On May 8, Land-Grant Universities will be celebrating the 100th Birthday of Extension — 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act!
Before I tell you about the Smith-Lever Act, let me backtrack a minute and tell you about the Morrill Act. The Morrill Act (named after Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill) was signed into place on July 2, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. It was officially titled “An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.” The Morrill Act provided each state with 30,000 acres of federal land for each member in their Congressional delegation. The land was then sold by the states and the proceeds were used to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and mechanical arts. Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants (aka Land-Grant Universities (great map at this link)), including the University of Nebraska, Cornell University, Clemson University, Texas A&M University, Kansas State University, and many others.
In 1914, Senators Hoke Smith of Georgia and A.F. Lever of South Carolina introduced the Smith-Lever Act with the intent to expand in rural America through the creation of Cooperative Extension programs. On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith -Lever Act into Law and called it “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by any government”. The cooperative extension model placed an extension professional in the county (in local communities) to improve people’s lives. The Smith-Lever Act specifically stated its purpose, “In order to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and to encourage the application of the same, there may be continued or inaugurated in connection with the college of colleges in each State, Territory, or possession . . .”
The Smith-Lever Act was vital for creating federal law and providing funding for outreach in the areas of vocation, agriculture, and home demonstration programs at Land-Grant Universities. The Smith-Lever Act was unique in that it set up a shared partnership among the Federal, State, and County levels of government. In support of the new program achieving stability and leveraging resources, a funding formula mechanism was designed to insure that there was support from each of the levels. The Smith-Lever Act brought a systemic process for funding the on-going Extension education work that had been started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by educators such as Seaman A. Knapp, A.B. Graham, Jane McKimmon, and Booker T. Washington with the signing of the Morrill Act.
With the Smith-Lever Act, Land-Grant Universities began to support Boys’ and Girls’ clubs as a way to incorporate modern agricultural methods into the farming communities. These clubs later became known as 4-H!
The Smith-Lever Act was later amended to be more inclusive of schools beyond the original funding for 1862 Land-Grant Institutions. In 1971, Representative Frank E. Evans from Colorado presented a proposal to USDA that amended the funding formula and gave an appropriation in the amount of $12.6 million directly to the 1890 Land-Grant Universities for research and Extension. Additionally, in 1994, there was a second revision to the proposal which added the Tribal Colleges, in order to increase the system’s ability to serve Native American communities.
Check with your state’s Land-Grant University or local Extension office to see what festivities they have planned near you. You can also follow the celebration on Twitter at @Ext100years
If you are new to Extension I encourage you to seek out your local office. Extension professionals are your connection to the Land-Grant University and the research that is happening there. It is the job of my colleagues and I to help enrich your lives through a variety of youth and adult opportunities and educational efforts on a large variety of topics.
Here is a video the University of Nebraska made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Extension!