Henry A. Wallace, a graduate of Iowa State College, was founder of the Pioneer Hi-Bred corn company and vice president of the U.S.
On July 2, 1862, as United States and Confederate armies fought in Northern Virginia to save or destroy the Union, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act changing the course of higher education. It created the opportunity for many people in the western U.S. to attend college for the first time, offered public alternatives to religious colleges, and began the shift by which public higher education became more common than private.
The law’s strategy was for each state to generate higher education funding from the federal land sales in the unsettled western territories. The federal government allocated land to each state, which would use the profits from land sales to create land grant colleges. The legislation honored Justin Morrill, the U.S. Senator from Vermont who had championed extending higher education and was the primary sponsor of the successful legislation.
According to the Act, the mission of land grant colleges was to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts . . . in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes. . . ,” While not neglecting the classics, the land grant colleges sought to increase access and provide higher education to meet the needs of a broader population.
Over time the federal government’s commitment to working with the states to expand higher education included passage of a second Land Grant Act in 1890. In 17 states with racially segregated educational systems, the legislation included a provision for the founding and funding of land grant institutions as segregated Black colleges and universities. The 1890 act also provided federal monies for establishing agricultural research stations at all the land grant institutions.