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A History of the FFA

Josh Taylor
Rushville High School, Rushville

What is the FFA? The Future Farmers of America is a group of students who believe a successful and satisfying occupation can be found in agriculture. By taking vocational courses in high school, these students have the opportunity to join the FFA.

Vocational agriculture officially began in 1917 when Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Act. That legislation enabled students in high schools to enroll in vocational agriculture. The act was proposed by two men from Georgia for whom the act was named: Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Dudley Hughes. Their legislation encouraged vocational education for any high school by supplying funds to those qualified high schools. Vocational programs began to spring up across the nation. Before the adoption of the Smith-Hughes Act, only fourteen states had any vocational agriculture. Just five years after the legislation was passed, there were more than 2,500 schools in forty-eight states offering vocational education.

With the tremendous increase in agricultural education, many different types of agricultural clubs were organized. One was the Future Farmers. In 1926 vocational agriculture students were invited to participate in a three-day program in Kansas City. The program consisted of tours of packing plants and business establishments as well as many contests. The Kansas City Star gave a banquet for all the participants of the program. More than 1,500 boys from twenty-two states gathered at the banquet to hear guest speaker Will Rogers.

Two years after that first step in the organization of the FFA, the first national convention was held at the Baltimore Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 20, 1928. Thirty-three delegates, representing eighteen states, attended the convention. The delegates adopted a constitution and set membership dues at ten cents per person. The first national officers to be elected were Leslie Applegate, of New Jersey, the national FFA president; Dr. C. H. Lane, national advisor; and Henry Groseclose, executive secretary-treasurer. Groseclose was instrumental in bringing together the students for the first convention, and he is credited with giving the FFA its name. He is known as the Father of the FFA. He also founded the FFA in Virginia.

The similarity between the founding of the national organization and the Illinois organization is remarkable. Records show that as early as 1912 Illinois had organizations in schools that were comprised entirely of agricultural students. The "ag clubs" competed in contests and participated at local fairs. It was in 1928 at the Illinois state teachers convention that the term FFA was mentioned. The State Supervisor of Agriculture Education, J. E. Hill, told agriculture teachers about a new concept that was proving popular: Future Farmers of America.

With Hill's encouragement and the support of teachers all over Illinois, nearly 1,500 students and their advisors attended the first meeting of the Illi-

The FFA was officially organized in 1928 to promote agricultural education.
In this circa 1963 photo of the Rushville FFA chapter, members work on
structures commonly needed on the farm.

Rushville FFA

18 ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1992


nois FFA. They met in the auditorium at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, on June 12, 1929, and they organized the Illinois Association of Future Farmers of America. The convention was the meeting ground for students from all over the state. Students from different walks of life were brought together for the first time with one common goal— to establish a strong foundation for the FFA in Illinois.

A state constitution was adopted, and major state officers were elected. The first state president was Homer Edwards of Antioch. J. E. Hill was named the first state advisor. Hill, who was known to many as Mr. FFA, served as the state advisor for twenty-seven years. Illinois was divided into twelve sections, each electing a sectional vice president. The first state convention was an example for other groups to follow. Students and advisors alike felt great enthusiasm and pride for the newly founded organization. By the second convention 156 more chapters had been established, and 3,014 joined FFA for the first time.

During the first years of the FFA, students competed in many activities. Because travel was not easy, many of the contests were held in conjunction with the state convention.

The FFA made many advances during the 1930s and 1940s. At the 1933 national FFA convention the now-common FFA jacket was introduced. The jacket not only symbolized the pride and dedication of the organization, but it also served as a bond between members. Membership of the state of Illinois increased from 3,000 to 9,000 members and from 156 to 311 chapters.

World War II brought hardships to the FFA as well as the country. Attendance decreased at conventions. Many contests were cancelled because many students were sent to work at home or in the factories. Chapters still held many activities, however, in support of the war relief funds.

Post-war development has been considerable. For example, in 1969, at the national convention, delegates amended the constitution to allow women to become members of the FFA. Later, reporters' workshops were introduced. Those provided each chapter and state reporter with the knowledge to improve communications with the public. The period of greatest growth was in the 1970s. Many new programs, contests, and awards were started.

In the 1970s, the first woman in Illinois was elected to a national office. The membership in Illinois grew to an all-time record of 18,215 members. Although membership declined in the 1980s, the FFA in Illinois has been an important inspiration for young people seeking a career in agriculture.— [From FFA Student Handbook, 1977.]

ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1992 19


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