Exhibition features Penn State's historic land-grant mission

June 29, 2012

"The Land Grant Act at 150: Promoting Liberal and Practical Education at Penn State," an Eberly Family Special Collections Library exhibition, is on display July 2 to Sept. 24, in the Frank and Mary J. Smeal Foundation Exhibits Hall, 104 Paterno Library on the University Park campus of Penn State. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The exhibition also will be open for viewing during the Technical Symposium on Land Grant Education from 1 to 5 p.m. on July 29 and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, July 30, as part of the 2012 Biennial Conference of Chemical Educators (BCCE). (see http://2012bcce.com/)

The Morrill Land Grant Act, passed on July 2, 1862, allowed states to sell federal land in order to establish an endowment to support one or more schools in their states 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 mechanic arts (engineering)…in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in several pursuits and professions of life.”

As Pennsylvania’s Land Grant institution, Penn State has a distinguished history of educational service to the Commonwealth. This exhibition, which features archival, manuscript and photographic materials from the Rare Books and Manuscript Collection and the Penn State University Archives, focuses on the educational legacy of the Penn State pioneers of Land Grant education Evan Pugh and George Atherton. It also showcases documentation for both the 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Acts and the academic influences and mentors, such as Joseph Priestley for this educational restructuring.

Evan Pugh, Penn State’s first president (1859-1864), was instrumental in convincing the Commonwealth to designate Penn State as the Land Grant institution. A renowned chemist, Pugh’s research into the role of nitrogen in plant development was instrumental in the growing fields of botany and plant pathology. He designed a curriculum at Penn State that focused on practical applications of science and technology. Pugh, an ardent student of Joseph Priestley (b.1733–d.1804), the renowned English chemist credited with the discovery of oxygen, also applied Priestley's development of a chemistry curriculum delineated as “the scientific method.”

George Atherton, Penn State’s seventh president (1882-1906) and recognized as Penn State’s second founder, was instrumental in restructuring the University by building programs in engineering, actively promoting the passage of the 1890 Land Grant and Hatch Act legislations that supported the development of agricultural experiment stations and fostering a major facilities construction initiative supported by private philanthropy. His efforts led to a quadrupling of student enrollment and recognition of the University as a major educational center in the Commonwealth.

This exhibition was co-curated by Kelly Frazier (a master's degree student intern, Johns Hopkins University), Paul Karwacki (archives assistant), Sandra Stelts (rare books curator), and Jackie Esposito (University Archivist). The exhibit and related BCCE programming has been funded with a generous grant from an anonymous donor.

For more information, contact Jackie R. Esposito at jxe2@psu.edu or 814-865-1793.

  • Evan Pugh, Penn State’s first president (1859-1864), was instrumental in convincing the Commonwealth to designate Penn State as the land-grant institution.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives
Last Updated July 03, 2012