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Liberty Hyde Bailey’s contributions are remembered and classified in many different ways by many different people, but all of his work, whether scientific or civic, arguably found its center in his concern for rural people (among whom he counted himself) and rural places in an industrializing world. In 1905, he wrote:
I stand, then, for the open country, for its affairs, for the trees that grow there, for the heaven above, for its men, for its women, for its institutions. […] They are my people; with them I was born; their problems are my problems; for them I mean to labor as long as I have strength and life.Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Outlook to Nature, 1905, pp. 81-2
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Project is an effort to revive interest both in Bailey’s life and work and in the larger project of thoughtfully engaging the wide range of rural experience that transcends Bailey’s vision. It ultimately aims to engage the rural in all its diversity and complexity. Right now, it primarily consists of a forthcoming book series called The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library and an in-process proposal for a Liberty Hyde Bailey Center. This website supplements those efforts with digital material that will both enhance series publications and open up Bailey’s rich legacy to the inheritors of his rural advocacy work today.
Among his many contributions, Bailey became one of the primary philosophers and statesmen of the “country life movement,” a social movement for the improvement of rural life that advocated for reforms like rural electrification, better roads, a parcel post, and cooperative organizing to resist urban and middleman control of commodity pricing. It was a diverse and often contradictory movement. Bailey, who chaired the national Commission on Country Life as appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, believed that the country life movement should not be understood as an “uplift” of rural society by urban society, that it was not a “back-to-the-land” movement, and that it should not devolve into centralized government “efficiency” programs, but should be a grassroots, ground-up, cooperative movement led by and for the people of the open country and the landscapes they inhabit. He articulated his ideals in The Country-Life Movement in the United States (1911), The Holy Earth (1915), and many other books, and he was the primary author of the influential Report of the Commission on Country Life (1909, 1911).
This website seeks to encourage scholarship on Bailey’s forgotten contributions to the country life movement, which were widely influential for many years in the work of rural reformers and the American Country Life Association, but more pressingly it seeks to make resources available for the many people currently involved in country life work—the modern country-lifers, who consider the whole rural situation and the problems of sustainability and resilience as at once social, ecological, and economic.
A modern country life movement will not look like it did in Bailey’s time, but it can learn from what came before, and this website would aid the effort. If you have ideas about how we could better accomplish this goal, please get in touch through our Contact page.
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