Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School

Woodbine, New Jersey, 1894-1917

by Paul Batesel https://www.lostcolleges.com/baron-de-hirsch-agricultural-school

History

From The Jewish Farmer, published by the Baron Hirsch Fund

Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German financier, created a $2,400,000 fund in 1891 to assist Jewish refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe in achieving economic independence in the United States.  With $37,500 of the fund, the settlers purchased land for the colony of Woodbine in southern New Jersey.  In 1894 the Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School was founded to teach scientific agriculture and to provide young Jewish people with the practical skills to become successful farmers.  It was the first agricultural high school in the nation.

Students were between fourteen and eighteen years of age.  The initial class of 15 was made up of the children of the Woodbine colony, but soon the school was trying to recruit students from the larger metropolitan areas as far away as New York City and Boston.  But the 1908 Annual Report shows the difficulties the school faced in recruiting students.  The 1908 Summer Session opened with 115 students—95 matriculates.  Of these 18 were dismissed as being unfit for farm work, and another five were expelled for violations of school rules.  However, a 1921 U. of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis points out that graduates often became successful farmers and agricultural experts.

While Woodbine became home to eight factories, it was in a poor agricultural area with thin soil and numerous mosquitoes.  In 1917 the school was moved to Peerskill, NY–a move never completed. 

When the school closed at Woodbine, the colony granted the property to the state of New Jersey.  Since 1921 the campus has been the site of Woodbine Developmental Center.

Student Life

Students lived a regimented life at De Hirsch.  From 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. the days were an orchestrated series of chores, classes, meals, farm work, and study.  In general, mornings were spent in theory—classes in arithmetic, English, chemistry, physics, bookkeeping, and agricultural topics.  Afternoons emphasized the practical. Students rotated among the school’s farming operations—the model poultry house, the apiary, the dairy, the greenhouse, the gardens, the blacksmith shop.

Classes and work for female students emphasized home economics and nursing.

Despite the crowded daily schedule, De Hirsch students had a rich social life.  All were members of the Agricultural Club, which also functioned as a literary society with lectures and oratorical contests.  Many students were members of the Zionist Club, linking them with students from other Jewish schools. 

Bricks and Mortar

The Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School campus. (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection ) The main building is to the left.  Baron De Hirsch Hall is the large white building to the right. 

The school was located on a 300-acre plot, located southwest of Woodbine.  In 1921 the campus was described as a “large schoolhouse” capable of holding 250 students.  The main building appears to be three-story brick structure containing classrooms, a synagogue, an assembly hall, and administrative offices.  Baron de Hirsch Hall was a dormitory for students with a dining room and kitchen.  There were cottages for faculty and staff.  The property also contained all the out buildings necessary for a working farm—barns, poultry plant, greenhouses, and dairy—along with individual vegetable gardens, and an alfalfa field.

Sports

The 1908 Annual Report does not mention sports—only a 30-minute “recreation” period after dinner. The 1921 thesis notes, “Baseball is the leading outdoor and basket ball the chief indoor sport in the colonies.”  The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage shows an image of a 1904 baseball team with uniforms initialed H.A.S—presumably Hirsch Agricultural School and notes that students worked hard and played hard. 

College Football Data Warehouse lists two games for the school—shutout losses to Delaware Valley College in 1904 and 1916.  Delaware Valley College was originally National Farm School—another Jewish agricultural school located in neighboring Doylestown, PA. 

Finally, the December 9, 1915 Bridgeton Evening News shows a basketball game against Bridgeton High school.

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Description of the De Hirsch School from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 1907 Annual Report

“This school is located in the northern part of Cape May County on sandy plains covered with small oak and scrub pine trees is in a region largely taken up by Hebrews many of whom settled as beneficiaries of a Hebrew colonization scheme financed by the Baron de Hirsch fund for the amelioration of the condition of Jewish immigrants. The school is also supported by the Baron de Hirsch fund and is intended for Jewish young men. It is a practical agricultural school of elementary grade intended to train young men to become intelligent farm laborers, managers and eventually to take up farming for themselves.

To be admitted to the school a young man must be able to speak and write the English language and perform the fundamental operations of arithmetic. The course of study extends over two years. The school year begins April 1 and is divided into three terms. The spring and summer term extends from April 1 to October 1, the fall term from October 1 to December 17, and the winter term from December 17 to March 15.

During the spring and summer term the students spend seven hours a day in the practical work of the farm and garden and one hour a day in classes in agriculture, dairying, and horticulture. First-year students are given individual gardens of about one-tenth acre each, to be worked and cared for by them during the entire school year. The produce raised on these gardens is purchased from the students at market prices and paid for in cash. These first-year students spend a part of their time in general farming, for which work during the spring and summer months they are paid at the rate of $8 to $10 a month.

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A Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School student spraying potatoes

The second-year students also take part in the general farm work, driving teams, operating machinery and performing all of the operations of a well equipped, well-directed farm. Most of the time they are under the direction of instructors, but during examination weeks they are placed almost entirely upon their own responsibility and are marked on the amount and quality of work done.

The fall and winter months are devoted largely to classwork. First-year students in the fall have English, arithmetic, United States history, geography, plant life, and laboratory work daily; in the winter English, arithmetic, physiology, elementary and general physics, elementary and general chemistry, plant life, road-making, and laboratory work. Second-year students in the fall term have classroom and laboratory work in stock judging, forage crops, soil physics, plant life, fruit judging, civics, poultry husbandry, feeds and feeding, dairying, and veterinary science; in the winter term the principles of animal breeding, principles of plant breeding, soil fertility, general horticulture, feeds and feeding, veterinary science, bookkeeping, and farm machinery.

The school has a fairly good equipment throughout. The farm consists of 150 acres, several acres of which are gardens, 30 acres to orchards and smaller areas to vineyards and strawberries. There are several good teams of horses, a dairy herd housed in an up to date $4,000 dairy barn, a poultry department equipped with incubators, brooders and other modern appliances, a dairy laboratory, chemical laboratory farm mechanics laboratory, and an apiary of 60 hives. The buildings include a brick school building containing laboratories and classrooms, a dormitory, a dining hall, a residence for the superintendent, horse barn, dairy barn, poultry houses, and other minor structures.”

References

Annual Report, Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School, Fiscal year ending December 31, 1908. Woodbine, New jersey

Curet, Albert Jr. History of the Woodbine Colony Woodbine, NJ: The Woodbine Children’s Clothing Company, 1910.

Goldstein, Philip Reuben, Social Aspects of the Jewish colonies of South Jersey. Doctoral Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1921.

Sabsovich, Katherine, Adventures in Idealism, A Personal Record of the Life of Professor Sabsovich, New York: Stratford Press, 1922.

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