A Century of Seminars: Celebrating the Centennial of Knowledge Transfer in Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota

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The advent of horticulture, backed by research, teaching, and extension in the State of Minnesota during the 1800s, had long-term ramifications for initiating opportunities for the newly formed University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Minnesota State Horticultural Society—all of which worked closely together. The founding of the horticulture department in 1888, then known as the Division of Horticulture and Forestry, provided long-term commitment to address the needs of the horticulture field. The integration of female students in 1897 provided inclusivity of gender perspectives in horticulture and enabled essential services during World War I (WWI), when male students, faculty, and administrators were drafted into military service. After the sudden death of Dr. Samuel Green, the first Department Head, in 1910, Dr. LeRoy Cady (who served as an Acting Department Head) instituted a novel idea at the time of having weekly departmental seminars. These formally commenced on 13 Jan. 1913, with the first seminar entitled “Organization of the Seminar.” A survey across the country of horticulture or plant science-based departments revealed its uniqueness as being the oldest seminar series in the country and, undoubtedly, the world. An early seminar tradition included taste-testing of fruit. Early seminars were conducted in the department office of the newly built Horticulture Building (opened in 1899). This idea of the seminar format—as a valuable mechanism of exchanging ideas and increasing department associations—was spread by faculty and Dr. Cady at national and regional meetings of the American Society for Horticultural Science. The seminar concept stretched across the country to other universities and colleges with horticulture programs to make such a forum commonplace to convey research, teaching, and outreach findings in academic settings. Knowledge of the history of the seminar series remained obscure until the record book was discovered in 2010, which provided documentation of its founding and the early years of knowledge-sharing in seminar format. To mark this unique event in horticultural science, a centennial celebration of the seminar series occurred on 13 Jan. 2013. An estimated total of 1899 seminars have been presented during this century-long period. However, a gap in the seminars during 1916 to 1925 was unexplained in the record book. Examination of the departmental, college, and university archives during this time period revealed two primary reasons for this: WWI and the 1918 influenza epidemic. The War Department’s takeover of all college and university campuses in 1918 resulted in the decimation of the faculty and student body by mandatory service (all males age 18–45 years), the institution of a wartime curriculum (which limited the number and types of horticulture classes), the takeover of essential departmental functions by nondrafted men and all female students/faculty, the building of barracks (many of which were on horticultural research plots), and the cessation of all activities, including the seminar. Concurrently, the 1918 influenza outbreak prohibited social gatherings, thus limiting interactions such as seminars. Only a few photographs exist of students wearing masks in 1918, but the impact of the flu seriously affected the ability of students to return to the University of Minnesota after WWI. One subtle benefit in 1918 was the first-ever admission of disabled students (veterans) to horticulture classes. The deaths of students, faculty, and administrators on WWI battlefields, in training camps, or by influenza, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, devastated the department for years. Lessons learned from these tragedies resonate with the modern-day continuation of the seminar series in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-948
Number of pages14
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Received for publication 10 Mar. 2022. Accepted for publication 6 Apr. 2022. Published online 25 July 2022. This research has been supported, in part, by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and the Department of Horticultural Science. We thank the members of the 2012–13 Seminar Committee (Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota), Dr. Vince Fritz, Dr. Jeff Gillman, Dr. Gary Gardner, and Dr. Sun Li Tun, as well as the office staff (Stephanie Betterman and Echo Martin) and alumna (Dr. Barbara Liedl, West Virginia State University), who helped with the organization of the 2013 centennial celebration of the seminar series. We thank the Minnesota State Horticultural Society for allowing access to their archives and photographing artifacts. We thank the University of Minnesota Archives staff, Erik Moore and Rebecca Voot, for making the departmental archives available to Seminar Committee members for research and photography, and for finding photographs of mask-wearing students in 1918. We thank all department heads and chairs across the country who provided data regarding their seminar series. N.O.A. is the corresponding author. E-mail: ander044@umn.edu. This is an open access article distributed under the CC BY-NC-ND license (https://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Society for Horticultural Science. All rights reserved.


  • 1918 influenza epidemic
  • apples
  • coeducational education
  • fruit sensory evaluations
  • gender equity
  • teaching
  • World War 1
  • WWI


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