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Whitford pens third book on Purdue Ag


Fred Whitford never planned on being an author. "Shoot, when I came to Purdue, I could barely write," he joked.

Like many people, Whitford was simply looking for the answer to the question "Who are we?"



That was in 1991, when he joined the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

With the publication of his third agricultural history book, For the Good of the Farmer: A Biography of John Harrison Skinner, Dean of Purdue Agriculture, Whitford, 58, has been gaining a reputation as the historian for Purdue's College of Agriculture.

Skinner was the first dean of Purdue's College of Agriculture (1907–39). He grew the program from one building and 150 acres to ten buildings and 1,000 acres during his tenure as dean.

"John H. Skinner was a farmer, a teacher, a researcher, a politician, a tireless promoter and a visionary who never lost his focus on the Indiana farmer," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue Agriculture.

And in the biography of Skinner, Whitford just may have found the answer to the question that started his writing career back in 2002.

"I kept reading about a man named William Carroll Latta," said Whitford. "He was the one who started the Farmers' Institutes (a forerunner to the Cooperative Extension Service) across the state as well as the Winter Short Courses in agriculture. He actually built the School of Agriculture outside the campus."

Whitford went to the library to see what he could find out about Latta.

"There was nothing on him," Whitford said. "I thought maybe I should write a book about this important pioneer who developed the mission of Extension in Indiana."

While writing The Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture: A Biography of William Carroll Latta, which was published in 2005, Whitford came across several of Latta's communications with Virginia Claypool Meredith, a Shorthorn cattle breeder from Cambridge City near the Indiana–Ohio border.

Latta employed Meredith to lecture to farmers across the state.

"William Latta had no staff. He needed people to teach at the Farmers' Institutes. He had $5,000 from the Indiana General Assembly to do that," Whitford said. "He paid speakers $25 a week to travel to these outlying places across the state. They took trains and got picked up by buggies to go to their speaking engagements.

To purchase this book, visit

To purchase this book, visit

"Meredith was a livestock producer who was not only good at her trade, but she also knew how to make money from farming. I got interested in her from the standpoint of how tough it would have been for a woman to be teaching men about livestock at the end of the 19th century."

In addition to her accomplishments as a livestock producer, Meredith would become heavily involved in the creation of home economics as a field of science, both at Purdue and the University of Minnesota, and would be named the first female trustee of Purdue.

In 2008, Whitford told her story in his second book, The Queen of American Agriculture: A Biography of Virginia Claypool Meredith. Whitford researches and writes at night and on weekends, always making sure to write something every day.

His day job, as Extension specialist and coordinator of Purdue Pesticide Programs, offers him ample opportunities to write.

He has written or co–authored more than 250 Extension and regulatory publications and research papers on subjects such as transporting agricultural products, flood planning and chemical storage tanks.

Whitford continued

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