Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School
Woodbine, New Jersey
I found four key sources of information about Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School: The Annual Report, 1908; Social aspects of the Jewish colonies of South Jersey, by Philip Reuben Goldstein; History of the Woodbine Colony by Albert Curét, jr.; and Adventures in Idealism by Katherine Sabsovich. The Harvard Digital Collections has images of the school. The ad (right) is from the Jewish Farmer.
Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German financier, created a $2,400,000 fund in 1891 to assist Jewish refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe in achieving economic independence in the United States. With $37,500 of the fund, the settlers purchased land for the colony of Woodbine in southern New Jersey. In 1894 the Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School was founded to teach scientific agriculture and to provide young Jewish people with the practical skills to become successful farmers. It was the fiirst agricultural high school in the nation.
Students were between fourteen and eighteen years of age. The initial class of 15 was made up of the children of the Woodbine colony, but soon the school was trying to recruit students from the larger metropolitan areas as far away as New York City and Boston. But the Annual Report shows the difficulties the school faced in recruiting students. The 1908 Summer Session opened with 115 students—95 matriculates. Of these 18 were dismissed as being unfit for farm work, and another five were expelled for violations of school rules. However, Goldstein points out that graduates often became successful farmers and agricultural experts.
Students lived a regimented life at De Hirsch. From 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. the days were an orchestrated series of chores, classes, meals, farm work, and study. In general, mornings were spent in theory—classes in arithmetic, English, chemistry, physics, bookkeeping, and agricultural topics. Afternoons emphasized the practical. Students rotated among the school’s farming operations—the model poultry house, the apiary, the dairy, the greenhouse, the gardens, the blacksmith shop.
Classes and work for female students emphasized home economics and nursing.
Despite the crowded daily schedule, De Hirsch students had a rich social life. All were members of the Agricultural Club, which also functioned as a literary society with lectures and oratorical contests. Many students were members of the Zionist Club, linking them with students from other Jewish schools.
While Woodbine became home to eight factories, it was in a poor agricultural area with thin soil and numerous mosquitoes. In 1917 the school was moved to Peerskill, NY--a move never completed.
Bricks and Mortar
The school was located on a 300-acre plot, located southwest of Woodbine. Goldstein describes the campus as a “large schoolhouse” capable of holding 250 students. The main building appears to be three-story brick structure containing classrooms, a synagogue, an assembly hall, and administrative offices. Baron de Hirsch Hall was a dormitory for students with a dining room and kitchen. There were cottages for faculty and staff. The property also contained all the out buildings necessary for a working farm—barns, poultry plant, greenhouses, and dairy—along with individual vegetable gardens, and an alfalfa field.
When the school closed at Woodbine, the colony granted the property to the state of New Jersey. Since 1921 the campus has been the site of Woodbine Developmental Center.
The Annual Report does not mention sports—only a 30-minute “recreation” period after dinner. Goldstein notes, “Baseball is the leading outdoor and basket ball the chief indoor sport in the colonies.” The Sam Azeez Museum shows an image of a 1904 baseball team with uniforms initialed H.A.S—presumable Hirsch Agricultural School and notes that students worked hard and played hard.
College Football Data Warehouse lists two games for the school—shutout losses to Delaware Valley College in 1904 and 1916. Delaware Valley College was originally National Farm School—another Jewish agricultural school located in neighboring Doylestown, PA.
Finally, Bridgeton Evening News shows a basketball game against Bridgeton High school.
Students and faculty of Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School. Image from Adventures in Idealism https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t3rv0fz5d;view=1up;seq=167
The Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School campus. The main building is to the left. Baron De Hirsch Hall is the large white building to the right. Image is from the Harvard Collection. https://curiosity.lib.harvard.edu/immigration-to-the-united-states-1789-1930/catalog/39-HUAM314744soc_urn-3:HUAM:OCP19065_dynmc