Evan Pugh

EVAN PUGH (1859-1864)

Evan Pugh

The Person: Pugh was the son of a Chester County (Pennsylvania) Welsh-Quaker farmer-blacksmith, who died when the boy was 12. He learned blacksmithing, conducted an academy and used his inheritance to go to Europe at the age of 25. At Leipzig, where he studied chemistry, mineralogy, crystallography and physical geography, he began a lifelong friendship with Samuel W. Johnson, who shared his interest in experimenting with scientific agricultural education in the United States after seeing it in successful operation in Europe. Pugh went on to Goettingen, earning his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1856; studied at Bunsen's Heidelberg laboratory and in France; and then began research at the Rothamsted Experiment Station of Sir John Lawes in England. His work on the assimilation of nitrogen by plants won him international recognition and membership in the London Chemical Society. Johnson had returned to an agricultural chemistry professorship at Yale and later became the leader in the establishment of American agricultural experiment stations. Through him the trustees of the Farmers' High School approached Pugh about the presidency, which he accepted in 1859. The trustees authorized him to purchase laboratory equipment in Europe worth $1,500 of which he contributed $500 from his salary for the chemistry laboratory he designed and conducted in Old Main. He assumed his duties October 26, 1859, at the age of 31.

The Challenge: "The difficulties confronting him [Pugh] were tremendous... He found the building only a third completed, the treasury empty, the courses of study imperfectly organized, the faculty inadequate, and the student body undisciplined...the trustees were under fire for attempting an undertaking beyond their ability...everything about the place was crude, almost primitive..."

Pugh's aims, and the need for federal and state government cooperation in agricultural education and research were stated in an address published in 1860 ("What Science Has Done and May Do for Agriculture"). He stressed the need for colleges whose scope would include scientific investigation stations, experimental farms and informing the public (extension services, etc.).

As President he was also the teaching head of the faculty, adviser and disciplinarian of the students, secretary who dealt with parents' inquiries, ordered books and bricks, placated creditors, called board meetings and performed countless other necessary chores.

The Achievements: Despite the confusion and uncertainties of the Civil War, Pugh rapidly developed the Farmers' High School from a single-purpose state agricultural institution to a scientifically based college capable of growing to meet the broad objectives of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 for the general education of all the working classes.

a) Buildings. In April, 1861, the Legislature finally approved a long-awaited appropriation of $49,900 to resume construction of Old Main. War problems delayed the work, but it was completed in December 1863. Construction of a President's residence began in the summer of 1863, with Pugh providing $1,000 of the estimated cost of $3,000. He died before it was completed late in 1864, but all of his successors, up to John W. Oswald, occupied it.

b) Improvement of curricular offerings. From the first there was a four-year college course embracing English, mathematics, philosophy and a wide range of scientific subjects. Pugh combined classroom instruction with laboratory experimentation and field work in agricultural chemistry, geology and mineralogy. Scheduled hours of manual labor about the farms, shops and building were required of each student, in line with the founders' policy of providing practical education at minimum cost. In 1861 Pugh added a "Partial Scientific and Practical Course" for students weak in higher mathematics but otherwise capable of handling the full course. The same year he also introduced a "Practical Course" for those who could remain only a limited time to "acquaint themselves with the various operations of the farm...and to get a general idea of the courses taught."

In 1862 Pugh inaugurated a "Course for Graduates," mainly in agricultural chemistry, leading to the degree of Master of Scientific Agriculture. In 1863, a "Preparatory Course" was added for boys not yet ready for the freshman class and/or under 16 years of age, to accommodate students who had not attended academies or one of the few high schools of the period. This was discontinued in 1908. Able professors were appointed to fill vacancies, but finances prevented increasing the faculty.

c) Number and calibre of students rose. Curriculum improvements publicized by Pugh in the catalogs and addresses he prepared and his reputation as a scientist attracted more and better undergraduate (and graduate) students. The Civil War disrupted attendance, but the school remained open except during the summer of 1863 when the faculty and students served as emergency volunteers to help repel Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania. Enrollment rose steadily after 1861, when it was 88, to 1864, when it was 146.

The first class was graduated in December 1861. Eleven of the 55 students who had started as an advanced class completed their course and received the new academic degree of bachelor of scientific agriculture. They were the first to complete work at an American agricultural college, since Michigan State's first class had to leave for war service before finishing.

d) Name changed to Agricultural College of Pennsylvania. The legal process of changing the name of the Farmers' High School to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania was completed May 2, 1862, when the Centre County Court approved the request of the board, which then approved the change on May 6. President Pugh had used the name from the first and considered the change important because of the collegiate character of the institution and because it clarified the eligibility of the College for the benefits of the Morrill Land-Grant Act.

The post office at the institution, at first designated "Farm School," was renamed "Agricultural College" in 1862. The growing settlement adopted "State College" as its post office designation in 1874 when the institution officially became The Pennsylvania State College, and voted to retain it in a spirited election in 1896 when the borough was incorporated. After Penn State legally became The Pennsylvania State University in 1953, a corresponding change was defeated following a bitter contest in the election of November 1954. As a result, University Park became the institution's postal substation when the centennial was celebrated in February 1955.

e) Designation as Pennsylvania's Land-Grant College. Pioneers of popular higher education, as early as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, felt that in a democracy equal opportunities were needed for all, and that traditional education was too restrictive for a changing, expanded society. Until little over a century ago, however, higher education was regarded generally as a privilege of birth, social status or wealth. Like classical British and continental European education, it served primarily to prepare men for the learned professions--theology, teaching, medicine and law--or to become the "landed gentry."

At mid-century the nation was well into the process of settling its frontiers. The states and territories, entering an era of agrarian and industrial development, lacked means to create their own systems of higher education while starting common school programs for which public lands had been provided within their borders.

Partisans of the movement to combine practical with traditional higher education realized that it would have to be publicly supported by taxation and that the states needed encouragement and aid from the federal government. They recommended that part of the national wealth be used to bring learning to "the industrial classes" -- that is, to nearly everyone who worked for a living.

The national resources they proposed to utilize were the vast western landholdings dating from Revolutionary times, when the original states ceded their unsettled territory between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River to Congress for disposal in the common interest. Grants of these lands and those later acquired from foreign governments had already been made to war veterans, to the railroads, and for other internal improvements. "The land grant idea was rooted in the social and political elements of the times, and the dynamics of its development were beyond the capacity of any one person to direct."

Justin S. Morrill, representative and later senator from Vermont, became the national legislative spokesman for the idea that had been formulating among leaders of the movement chiefly in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. After five years of struggle, including a veto by President James Buchanan in 1859, Congress approved the amended act and President Abraham Lincoln signed it July 2, 1862.

Each state accepting its terms received an allotment of 30,000 acres for each of its senators and representatives in Congress. Funds from sale of the land had to be invested by the state, which would assign only the income to establish and endow its institution.

States having government land within their borders received their share from specified sections of it. Allotment to other states, including Pennsylvania, was in the form of land scrip which, when sold, entitled each purchaser to locate his acres on any unappropriated federal lands.

Thus, while the Civil War was raging, the nation gave part of its national bounty to the endowment of at least one college in each state "where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the Legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."

President Pugh and the trustees were active in supporting congressional passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act and lost no time in petitioning the Pennsylvania Legislature to accept its provisions for the state's only successfully established agricultural college. On April 1, 1863, Governor Andrew Curtin signed Pennsylvania's Act of Acceptance, authorizing payment to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, until otherwise ordered by the Legislature, of the interest derived from the endowment fund to be created by the sale of the state's share of the Morrill Act land-grant donation. Other Pennsylvania institutions immediately began lobbying to share the anticipated income, and such an amendment was introduced early in the 1864 session.

The situation required intensive effort by Pugh, the trustees and friends of the institution to secure support because (a) the state's board of commissioners (the governor, auditor general and surveyor general) had not yet begun to sell the land scrip, lacking funds with which to act; (b) the institution needed the income to get on with its program and to fulfill the Morrill Act requirements within the time limit set; and (c) the proceeds that could be expected from the sale would be insufficient to provide adequately even for one institution.

Seeking prompt and intelligent action, Dr. Pugh wrote a 35-page report which the trustees had printed for distribution to the Legislature and throughout the state in early January 1864. Before this Plan for the Organization of Colleges of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts left the printer, he added a note opposing a specific bill allocating a third of the land scrip to Allegheny College.4 For a March hearing held by the judiciary committee, he also prepared a forceful, shorter statement reviewing the problems and replying to opposition arguments. (These two papers, with his Succinct History (1862) and the printed address on Science and Agriculture, constitute Pugh's most important writing as a college administrator. They are significant contemporary documents of the movement for democratic education climaxed by the Morrill Act. Widely circulated at the time but then lost sight of, they are beginning to be recognized for their analytical insight and accurate anticipation of the movement's revolutionary effect on American education.)

The crucial amendment passed in the Senate, 23-9, on April 21, the day before President Pugh's fatal illness began. He died April 29, two days after debate opened in the House, where the Centre County representative, Cyrus T. Alexander, led the cause of the Agricultural College against legislators supporting the others: Philadelphia's Polytechnic College, Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg, the University of Lewisburg (Bucknell) and Western University (Pittsburgh).

The vote, called for on May 2, was delayed by the Centre County representative's absence to attend President Pugh's funeral. During another heated debate on May 4, it was pointed out that the bill would have to pass the House by a two-thirds majority and be approved by a similar vote of the Senate the next day, which had been set as the date for adjournment. By a vote of 47-44, the House postponed indefinitely further consideration of the measure.

Pressure to redistribute the land-grant income continued until 1867, when the Legislature formally named the Agricultural College the sole beneficiary of what proved to be an unexpectedly small income. The basic student fees of $100 per year had not been increased during the Pugh administration because of the expected land-grant income, and consequently the institution had operated at a loss only partially offset by the manual labor required of all the students.

"THE DARK AGES" (1865-1882) (an aside)

"The death of Pugh was a disaster from which it took the College years to recover. There followed a period of...drifting and decline which threatened the very existence of the institution.... Within 18 years...the College had five Presidents, with terms varying from 9 months to 9 years, the usual period being about 2 years.... Most of the Presidents in this period were men of no mean attainments, but none of them had that rare combination of qualities required for the successful management...of an institution beset by such problems as these:

  • The school was too new and too much an educational experiment...[to have earned] the confidence and support of the public....
  • The classical colleges...could be relied upon to throw obstacles in the pathway of...[such a] revolutionary educational innovation....
  • The college was...dependent upon legislative support to erect its buildings and maintain itself financially, but such aid was difficult to secure....
  • Since the patrons of the school could not pay large tuition fees, its financial position was...[chronically] critical....
  • Some of the college's authorities...'quarreled bitterly over the institution's academic objectives, thereby confusing and alienating its natural constituency.'"

It is possible that the College would have collapsed during this period of ineffective Presidents, had it not been for the heroic efforts of such trustees as Watts, McAllister and Beaver, and of a few stalwart professors and alumni, some of whom became trustees.

Significant advances during "The Dark Ages" include:

  • Designation as permanent, sole recipient of Pennsylvania's share of the Morrill Land-Grant Act benefits, 1867.
  • Organization of the Alumni Association, 1870.
  • Admission of women students, 1871.
  • Change of name to The Pennsylvania State College, 1874.
  • Formation of executive committee of the Board of Trustees, 1874.
  • Reorganization of the Board of Trustees and addition of alumni trustees, 1875.