Chapter Chats - The Newsletter of the Future Farmers of Virginia: Overview
About This Guide
This guide is designed to offer easy access to Chapter Chats, the newsletter of the Virginia FFA, and provide an introduction to the history of the organization. Faculty at Virginia Tech founded the Future Farmers of Virginia, which later helped inspire the Future Farmers of America. Chapter Chats traces the history of the organization from its earliest days until the present era. This guide contains a list of Chapter Chats issues sorted by publication date from the 1920s to the 2010s.
The History of the FFA - Born at Virginia Tech
Agricultural Education Timeline
1862: The Morrill Land-Grant Act established federal funding for colleges specializing in agricultural and mechanical education. The funds for these land-grant universities was acquired via US Government sale of millions of acres of land seized from hundreds of tribal nations in the west.
1872: Following the end of the Civil War, Virginia received funds from the Morrill Act to establish Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as Virginia Tech.
1890: A second Land-Grant Act required that states must either prove that race was not a discriminating factor in admissions or provide a separate land-grant institution for Black students. This led to Virginia establishing a second land-grant institution, the Hampton Institute, which educated Black Virginians.
1908: In the early 20th century, Congressional District Agricultural Schools provided vocational training for both boys and girls across the state of Virginia. These schools helped prepare students for a life in farming by combining instruction with practical experience.
1914: The Smith-Lever Act established Cooperative Extension services in each state, connected to the land-grant institutions. The Extension Service was designed to connect the land-grant universities to the local communities they serve by bringing new knowledge and techniques directly to the public via demonstrations.
1917: The Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act provided federal aid to the states for the purpose of promoting pre-collegiate vocational training in agriculture, industrial trades, and home economics. This led to the end of the Congressional District Agricultural Schools as the public schools, with the newly available funds, began offering vocational agriculture courses, making the specialized schools unnecessary.
The Future Farmers of Virginia
In September of 1925, Walter S. Newman, Edmund Magill, H.W. Sanders, and Henry Groseclose sat around a table in the Agricultural Education Department at Virginia Tech and proposed the idea that would turn into the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV). The FFV was conceived of as a state-wide organization to help develop young farmers through vocational education. With the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, schools around the nation were funded to provide vocational agriculture training. The FFV would help supplement agriculture courses taught in schools by providing additional hands-on experience and mentorship. Not only would the organization continue the vocational agriculture work of the Congressional District Agriculture Schools, it would also be a means to develop confident young leaders in agriculture. The first Virginia high schools received their FFV charters in 1926 and the organization soon spread throughout the state.
Once upon a time in Virginia, the letters "FFV" stood for the "First Families of Virginia", referring to the descendants of the Jamestown settlers who became a kind of Virginian gentry. By the mid-1920s, this old meaning was beginning to fade from public consciousness and Groseclose decided to adopt the letters and imbue them with a new meaning. Thus the "Future Farmers of Virginia" was born. In the founding documents of the new FFV, Groseclose points to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as two members of the old "FFV"s who were also models for the new FFV - they were invested in agriculture but were also leaders who contributed to their local communities and their home state of Virginia.
Groseclose took inspiration from the emblem of a Danish agricultural organization that depicted an owl sat atop a shovel and a rising sun in the background. Groseclose modified the image to create the FFV emblem of an owl sat atop a plow, backed by the rising sun. The fundamental symbols in the FFV emblem - the owl, the plow, and the rising sun - went on to form the heart of the official emblem of the Future Farmers of America, with the addition of a cross section of corn used to frame the heart of the emblem and an American eagle symbolizing the organization's nation-wide reach.
The New Farmers of Virginia
Due to the intense racial segregation in Virginia and the rest of the South in the 1920s, the FFV was in practice, if not officially in writing, an organization for white, male students only. Just after the foundation of the FFV, Virginia Tech's Walter Newman and Dr. H.O. Sargent, the federal agent for vocational agricultural education for "special groups" (referring to minority students), proposed establishing an similar vocational agriculture organization for Black agriculture students. With Sargent's support, Prof. G.W. Owens and Prof. J.R. Thomas of Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) founded the New Farmers of Virginia in 1927.
The "NFV" would serve the same function as the FFV, but would extend the benefits of agricultural vocational training to Black students throughout rural Virginia. NFV chapters spread throughout the state and membership numbers swelled. Soon after the NFV was established in Virginia, associations were formed in other states and attention turned to creating a new national organization.
The Future Farmers of America
Following a nation-wide meeting of agricultural educators in 1927, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) was formed as a national vocational agriculture organization in 1928. While other states had comparable clubs, Virginia's Future Farmers of Virginia was the primary model for the FFA. In addition to taking inspiration from the name, the Future Farmers of America's constitution, internal structure, and emblem were adapted for the new national organization.
The Future Farmers of America grew steadily over the next few decades and its national membership quickly exceeded over 100,000 members. In 1929, national blue and corn gold were selected as the official colors of the FFA. By 1933, the famous blue corduroy jacket had been adopted as the Official Dress and the familiar FFA iconography was complete.
The New Farmers of America
Founded in 1935 in Tuskegee, Alabama, the New Farmers of America (NFA) spread across 18 southern and eastern states where segregation was most severe. By 1965, the NFA had over 1,000 chapters and 58,000 active members throughout the region. The NFA worked to help its members develop leadership skills in order for them to become rural leaders capable of solving problems in their communities.
For more information about the history of the NFA, see Additional Resources below.
The NFA's emblem contained many of the same elements as the FFA, including the plow, owl, and rising sun. However, the NFA emblem was framed by an open ball of cotton with two leaves attached at the base instead of the cross-section of corn. As federally-recognized national organizations, both the FFA and NFA emblems displayed a bald eagle grasping a shield and arrows. In contrast to the FFA's blue and gold style, the NFA chose to adopt a black and gold corduroy jacket.
As a result of the Civil Rights Movement and the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, racial segregation was no longer legal and schools throughout the nation were integrated. Following the Civil Rights Act, the Department of Education pushed for the FFA and NFA to merge. The FFA confirmed that membership would be available to all agriculture students irrespective of their race and the NFA was subsumed into the FFA in 1965. Unfortunately, instead of a true merger of the two organizations, where the history and traditions of each party are represented in some way, the FFA-NFA merger essentially led to the end of the NFA as it was swallowed whole by the FFA. The legacy of the agriculture educators and students who made up the NFA has been largely neglected until recent efforts to highlight their history and contribution (see Additional Resources below for more information).
Girls (Officially) Admitted
The initial FFV and later FFA constitution did not specify that membership was limited to male agriculture students. However, in 1934 the Future Farmers of America passed a resolution that officially barred girls from membership in the national organization. Despite this resolution, female agriculture students were not universally cut off from the FFA. Some local chapters were more open than others and as a result, a number of girls were still able to participate in their local chapters as full members. Some girls even received the famous blue corduroy jackets with their initials rather than full names embroidered on the side. It was not until the National FFA Convention of 1969 that the resolution was finally overturned and girls were permitted full membership in the Future Farmers of America. Today girls account for nearly 50% of FFA members and half of state leadership positions.
From Vocational Farming to Agricultural Education
The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 that initially paved the way for vocational agriculture in pre-collegiate education made the Future Farmers of America possible. In 1952, the Future Farmers of America received a national charter from the government which established the organization as an integral part of agricultural education. In 1963, a new Vocational Education Act supplemented the Smith-Hughes Act and expanded the purpose of agricultural instruction. For the first several decades of the 20th century, there was an emphasis on training students for careers as farmers. However, by the 1960s it became clear that not every student interested in taking agricultural courses and joining the Future Farmers of America would become farmers themselves. The mission of the organization was no longer just to train up the next generation of farmers, but to encourage and enrich students in agricultural education regardless of where their careers might take them.
In 1988, the Future Farmers of America was official renamed the National FFA Organization to reflect the focus shifting from farming to the wider agricultural landscape. FFA members now study farming alongside agricultural business, agroeconomics, forestry, agriscience, and many other subjects. In addition to the official rebranding, the official emblem was redesigned with the words "Vocational Agriculture" replaced by "Agricultural Education". Today the FFA includes over 700,000 members nationwide and remains dedicated to developing agricultural leaders for tomorrow.
Chapter Chats - The Voice of Virginia's Future Farmers
After the formation of the Future Farmers of Virginia, a bi-monthly newsletter was established to help spread information from chapters across the state. The very first issue, published in December 1926, invited FFV members to submit suggestions for the newsletter's title and offered a $5 prize for the winning suggestion. In the January, 1927 issue, Sidney Williams of the Powhatan Chapter was announced as the winner and his suggested title, "Chapter Chats", was officially adopted.
From the earliest days of the FFV through the present day FFA, Chapter Chats has chronicled Virginia's agricultural education history. The first issues of the newsletter track the addition of new local chapters across the state and impress upon members the importance of thrift during the trying economic times of the 1920s. In the 1940s, FFA news is interspersed with reports of how WWII was affecting FFA alumni and chapters across the state, including obituaries for young servicemen killed in action. The Chapter Chats of the 1960s document the changes to the organization itself as the NFA was taken into the FFA itself and girls were finally given full membership.
Each issue includes a "Chapter News" section with reports from around Virginia, national FFA news, and articles of interest to FFA members such as newly available programs, new developments in agriculture, and reports from state and national competitions.
Evolution of the FFA Emblem
Purpose of the Future Farmer of Virginia
"In my opinion the farm boys of Virginia who are enrolled in vocational agriculture are equal to any other group of boys in the State. But somehow the boys themselves seem to have a feeling of inferiority. Especially is this true when the farm boy goes to the city and has to compete with his city cousin. This condition should not exist. I believe that a strong organization of our boys in agriculture would help them to overcome this handicap. Let's form an organization that will give them a greater opportunity for self-expression and for the development of leadership. In this way they will develop confidence in their own ability and pride in the fact that they are farm boys" - Attributed to FFV founder, Walter Newman.