Centennial history

Morrill Act builds the foundation for extension

Sen. Justin Morrill might be considered the father of the U.S. system of land grant universities and the grandfather of extension. He believed that the key to democracy, peace and prosperity was to provide education for all Americans.

In 1862, after multiple tries, Congress passed The Morrill Act, and President Lincoln signed it into law. The act granted federal lands to each state to fund the establishment of at least one college in the state.

The colleges would teach a wide variety of subjects, “in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Private universities already existed, but they were inaccessible to all but the wealthier citizens. Morrill envisioned an educational system open to a broader population.

By 1862, the Civil War had taken a toll on the University of Missouri. The war tied up money, drained community resources and caused logistical problems,  such as housing troops in the university’s academic building. The curators closed the university in early 1862. Later that year, after the Morrill Act had passed, the university reopened, but it was several years before Missouri leaders agreed upon terms to accept the money provided by the Morrill Act.

In 1890, a second Morrill Act provided funding to expand opportunities for African-Americans, and Missouri established Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

Hatch Act funds agricultural research stations

The federal government funded agriculture research stations with the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887. The legislation, introduced by Missourian William H. Hatch, charged these stations with expanding the research capabilities  of the land-grant universities.

Smith-Lever Act establishes Cooperative Extension Service

Realizing that not everyone could go to college, Congress established the Cooperative Extension Service with the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. The purpose of the act was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture.”

This legislation reflected what was already happening in Missouri and other states. In the late 1800s, Missouri was providing outreach programs to rural Missourians. Using the technology of the time, classrooms were built in rail cars and sent to rural communities on rail spurs. The Smith-Lever Act provided funding and structure for extension to continue and expand.

Extension’s mission still relevant a century later

Over the years, legislation affecting extension has brought about changes. And extension’s clientele and teaching methods have changed. But extension’s mission is still every bit as viable and crucial — to bring reliable, responsive and relevant research-based information from the university to the citizens of Missouri.