A Celebration of Women Writers

"Agriculture." by Mrs. Amanda M. Edwards (1846-).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 760-762.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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The first efforts of the human family toward a livelihood must have been to till the soil. Necessity demanded it. The rich soil of the valleys was utilized for farming purposes, and in time the hilly portions of the country were covered with "cattle upon a thousand hills."

The first agriculturists were the prime factors in the wealth and stability of the land, and of untold influence in elevating the nations to positions of splendor and power; and today we have proof on every hand that agriculture is the leading industry of the world. With the settlement of the various colonies, agriculture was the first and most important branch of business. With it was allied the raising of stock, and the differentiation of industry which must follow the manufacture of the various articles of clothing from the raw material thus provided.

Columbus in his second voyage brought the first cattle to America. Careful practical study, and knowledge applied, has developed great improvement in all our breeds. They are also fed and fattened according to scientific principles.

Nature has most lavishly placed at man's command the riches of her handiwork in natural growths, with all the opportunities of advancement.

The early Romans did not bring the art of agriculture to its most perfect condition, but they understood a mode of culture which insured abundant crops.

Some claim that those who would make a failure of all other business could profitably engage in agricultural pursuits; but to obtain the greatest success a farmer must know more of the occupation than merely the sowing and reaping. It is not enough to put some seed in any ground and wait for the harvest. The grain must be sown upon soil best adapted to it, and the natural fertility of the soil must be retained. The practical and scientific agriculturist understands the composition and formation of soils, and the economy of nature in making the various deposits of fertilizing matter in such form as to be utilized by man as necessity requires. He must judge of its texture, its composition and its productiveness. He must understand the definitions of soils from their obvious qualities, and be able to designate from their composition the clays, loams, sands, gravels, chalks or peats, and to tell of their texture whether heavy, stiff, or impervious, or light friable or porous; whether wet, cold and late, or dry, warm and early, and according to their measure of fertility whether rich or poor. He learns the color-tone of darkness of the soil, which conveys to his practical eye the power of vegetable production. He detects the badge of mourning resulting from the decomposition or slow cremation of organic material. He learns of the ways and means of nature whereby the richest elements in the soil can be set free from the organically [Page 761]  dead to the organically living state, and to note the steady resurrection from death to life. He can judge of the adaptation of different sections to the growth of varied soil products, and their resources in the essential elements of fertility. He is able to select the localities and conditions best adapted to the largest growth of farm products and to state where the greatest nutritive value to such growths would be imparted.

Education with the farmer has become a pressing necessity. The claims of agriculture and of education are co-extensive. The greater the appliances of mind to any department of physical labor the greater the results. Well trained and informed mind can control physical energies quite as it pleases, and never is its power of control of more avail than in the business of husbandry. Brains are brought into use as well as muscle. In order to have any worthy success the agriculturist must carry into his work a fullness of knowledge; not merely a sufficiency, but more than a sufficiency. His success calls for intelligence and observation, and pays a premium on energy and ability. With the naturally sound judgment which his business cultivates, the farmer needs a good education, as well as the lawyer, the physician or the clergyman. The times demand this on considerations quite distinct from mere agricultural skill. The affairs of state and the intimate relations of agriculture to them call our legislators from the intelligent body of agriculturists.

That which is true of the farmer applies to each and all the departments of agriculture.

Among the many good things which stamp the agriculturist's work as of Divine appointment is its diversity. While it always includes contact with and care of the soil, its wide range allows us to speak of the agriculturist as a farmer or a shepherd, or a grain-grower, or a stock-raiser, or a market-gardener, or a dairyman, or a granger, or a hayseed, all of which vocations are unlimited in their aim and broad in their scope, and are capable of developing a variety of talents or gratifying a wide range of tastes.

It has been said that "Agriculture is a born science." It is full of botany, zoology, geology and entomology. It is full of chemistry from the soil to the growing plant. It gives full employment to the powers of both mind and body. An agriculturist may have the best thought of the vocation which he represents. He may daily find a broader sphere than that prescribed by the dollars invested. Owing to the fact that he is closely associated with nature, he is in close relation with the spirit of all life, and in the immediate presence of the Great Author. The natural tendencies of his aspirations are daily led toward good and toward God. From the day the farmer sows his seed until he harvests his crop, every day of the season, he is dependent upon beneficent Providence for favor and prosperity upon his broad fields, and is intuitively led to look from "Nature up to Nature's God."

The great freedom from excitement, peculiar to the farmer more than any other class of citizens, gives opportunity for cool and undisturbed investigation, and helps to form a character which the clergyman covets most for his hearers and which our judiciary system most needs for the jury box. In no department of work is good judgment more essential than in agriculture.

The farmer is obliged to deal with many things which are entirely beyond his power to control. He can not control the seasons, the weather or the markets. While he may base his calculations upon facts obtained from observation and experience, his own judgment must decide whether the season is late or early, when to plant, when to harvest, and, in fact, the seasonable time for all his work. There is no person engaged in business of any kind who is not dependent upon the prosperity of the agriculturists for his own success. If crops fail the merchants, ministers, doctors and lawyers all suffer from the failure. The welfare of our towns, cities, states and nations is due to the adequate success of agriculture. Failure upon the farm brings financial distress to every business enterprise, while abundant harvests insure great national prosperity.

We as a people realized the value of good crops recently, when Russia needed our corn and we needed their gold. [Page 762] 

The quality and standing of any honorable calling can only be measured by the character of the men and women engaged in it. No occupation affords better opportunity for mental, moral and social advancement than agriculture.

In the primitive days crude implements and primitive methods were used in cultivating the soil. The exhibit here at Jackson Park, of agricultural machinery, in quality, in artistic presentation and in infinite variety, proves that we live in an age of invention and of application of ideas to the interests of humanity, whereby agriculture is made less laborious, more pleasant, more refined and remunerative. Progress is illustrated. The bent stick and wooden plow is replaced by magnificent steel plows; the sickle by the powerful reapers and binders, and we are led to believe that in the near future electricity will be used to draw agriculture onward. With the progress before us may we not expect, in the world's tomorrow, to see the golden era in which the alchemist's dream is more than realized, and some of the latent forces of nature utilized in the fertilization of the soil, and that our statesmen will see the air turned into gold and silver.

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Mrs. Amanda M. Edwards is a native of Montgomery County, New York. She was born May 16, 1846. Her parents were Isaac Mereness and Sarah Bingham. She was educated at Ames Academy, Whitestown Seminary, and at Utica, N. Y., and has traveled in the United States and Great Britain. She married De Wayne Palmer. Utica, N. Y., 1870, and Ira Edwards New Hartford, New York, 1878. Mrs. Edwards is engaged in agriculture and stock farming. She is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Her postoffice address is Fremont, Neb.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom