In 1862, U.S. Rep. Justin Smith Morrill introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that changed the face of higher education.
Morrill's bill proposed the founding and funding of land grant colleges across America. The bill was directed toward helping strengthen agricultural and engineering education at the newly funded institutions.
Called the Morrill Act, this was a major boost to higher education for many young people. At the same time, there were two other groundbreaking acts in Congress. Congress also moved to establish the Department of Agriculture and pass the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act gave individuals 160 acres each for free if they would farm the land.
This government initiative created many family farms, established research centers and a system of agricultural production unequaled in any other country.
Clemson University, here in South Carolina, was established in 1889 as an agricultural college. It, too, benefited from the Morrill Act. It is ranked by some as the 23rd best public, national university in the country. It also is ranked by The Princeton Review as No. 2 for happiest students. Lots of my friends and family who have attended and those who are currently enrolled seem happy as clams. The university's fight song is a jazz favorite, "Tiger Rag."
There are so many wonderful universities across the country that have been grateful for this major legislation. It was an amazing feat to have done this at the beginning of the War Between the States.
The Morrill Act changed the course of higher education for millions 150 years ago. It has given students the ability to study courses they could really use in the real world.
Babbie Guscio is the social columnist for The Bluffton Packet. She can be reached at The Store on Calhoun Street.