Rutgers historian illustrates life of George H. Cook
By 1864, only 64 students attended Rutgers, a number that is too small for a university to survive, said Diana Brown, director of the Office of Alumni and Community Engagement.
In celebration of the anniversary that Brown called the “run up to Rutgers 250,” University archivist Thomas Frusciano spoke on how George H. Cook helped expand the University.
The event, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the extension of Rutgers, was held yesterday in the Marine Sciences Building on Cook Campus.
In the early 1860s, Rutgers, Princeton University and the New Jersey State Normal School, now The College of New Jersey in Trenton, competed for the designation of land grants as designated by the Morrill Act, Brown said. Cook led the campaign for Rutgers.
This campaign opened the doors for increased enrollment in the University, which at the time was competing for student enrollment with the adjacent schools.
The additional land became what are now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the School of Engineering.
Frusciano went on to explain Cook’s role in the matter. He called him “one of the most significant personalities in the history of Rutgers.”
With the help of William Henry Campbell and David Murray, Cook successfully persuaded the state legislature to award the land grant to Rutgers over both Princeton and the Normal School.
“Cook was uniquely qualified,” Frusciano said. “The years he spent at The Albany Academy and [as] scientific manager of a glass factory and as a teacher of science all have provided him with more knowledge and expertise.”
Cook believed that Rutgers was in need of this land grant for the agricultural department, where he worked most closely.
In comparison to the other schools, Rutgers proved more suitable to develop the sciences for agriculture, Frusciano said.
In an effort to persuade the legislature, Cook, Murray and Campbell sent letters to alumni in order to influence their support. Their goal was to explain why Rutgers would benefit from such an extension.
Advocates for Rutgers were pleased to hear the votes came out in favor of awarding the University this land grant.
However, that was only half the battle because despite the additional land grant, Rutgers still lacked applicants interested in agriculture.
In contrast to the School of Engineering, which did acquire new applicants, “agriculture education was more difficult,” Frusciano said.
Cook was not ready to give up. In addition to helping fund what is now the farm on Cook, he hired more staff and added buildings, such as Geology Hall on the College Avenue campus, to the agriculture program.
By the end of his life, Cook cumulatively dedicated 25 years to the cause. The 150th anniversary essentially celebrates how he transformed the University.
“Never had anyone had interest in the public more than this man — for himself, he simply had the privilege of doing more and doing it to the best of his abilities,” Frusciano said.
Emma Florentine, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and prospective engineer, said she could not agree more.
Because her parents are Rutgers alumni who are heavily involved in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, she believes Cook’s contributions are important to Rutgers’ history.
Although she did not know much about Cook himself, she now believes his contributions have allowed Rutgers to grow exponentially, especially being one of the oldest colleges in America.
“My father is part of the [Rutgers] New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, NJAES, so he runs the greenhouses and is involved with the agricultural department,” Florentine said. “He always makes sure to share it with us, especially since agricultural science is a field that not as many are interested in.”