The following is an excerpt from a larger article on Edward Porter written by Randy Mertens, Coordinator of Media Relations at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR)–where Porter served as the third dean of the college.
Edward Porter was born Aug. 29, 1829 in Vermont. Before entering college, he spent eight years on a stock and dairy farm. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1851, valedictorian of his class. Porter earned his master’s in civil engineering from the school in 1854. Though adjutant-general for the State of Delaware, Porter served as a private in the infantry during the Civil War, insisting on a combat assignment rather than administrative service.
After the war, Porter joined the respected but financially troubled Delaware College (now University of Delaware) as a professor and administrator. The Morrill Act presented the threadbare college, that existed on student fees only, the opportunity of a sudden endowment of 90,000 acres in 1867.
Porter, who owned a dairy farm east of Newark, was probably the closest person with ties to agriculture that the liberal arts college had. He was promoted to Professor of Practical Agriculture and Natural Science and given the task of reorganizing the institution as an agricultural college to capture the Morrill Act money
The need for funds was acute. By September 1870, the college’s original endowment shrunk to just $2,500 – against $4,000 in repairs, a $2,000 salary for the college president and $1,000 per year for each full professor. Income was meager. Though the tuition fee had been raised to $60 per semester (it was $40 in 1865), students given “legislative scholarships” didn’t have to pay anything.
Porter’s new “Graduate in Agriculture” course didn’t help bring in any money. According to the University of Delaware official history, “no one ever took it.” Porter did establish an experimental farm of truck gardens, vineyards and orchards that provided some income (the land was Porter’s on loan to the college).
But Porter’s empty agricultural classes and farm were enough to qualify Delaware College as the state’s Land Grant university. Funds from the sale of the Morrill Act acreage were only a modest boost, however. Delaware’s land sold for just 89 cents per acre in the post-Civil War recession (Kentucky got only 50 cents an acre), yielding $83,000. At six percent interest, Delaware College had a Morrill Act annual endowment of just $4,980.
In 1872, Porter was asked by the college administration to travel to Dover to lobby for a legislative bill that would establish an annual appropriation for the college. He was successful. Today, the University of Delaware considers Porter as one of its founders.
Agriculture at Delaware College was still not successful. The history of the University of Delaware states: Unfortunately, no one could say an encouraging word about the development of agriculture at Delaware College. Edward Porter was surely a satisfactory man to be in charge of the program; his later success at Missouri is proof of that. But students were not interested.
Porter kept trying. He printed 1,000 flyers to attract students. The college authorized $100 for Porter to travel the state by horse and carriage to advertise the agricultural program. Porter and the college even gave prizes to promising youngsters who produced bumper crops of corn.
In 1881, the civil-engineer-turned-agriculturalist threw up his hands and accepted a position as Professor of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota, where he was named the first Director of the Experimental Station there. In honor of his accomplishments, Delaware College gave Porter an honorary doctorate.
The University of Delaware history states that the college probably overworked Porter. He served as an administrator, trustee, and professor of agriculture, math, physics, civil engineering and military science. He had, the history reports, “taken on too much.”
To read more about Edward Porter, click here for the full article.