Although Muskingum County is largely agricultural, its 21st century farm families are probably unaware of an educational organization of great importance to their late 19th and early 20th century farm ancestors.
The Farmers' Institute was a product of the Hatch Act of 1887, which funded agricultural research through the establishment of "experimental stations" in connection with the land grant colleges. (Today these stations are known as Cooperative Extension Services.) The Hatch Act acknowledged that research without application has no real purpose, mandating in its first clause that the experimental stations were to share "useful and practical information on subjects connected with agriculture" to America's farmers. It provided a way to get vital agricultural information directly to farmers who didn't have the luxury of taking time off to attend formal college classes.
Rep. William H. Hatch of Missouri, who chaired the House Agricultural Committee, might have based his legislation on an informal movement that began in Massachusetts in 1839. That year, the Massachusetts legislature invited farmers to the State House to hear lectures and see demonstrations on the latest farming techniques. The event was so well-received that the idea spread, and farmers institutes were held in many localities for the next five decades. In 1872, Ohio began hosting farmers' institutes, with lectures and demonstrations provided by faculty of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College (The Ohio State University) which had been founded two years earlier.
The Farmers' Institutes usually met in the winter months for two to seven days of instruction. Participants were expected to have a common school education and to have farmed for at least one year. In 1902, the number of Farmers' Institute attendees nationwide was 80 times the number of students enrolled in agriculture, dairying, veterinary science, and household sciences (home economics) courses in all the land grant institutions combined. By 1907, the popularity of Farmers' Institutes programs led railroad companies to finance and run special trains to carry the materials used by lecturers in their talks and demonstrations so that the practical applications of their research could be taught to an even larger audience. Why might the railroads have been so magnanimous? Better farming meant more crops to transport to more markets, helping railroads turn even larger profits.
A search of Zanesville's local papers online for the years 1895-1920 turned up dozens of articles about Muskingum County Farmers' Institutes. They are fun to read, not just for the chance appearance of local people's names, but for the topics that drew our ancestors to attend these events. The institute held at New Concord in February, 1898 featured a women's program with topics such as "Washday in the Farm Home", "Vegetarian Diet", and the curious "Etcetera". Is it possible one of your female ancestors was in the audience?
Moss, Jeffrey W., and Cynthia B. Lass. “A History of Farmers' Institutes.” Agricultural History, vol. 62, no. 2, 1988, pp. 150–163. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3743290. Accessed 8 June 2021.