Written by Christina Holmes

In September 1955, a team of four faculty members from The Ohio State University’s College of Agriculture travelled to India. The purpose of their trip was to aid in establishing and maintaining an agricultural education system in remote areas. As a joint venture between the university and the International Cooperation Administration – now the United States Agency for International Development – the Ohio State team’s objective was to assist in the establishment of agricultural universities in the states and territories of Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, and to provide them with the capacity to plan and administer statewide programs in agricultural teaching, research, and extension education.[1] The team from Ohio State included Prof. Thomas Sutton, assistant dean of the College of Agriculture; Prof. Everett L. Dakan, the Department of Poultry Husbandry; Prof. Charles L. Blackman, Department of Dairy Science; and Prof. Jacob B. Schmidt, Department of Rural Sociology.[2] The team was based out of the Government College of Agriculture in Ludhiana, Punjab.

Chandigarh school faculty
viewing a corn field, 1956

Professor Schmidt recorded his experience in India between April 1956 and August 1957 in a series of diaries that his family recently donated to the University Archives. In addition to Prof. Schmidt’s diaries, also acquired (was) is the diary of his wife, Lorene Schmidt, dated between September 1955 and January 1956. Combined, the three diaries provide valuable insight on the trials and tribulations of the agricultural program, as well a peek into the inner thoughts of Prof. and Mrs. Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt’s diary also includes detailed accounts on the couple’s travels on their way to India.

Professor Schmidt and his wife, Lorene, 1957

Professor and Mrs. Schmidt left Ohio on September 22, 1955, and made numerous stops along the way that included brief stays in New York, London, Paris, and Rome before arriving in Bombay on October 6. Mrs. Schmidt’s diary includes complaints regarding missing hotel reservations, reviews for superior and inadequate restaurant fare, weather reports, and details of their tourist excursions. It becomes evident at one point that Mrs. Schmidt had become tiresome of sightseeing.  On October 15, 1955, she wrote, “Took 2 taxis over to TCM – from there went on a tour of 7 cities in and around New Delhi & Old D. A lot of ruins. Have seen so many am getting tired of it.” Mrs. Schmidt also never failed to include even the most insignificant of details. For example, on October 5, 1955, she wrote that a small box of Tide detergent cost $1.00 in Rome and that she did not purchase it.

An exhibit for insect control, 1956

Professor Schmidt’s diaries, however, tell a different story than that of his wife’s. Although he was also meticulous with his inclusion of miniscule details – such as whom he received letters from on a particular day, or what he had for each meal – it becomes clear that he felt as though he was fighting an uphill battle when it came to his objective in India: “After all these less than 2 years in India cannot be counted too long as measured by a life time. Yet, there is a hauntingly empty feeling that I have not nearly achieved fulfillment of mission in India. Only sporadically have I felt that my efforts have been productive and fruitful.” Faced with unfamiliar roadblocks, such as religious and cultural differences, lack of supplies, government involvement, and student attendance (or lack thereof), Schmidt’s hands were often tied and his frustrations were frequently expressed through his writing.  On July 2, 1957, 36 days prior to his departure from India, he wrote, “More than halfway through another year. This time in India has not added an unalloyed richness to a productive life. In fact, the frustrations and inconveniences, if not hardships (for an older person) have more often than not been the center of thinking. This is bad, but it is true.”

Chandigarh school faculty
in a corn hybrid field, 1956

Although Professor Schmidt only spent two years in India, the joint project between The Ohio State University and USAID continued long after his departure. In October 1961 the local government in the state of Punjab passed legislation to establish the Punjab Agricultural University, with assistance from OSU team members.[3]  Professor Schmidt may have felt that his time spent in India was fruitless, but it paved the way for a series of comprehensive improvements in the years that followed in the Punjab state. By 1964, the end of the initial nine-year regional contract, Ohio State team members helped to develop new university courses and youth programs, introduced new equipment and teaching methods, provided advanced training for 102 Indians in the U.S., and helped develop agricultural curricula, including a Master’s degree program in Farm Management at Punjab Agricultural University.[4]

Agriculture Extension Sign
at the OSU Office in India, 1957

In his last diary entry on December 31, 1957, Professor Schmidt wrote, “Of mother it was said it is good to be great, but it is greater to be good. So may it be said of me.” Although he left India without feeling any sense of great accomplishment, it was his consistent effort, dedication, and time spent attempting to enrich the lives of others that established Professor Schmidt’s true goodness. Professor Schmidt passed away in April 1965, and therefore never knew the totality of the extensive agricultural advances in India he helped pioneer. However, may it be said that his time spent in India was not as wasteful as he believed, but rather contributed to the overall success of the agricultural program in which he partook.

[1] AID-University Rural Development Contracts: 1951-1966 (Urbana, Illinois), June 1968; 59.

[2] “India’s Agriculture Gets Help,” Ohio State Lantern (Columbus, Ohio), October 10, 1956.

[3] Terminal Report: USAID Contract /Nesa-14. November 1, 1964-June 30, 1973; 15.

[4] Terminal Report: USAID Contract /Nesa-14. November 1, 1964-June 30, 1973; 18-19