, (with birth and death dates, if known, in parentheses), followed by the dates of the materials in the folder. Materials about a person are filed in a separate folder before any folders of writings by that person.

    Folders that contain materials written by an individual are labeled with the author's name, followed by the term "article" or "articles," and sometimes a keyword indicating the subject of the writings. In a few cases, when a folder holds only a single article, the title is noted after the author's name. Multiple articles by an author are filed alphabetically by title. Articles with multiple authors are filed under the lead author's name only, usually without cross reference to additional authors.

    As used in these folder headings, the terms "article" or "articles" may refer to pamphlets, manuscripts, transcriptions, theses, or other items.

  • Subject Headings

    Subject headings in the Class File present a challenge to the researcher in that no consistent system or authority file was followed over the period of 60 or 70 years that this file was in active use. As a result, people created a variety of terms for filing material on essentially the same subject.

    For instance, there are separate folders for "England," "Great Britain" and "United Kingdom." Headings were created that use both natural-order and inverted forms for the same topic: "Agricultural history" and "History, agricultural"; "Small farms" and "Farms, small." One folder of documents was labeled "Meat Inspection" while folders of photographs on this subject were titled "Inspection" or "Federal Meat Inspection."

    Furthermore, while one article may have been filed by subject, another article on the same topic may have been filed under an author's name, a corporate name, or the name of a publication in which the article appeared.

    The staff considered revising all headings to conform to a standard thesaurus, but ultimately, the original headings were retained for the most part. Cross references (see and see also) have been used in some instances to link related materials. (Most cross references were included in the original subject list created by the ARH; others have been added by the processing staff.) Also, the processors consolidated a few small folders, and added information, such as keywords or descriptive phrases, to help clarify the meaning of some headings. Misspellings and misnomers were corrected; for instance, the listing "Food and Agricultural Organization" was changed to "Food and Agriculture Organization."

    The only headings that were changed in a consistent way are those relating to agencies and activities of the USDA. Many agencies were filed twice, once under the agency name, and again listing the agency as a subordinate unit of the Department, (e.g., separate folders for "Forest Service" and "USDA, Forest Service"). All such folders are now filed under "USDA" with appropriate subheadings.

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Hints for Researchers

Because of the way materials are filed in this series, researchers are advised to search for material using a variety of methods. Checking under variant names, titles or subject headings is a first step. Also:

  • If a useful article is found in a folder with a subject heading, check to see if there is a folder filed under the name of the author, which may contain other articles on the same topic.
  • Look for agricultural commodities under commodity name and also under geographical headings, e.g., look under Wisconsin for information on milk and the dairy industry.
  • Check under former organizational names: for USDA, Farmers Home Administration, check also USDA, Farm Security Administration, and USDA, Resettlement Administration.
  • The writings of ARH staff members are often a source for material on many subjects. Vivian Wiser, for example, wrote on Women in Agriculture, Experiment Stations, the Nineteen-twenties, Agriculture Marketing, and Advisory Committees to name a few topics, and produced many bibliographies.
  • This Web site includes a Search page that allows keyword and boolean searches. A well-constructed search will often overcome the problem of variant subject terms.

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