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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Educator Henry Elijah Alvord, son of Daniel Wells and Caroline Clapp Alvord, was born on March 11, 1844, in Greenfield, Massachusetts. After attending public schools, Henry Alvord entered Norwich University in Vermont in 1860. During the Civil War he reached the rank of major in the U.S. Army's Second Massachusetts Cavalry. Returning to Norwich, he completed a bachelor's degree and a civil engineering degree and received an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Alvord married Martha Scott Swink in 1866. He reentered the peacetime army as a captain in the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. While serving in Kansas and Indian Territory (I.T.), he became interested in and later wrote on the emerging cattle industry in the West. In 1869 Alvord was sent to the Massachusetts Agricultural College at Amherst, and he became the first army officer to serve as a military instructor at a land-grant institution. Leaving the military in 1871, he settled on his wife's ancestral estate and established one of Virginia's first herds of registered Jersey cattle. In 1872 Alvord served as a special commissioner to I.T. to bring a Kiowa delegation to Washington, D.C. The delegation refused to leave before talking to their chiefs, Satanta and Big Tree, who were imprisoned at the penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. Consequently, Alvord persuaded Texas officials to temporarily release the chiefs.

Alvord was one of the major lobbyists in the passage of the Hatch Act of 1887 and the Second Morrill Act (1890). His work in agricultural and scientific organizations brought him close to the developing land-grant college movement. He helped organize the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations, established in 1887. Considered the association's "father," he chaired its executive committee for seven years and became president in 1894.

From 1880 to 1885 Alvord operated the Houghton Experimental Farm in New York. After serving as professor of agriculture at Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1886 to 1887, he was president of Maryland Agricultural and Mechanical College at College Park until 1892. By 1893 he was appointed as a deputy in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1894 the secretary of agriculture asked him to take the presidency of the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University) and to direct its experiment station in Stillwater, Oklahoma Territory (O.T.).

As the college's second president, Alvord immediately tried to improve conditions at the fledgling institution. Among his many recommendations were mandating regular class attendance, reducing preparatory course work from two years to one, adding professors and assistants to accommodate more research and extension work, creating a home economics department, and employing a woman faculty member. The new president chided the board of regents for placing friends into vacancies and questioned certain financial practices. Soon the regents and the president were at odds. In December Alvord submitted his resignation, effective January 17, 1895. Although he served as president for only four months, he had created a course of action for reform.

After leaving O.T., Alvord completed the academic year at the New Hampshire Agricultural College. From 1895 until his death he served as the head of the Dairy Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry of the USDA. He died on October 1, 1904, while visiting the St. Louis World's Fair.

Carolyn G. Hanneman


LeRoy H. Fischer, "Henry E. Alvord: 1894–1895," A History of Governance at Oklahoma State University, comp. James H. Boggs (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1992).

Philip Reed Rulon and Ronald Eugene Butchart, "Henry Elijah Alvord, 1844–1904: Soldier, Scientist and Scholar," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 52 (Spring 1974).

Caroline B. Sherman, "A Young Army Officer's Experiences in Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 13 (June 1935).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carolyn G. Hanneman, “Alvord, Henry Elijah,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=AL016.

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