Virginia's Historic Role in FFA
The history of an organization gives insight into contemporary beliefs. Certainly, the FFA is no exception to this general rule. It has a rich history full of interesting early leaders who made decisions that still influence the contemporary FFA organization.
Greenhand members are taught that the FFA was founded in Virginia and at the same time are taught that the organization was started at the Baltimore Hotel in Kansas City. Also several people claim to have influenced the first FFA emblem. One man is called the "Father of the FFA," does he deserve that title? What were the organizations that preceded and influenced the FFA? A degree of controversy surrounds the number of founders for the organization. Who was present at its founding? What were the various ways in which the Virginia organization influenced the national organization?
Many commodity specific student organizations existed prior to the establishment of the Future Farmers of Virginia. Harry W. Sanders organized the Manassas Poultry Club in 1922-23. Walter S. Newman organized Corn Clubs at Carrsville and Isle of Wight while serving as an agriculture instructor at Windsor. F. B. Cale supervised a club for school boys for the purpose of growing soybean seed. It eventually became the Caroline County Soybean Growers Association. Other organizations that were started for agricultural education students at about the same time included tomato clubs, thrift clubs, and tomorrow's farmer clubs.
Background of the Founders of the FFA
One of the points of controversy surrounding the actual founding concerns the possibility of a fifth person being present at the first meeting September of 1925. That person was Jim Hoge. Hoge was an agricultural teacher in Wythe County in 1925 and later became a supervisor of agricultural education. He was also the brother-in-law of Walter Newman. The September meeting occurred during Newman's first trip back to Blacksburg after assuming the role of head state supervisor on September 1st. it is very likely that Hoge came to Blacksburg to meet Newman simply as a relative. In a videotape Harry Sanders briefly mentioned the fact that Jim Hoge was present at the meeting. Apparently Hoge did not contribute in a major way to the discussion. The four recognized founders and teacher educators had interesting paths that brought them together around an oak table at VPI in September of 1925.
Edmund C. Magill was born in Kingman, Kansas on November 9, 1889. He received his college education at Kansas State College and VPI. Magill had teaching experience in Minnesota and Industry experience in Maryland. He directed departmental research and served as head.
Henry Casper Groseclose was born in 1892 in Ceres, Virginia. He completed educational work at Washington and Lee University and VPI. He had both teaching experience and administrative experience in Virginia public schools. He was also a state supervisor. Groseclose served as National FFA treasurer and executive secretary.
Walter Stephenson Newman was born at Woodstock, Virginia in 1895. He was educated at Hampden-Sidney College, VPI, and the Pennsylvania State College. He served as a teacher, supervisor, as well as vice president and president of VPI.
Harry Warriner Sanders was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1895. He was educated at VPI and Harvard. He taught vocational agriculture, served as a supervisor, and as a teacher educator helped start the teaching training program in Puerto Rico.
One of the first issues that had to be resolved was what to name the organization discussed at the oak table. Henry Groseclose liked the initials FFV which for generations had stood for the First Families of Virginia and included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Groseclose's idea proved to be a popular one and was quickly accepted.
Henry Groseclose was also asked to write a constitution and by-laws for the FFV which was accomplished while he was a patient at Johns Hopkins University. Walter Newman presented the idea of the organization at the Rally in April of 1926 where it received favorable response. By June of the same year Groseclose mailed a copy of "The Proposed Constitution and By-Laws for a Boy's Organization of Vocational Agriculture Students in Virginia" to every agricultural instructor in the state.
Another important contribution made by Henry Groseclose was the writing of the ceremonies for the organization (Noblin, 1942). Credit has been given to various organizations for influencing the FFA Constitution and ceremonies. Some have credited the Boy Scouts of America, the Grange, and the Masons along with Demolay for such influence. Several aspects of the ceremonies of both the FFV and Demolay were quite similar with both having assigned officer locations, statements on the part of officers, and the unique office of sentinel.
Degrees of Membership
It appears that the masons influenced Groseclose and the FFV a great deal. Masons have three degrees of membership - Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master mason as did the FFV when established by Groseclose - Greenhand, Virginia Farmer, and Virginia Planter.
In a letter addressed to A. L. Yeatts, Jr. Dated June 30, 1954, R. W. Cline, head of the Department of Agricultural and Home Economics Education at the University of Arizona, described the origin of the FFV emblem which included a description of a Danish agricultural organization which had a picture of an owl on top of a spade in a partly spaded field. Cline further noted that the Danish emblem was used as a model in Groseclose's hand drawn emblem for the FFV.
Many members of the FFA have memorized the organization's creed. An early forerunner of the present creed was called "The Country Boy's Creed" and was dedicated to the Boys' Corn Clubs of Virginia. It was written by Edwin Osgood Grover.
Walter Newman attended the 1927 Southern Regional Conference of vocational agriculture supervisors and teacher-trainers. He participated in a committee that wrote a resolution concerning the establishment of other Future Farmer State organizations. Newman deserves a great deal of credit for generating regional and national interest in the FFA.
The New Farmers of Virginia - NFA
Less than a decade after the formation of the Future Farmers of America in 1928, a national organization for African-American boys interested in agriculture formed in Tuskegee, Ala. The New Farmers of America was modeled after another Virginia organization – the New Farmers of Virginia – and began in 1935. The New Farmers of Virginia was instrumentally started by G.W. Owens and J.R. Thomas, teacher-educators in agricultural education at Virginia State College, and Dr. H.O. Sargent, a federal agricultural education official who later proposed NFA.
Both agricultural education and the FFA are very fortunate to have had the dedicated leaders from Virginia who spent untold hours working on the establishment of the latter student organization. Many agricultural educators wonder how the founders would react to a proposed change in the FFA. Frequently it is concluded that they would be opposed to making changes in the organization they helped found. In reality, the founders made the largest change of all by starting a new organization when they could have stayed with its forerunners. Once that fundamental decision had been made, other important policies and procedures had to be implemented. The Virginia founders need to be credited with making such courageous decisions and advancing the cause of agricultural education and the FFA.