Farm Horizons, February 2014
University’s ag school provided a high school education to farm kids
By Kristen Miller
Before bus transportation was provided to students within the school district, oftentimes farm kids had to find their own means to get to and from school.
For some, that would mean their education would be halted after eighth grade when they graduated from their country school.
The School of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota gave students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend their local high school an option to earn their diplomas at the St. Paul campus between 1888 and 1960. Through the agricultural-centered schooling, students also received practical lessons and new ways of thinking that would benefit their home life and farm.
“At that time, we lived 10 miles from New Ulm,” said 88-year-old Dorothy (Walser) Brandel, who grew up on a dairy farm near St. George in south-central Minnesota. “My dad couldn’t haul me every day” to New Ulm, where the district’s high school was located.
Brandel had graduated from country school in 1939, which took her through the eighth grade.
But, as a farm kid and the only girl among three brothers, she became responsible for helping with cooking and cleaning in the house.
“I baked bread at 13,” Brandel commented.
Though she was happy to not be in the barn helping milk the cows, she didn’t want to be stuck in the house either while her mom worked in the garden.
“I wanted to be outside,” Brandel said.
Her father, active in local politics and instrumental in starting the Rural Electrification Association in New Ulm, knew the importance of education.
But, because of the workload demanded of him on the 240 acres of farmland, Brandel’s father was not able to transport her to and from school.
A few years after graduating grade school, Brandel’s neighbor, friend, and future husband, Laurel, received information on the School of Agriculture through the University of Minnesota.
In October 1943, Brandel and three other classmates, including Laurel, began attending the School of Agriculture.
“If it wasn’t for my father being so gung-ho on me getting an education, I probably wouldn’t have went,” Brandel commented, adding that she had never been away from home and would then be staying in a dormoritory on the St. Paul campus.
Brandel noted that she was able to choose her roommates, however, which happened to be the two other girls from her hometown, providing a smoother transition.
Ag School, as it’s referred to, was in session from late fall to early spring to allow the students to be home helping with spring planting and the fall harvest.
The majority of the classes Brandel was enrolled in were related to home economics, where the goal was for the “girls to learn how to be better Americans by building a good foundation for happy and satisfying home and family life,” according to a description in her 1946 yearbook.
“Special emphasis was placed in home planning and furnishing attractive and livable surroundings . . . instruction is given in the selection, construction, care, and repair of clothing. Ways of attaining good grooming for a pleasing appearance receive emphasis.
“All phases of the meal planning are taught in the foods courses, the goal being good nutrition for all family members.”
For the boys, the emphasis was management of farm business, livestock and poultry production, and plant breeding and genetics.
The focus wasn’t solely on academia, however. The students also had opportunities to participate in activities such as 4-H Club, band, orchestra, Rural Theater Players, and choir. Athletics also were an option, with shuffleboard, swimming, archery, basketball, and volleyball to choose from.
Brandel participated in several activities, volunteering in many of them to be an officer. She also played the saxophone.
In 1946, Brandel received a diploma for completing courses in the School of Agriculture, however, she continued another year there in order to obtain her high school diploma.
“It was a good school to go to; I can’t complain,” Brandel said, adding that she’s glad she earned a diploma and learned from practical experiences the school provided.
Brandel went on to marry her husband, Laurel, and together they raised nine children on a dairy farm in Stockholm Township.
When the kids were grown up, she began working at Fabri-Tek, a manufacturing plant that was formerly in Cokato.
The development of the School of Agriculture
The School of Agriculture was established in 1888, at the request of various farm organizations and farmers, as a way to “provide practical training in agriculture and home economics,” according to a School of Agriculture news release dated May 12, 1960.
Through 1960, more than 32,000 students had attended, with top enrollment in the 1919-20 school year when 1,028 students registered. In 1947-48, enrollment was down to 433.
Enrollment further declined in the 1959-60 school year to 169 students, which then prompted the school to provide college credits toward a four-year bachelor’s of science degree. The School of Agriculture no longer provided high school-level courses, but instead was intended primarily for high school graduates, according to the news release.
In Brandel’s 1946 class yearbook, was an explanation of the school and the coursework: “Here, at the School of Agriculture, students find inspiration for living. Boys are looking ahead, planning future dairy herds, learning the principles of soil conservation, the propagation of farm crops and better management of farm business.
“Girls, looking forward to homes of their own, are learning the virtues of a balanced diet and more economical methods of work in the home, while acquiring accomplishments that will bring charm and happiness to home life.
“Closely associated in dormitories and class rooms (sic), young folks are mastering the art of living together, learning to have consideration for each other and to think in terms of what is best for the group rather than the individual.
“Guided by experienced teachers, they are acquiring skills and information, attitudes and ideals that demand higher standards, beautifying our pattern of living and making this America of ours a better land in which to live.”
The University of Minnesota operated three other ag school campuses in the state Morris (1910-1963), Waseca (1953-1973), and Crookston (1932-1968).