Looking back on journalism instruction at ISU
By Wayne P. Davis, MS 1988

Course offerings in journalism at Iowa State in the early years of the program were a far cry from the broad schedules now available at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. A booklet published in 1930 celebrating the 25th anniversary of technical journalism at Iowa State College carried a few paragraphs about its beginnings.

The booklet recounted details of a meeting in which the seeds of the program were sown:
At the time of the International Livestock Show in Chicago late in 1904, a group of men gathered sociably about a grate fire in the Stock Yards Inn. They were talking about a subject of common interest, agriculture.

William H. Ogilivie, editor for the Agricultural Experiment Station, was the first instructor for the inaugural 1905 agricultural journalism class at Iowa State. Photo courtesy of Iowa State University Library/Special Collections Department.

After a while the conversation drifted around to the special question of how the helpful influence of agricultural colleges and of successful agricultural experience might be carried to every farm and farm home. There was mention of the tremendous part that agricultural journals play in the making of a better agriculture. And then an idea was broached in which was the germ of the development of a new kind of college instruction.

This idea was that one of the functions of the agricultural college should be the training of young men schooled in agriculture in the methods and processes of the agricultural press.

The man who broached this idea was John Clay, head of a great livestock commission house, a man with a deep interest and faith in agriculture and himself a writer of skill on agricultural subjects.

Among those who heard it was C.F. Curtiss, dean of agriculture at Iowa State College. These two men went into the subject in more detail. Dean Curtiss was willing to inaugurate such instruction at Iowa State if the ways and means could be found. And Clay was willing to provide the means—an annual gift
of money to finance the instruction.

On May 30, 1905, after Dean Curtiss had prepared the way for the innovation, John
Clay and a group of friends and editors
interested in the project came to the college to discuss final plans. On this occasion Clay delivered what may be called a founder’s address, “The Plough and the Book.”

The booklet went on to detail the growth of the department:

In the fall of 1905 the first class in agricultural journalism was offered. It was a one-credit class that met once a week. William H. Ogilvie, editor for the Agricultural Experiment Station, was the instructor. The class was continued in the second semester. Some 25 or 30 agricultural students elected to take the class during the first year.

A few facts will serve to trace the development of the department. By 1911 eight classes were offered to about 200 students. In the fall of that year, at the request of a number of women in home economics, female students were first admitted to journalism classes set up for the study of home economics reporting.

In 1912 the department had two instructors, and in 1915 three. In 1920 definite provision was made for classes in engineering journalism. In this year, also, a four-year curriculum in agricultural journalism was put into the catalog. Following the war, the enrollment in journalism classes increased rapidly. During the past few years, an average of about 700 students each year has been enrolled in journalism classes.

Following Ogilvie, the department has been successively under L. E. Carter (1906-08), C.V. Gregory (1908-11), F.W. Beckman (1911-27) and Blair Converse (1927-40). It was under Beckman’s charge, during 15 years, that the department made its greatest development.

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