The Beginning of SAE’s: Rufus Stimson

By: Kayla Erath, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

My name is Kayla Erath and I student taught at Frontier High School spring 2021 semester. I am excited to join this agriculture education family. I have wanted to join this profession since I was a sophomore in high school. Our field has been around for over 100 years, and I love hearing about the history it took to get us to where we are today. Students and educators around the United States know of the Smiths-Hughes Act of 1917, the FFA absorption of the NFA in 1965, women integration in 1969, and having the first female African-American National FFA President in 2017. These are a few dates that we know by heart, but what led to the beginning of agricultural education? 

Let’s take a step back and look at the three-ring model, which is composed of classroom, FFA (leadership), and SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience). Every student who is in an agriculture class has experienced all these three rings, and the best educators implement all three portions without belittling any of the others. Students are introduced to this model in every agriculture classroom and see each of the rings throughout their time in the classroom. The classroom portion is perhaps the easiest to see as we educators are teaching agriculture science, leadership, and production agriculture every day. Leadership is implemented through being an active participant in the FFA through officers, committees, competitive events, conferences, and many more activities which have evolved over the years. The last component is the SAE project where students either love or hate having to complete a hands-on project to get experience in agriculture. This component is one that I have always wondered about. How did the idea of an SAE project come to fruition? 

One of the trailblazers in our field was Rufus Stimson. One of his main contributions was to the SAE component of the three-ring model. Rufus Stimson was born in Massachusetts in February of 1868. He was born and raised on a farm. This impacted his career choice, because agriculture was a passion of his. He was an educated man who attended Colby College in Main, Harvard University, and Yale Divinity School. After his education, he was hired at the Connecticut Agricultural College where he worked his way up to being President Pro Tempore in October of 1901. He lasted in this position until 1908 when he became the director of the Smith Agricultural School in Massachusetts, which is still an operating high school today. In 1911, he became the state supervisor of agricultural education for Massachusetts. He worked in this job until he retired in 1938. After retirement, “Stimson received an appointment as a Research Specialist in Agricultural Education in the U.S. Office of Education for the purpose of writing a history of agricultural education” (Moore, 1988). 

His legacy can be seen in his “home project” method where during his time at the Smith Agricultural School in Massachusetts he implemented the idea of teaching agriculture in a high school classroom and challenging students to implement their findings at home. This “home project” method can be seen today as our organization’s Supervised Agricultural Experience project. This is one of the three rings of agricultural education, and without it, millions of past and present FFA members would not have been able to experience this hands-on portion of our model. Included in the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act was the requirement that agriculture students had to have farm practice.

This was directly based on the work that Rufus Stimson had implemented at the Smith Agricultural School. It is because of the work of Rufus Stimson that students across the United States are driven to work with their hands and create a home project. This project has led to thousands of job opportunities, and career passions being discovered. Without Mr. Stimson, our model of Agricultural Education may look very different today.

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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