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Teaching Chemistry at VAMC

Chemistry at VAMC - The McBryde Era & Beyond

The First Department of Agricultural Chemistry:

When the Board of Visitors offered the presidency of VAMC to McBryde it included the offer of two additional titles, namely, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry and Director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (Kinnear's History, etc.). At the same time Robert James Davidson, A.M., who came to VAMC from South Carolina College with McBryde, was named Professor and Head of the Department of Analytical Chemistry. Davidson was also appointed as Chemist of the Agricultural Experiment Station. In offering the Presidency to McBryde, the Board of Visitors had also indicated that experiment station staff should be encouraged to participate in teaching. The catalog descriptions of the course in Agricultural Chemistry was to remain the same for the next 8 years, namely, one class was taught, meeting three times a week thoughout the school year, and with McBryde as the Professor. In the 1899-1900 term President McBryde relinquished his title as Professor of Agricultural Chemistry and Davidson's title was changed to Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Professor of Agricultural Chemistry.

With this change the two departments were merged into one Department of Analytical and Agricultural Chemistry. Clearly, the McBryde era was characterized by a strong representation of the family in the field of chemistry. Davidson was President McBryde's son-in-law, and in 1903 J. Bolton McBryde, son of the President became Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry in the Department of Analytical and Agricultural Chemistry and also carried the same title in the Department of General Chemistry. From catalog descriptions it is evident that in the early years of the McBryde era there were three branches of chemistry. While Davidson served as analytical and Agricultural Chemist, Robert C. Price, F.C.S., served as Adjunct Professor of General Chemistry, Minerology, and Geology in the Department of General Chemistry, Minerology, and Geology.

Thus, in the early years under McBryde, VAMC had three departments of chemistry. Name changes continued. Thus, the Department of Chemistry, which emerged in 1904, called the Department of General Chemistry the previous year, had been General and Industrial Chemistry for one year (1901-2) when there was also a department of Minerology, Geology, and Organic Chemistry.

What did McBryde teach?

The 1891-92 catalog gives the description for the course in Agricultural Chemistry as follows: Plant growth and nutrition, chemical composition and properties of soils, chemical composition and nature of manures, natural and artificial. Composition and requirements of field crops, fertility and soil exhaustion, constituents of the animal body, animal nutrition, composition and digestibility of foods, feeding rations, chemistry of milk, etc. Textbooks and works of reference for the course were listed as follows:

Warrington's Chemistry of the farm, Liebig's Laws of Husbandry, Bousingault's Rural Economy, and Papers of Lawes and Gilbert.

Clearly, under McBryde, the major sources of the German, French, and British literature on the subject of agricultural chemistry were made available to the students.

It should be recalled that the idea of using public funds to support agricultural chemical research through experiment stations originated in Germany and Professor Justis Von Liebig, the father of agricultural chemistry, was a strong supporter of this approach to solving agricultural problems. Thus, before the U.S. established the experiment station system in 1887 (Hatch Act of U.S. Congress) the U.S. schools of agriculture had to rely heavily upon the European literature for instructional purposes.

President McBryde's recognized accomplishments in agricultural chemistry are further evident from the assignments he was called upon to fill. Although he did not publish any paper or conduct research while director of the experiment station and as head of Agricultural Chemistry, he was invited by the State Board of Agriculture to present a scholarly report. In 1893, when the state legislature had empowered the Board to make arrangements with the VMAC for the analysis of soil and minerals samples, President McBryde was invited to address the annual meeting on the subject of "A brief review of the doctrine of Manure." The paper he presented was, by order of the Board, published in the 1893 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture of Virginia. The paper was most scholarly in the sense that it critiqued the published investigations of the prominent European scientists of the time as to their views on the value of manure for maintaining soil conditioning and fertility.

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