First County Agent – Throwback Thursday

For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we have this image of South Dakota’s First County Agent for Extension Services, H.F. Patterson. The photo is currently on display in our Through Leland Sudlow’s Lens: 40 years of Extension Service History exhibit. The passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 created the Cooperative Extension Service, a formal network of educators disseminating knowledge about agriculture and home economics to improve lives in rural communities. South Dakota’s legislature ratified the law the following year.  By the end of 1935, 50 counties had hired full-time county agents.  The Act gave prestige and stability to the Extension Service. The Act did not limit it to dealing only with agriculture and home economics issues but would provide resources for almost anything related to the rural communities specific to that county.

Funding came through three bodies of government: the federal government, the state government, and the individual county.  States were required to match at least the federal funds allocated.  State funds were used to pay the county agents, but it fell on the counties to hire the rest of the county Extension staff.  The South Dakota State Extension offices were based out of South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, a land-grant college later named South Dakota State University.  On the county level, offices were often located in county courthouses.

In March 1912, prior to the Smith-Lever Act, the Brown County Better Farming Association hired South Dakota’s first County Agent, H.F. Patterson of Bozeman, Montana.  The Better Farming Association of Brown County believed that successful farmers benefited the whole community.  They followed North Dakota’s lead by hiring an agent to teach better farming management.  Two years later, the Smith-Lever Act established funding for county agents statewide.

The exhibit Through Leland Sudlow’s Lens: 40 years of Extension Service History is a visual history of the South Dakota Extension Service from the 1950s through the 1980s. The exhibit documents the programs offered by Extension, the people they impacted, and how Extension changed with the times. This exhibit is on display ONLY until February 29th! So if you haven’t come to visit the exhibit yet, do so soon!

Photo donated by Larry Tennyson, Department of Agricultural Communications, SDSU.