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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The First County Agent

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
In the early 1900s, during a time of low crop production and a depressed farm economy in East Texas, Tyler and Smith County pioneered a concept that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year--the county agricultural agent.

In a meeting on November 12, 1906, at an opera house near Tyler's downtown square, forty-four farm leaders from the county met with Dr. Seaman A. Knapp of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tyler Commercial Club to discuss ways to boost farm production and improve the rural economy.

The meeting came three years after Kaufman County started the first cooperative farm demonstration program on the farm of Walter C. Porter three miles north of Terrell. There, dramatic changes were proposed in the ways farmers produced their crops.

Because all of this was new to Kaufman County farmers, they raised $1,000 to indemnify Porter against possible losses from the new methods.

But the money was never needed; Porter's cotton crop almost doubled the first year. After the 1906 meeting in Tyler, Smith County appointed William C. Stallings as the first county agent in Texas and the first in the nation to serve a single county. Stallings, already in his sixties, was a well-respected farmer living in the Dixie community west of Tyler.

When Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, the fledgling Texas Agriculture Extension Cooperative became the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, a part of the Texas A&M system.

Stallings' work as the first county agent in Texs was different than what county agents do today. He and other early county agents were primarily involved in educating farmers in better farm techniques and the use of research and science--all with the purpose of helping rural people improve their lives.

When Texas A&M hired Clarence N. Ousley as the first director of the Extensive Service, he began to hire specialists in plant pathology, animal science, dairy science, agronomy, poultry science, horticulture and agricultural engineering to support the county agents.

By 1912, Mrs. Edna W. Trigg of Milam County became the first woman county agent in Texas and went to work on demonstration shows and fairs.

The job soon evolved into home demonstration work and Mary Edwards Hunter, also of Smith County, became the first black home demonstration agent.

From the beginning of her career, Mrs. Hunter campaigned for better homes and more canned goods for farm families and shared her creative ideas with other home demonstration agents in Texas.

Today, the Porter farm near Terrell--where improved farm techniques were pioneered--is a designated national landmark and is still operated by descendants of W.C. Porter. At Tyler, a Texas Historical Marker erected on the downtown square in 1971 tells the story of Smith County's key role in the agricultural movement and William C. Stallings' service as the first county agent in Texas. Stallings died in 1916 at the age of 74.

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All Things Historical >
November 27, 2006 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas
 
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