Bailey, Liberty Hyde (1858–1954)

Liberty Hyde Bailey was an influential thinker, writer, and researcher in the areas of horticultural sciences and rural sociology. He taught at, among other institutions, Cornell University. He was a prolific author, writing 65 books and 1,300 articles and editing numerous books and several journals. Renowned for his knowledge of horticultural science, he developed improvements in various plants and has been referred to as the father of modern horticulture. Bailey was instrumental in the Country Life Movement, which in the early twentieth century sought to encourage the development of rural life and agriculture to its fullest potential. Many see Bailey as instrumental in the genesis of the environmental movement. He was a productive author until near the time of his death.

Bailey was born into a family of farmers in 1858 in South Haven, Michigan. He graduated from Michigan Agricultural College (later Michigan State University) with a degree in botany. Bailey assisted a professor of botany at Harvard for one year, making great strides in his understanding of the science of plants. He then taught horticulture and landscape gardening at Michigan Agricultural College for three years.

While at Cornell, Bailey helped organize a system that would provide New York children with an education related to nature. After years of chaotic post–Civil War urbanization, Americans reevaluated the need for nature in the lives of people, building parks and starting beautification projects to regreen the polluted, poorly planned (usually unplanned) cities. Early urban reformers hoped to use education to instill a knowledge and appreciation of nature into young people who most likely knew little more of the world than their urban confines. Moreover, as so many Americans left the countryside for the city, reformers also hoped to remind people of the value of rural life and its peculiar kind of nature, which might in turn make them more effective in farming. This education would also give provide an understanding of the human role as stewards of nature.

Bailey was greatly concerned with the status of agriculture at the grassroots level, and thus he was an obvious choice for the head of the Country Life Commission established in 1908. Young people had been leaving farms throughout the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, and this out-migration concerned rural and urban reformers alike. Rural people lacked the social interaction and opportunities for education available in the cities and congested urban areas while forsaking the perceived benefits of the bucolic lives they left. Progressive president and nature lover Theodore Roosevelt called for the creation of the commission to study conditions in the rural United States and to make suggestions for keeping country life attractive to the younger generation. Bailey's commission did extensive research and surveys, producing a report on behalf of the commission as well as Bailey's own uncensored views of the results of the commission's work. In The Country-life Movement in the United States (1911), Bailey outlined areas for improvement in rural American life, including conservation of the soil, better education for men and women, and economic justice for farmers in the face of powerful monopolies and middlemen. Overall, he concluded that teaching farmers to be profitable was not enough. Rural life needed to provide both social and economic fulfillment, a balanced life created by the people who lived there instead of by well-meaning but remote urban reformers.

Bailey died at his home in Ithaca, New York, on December 25, 1954. The American Horticultural Society instituted an annual award in 1958 named in his honor.

Ken Taylor

See also: Country Life Movement ; Environmentalism ; Gilded Age ; Granger Movement ; Olmsted, Frederick Law ; Progressivism ; Roosevelt, Theodore


Bailey, Liberty Hyde. The Country-life Movement in the United States. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911. .

Banks, Harlan P. “Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1858–1954: A Biographical Memoir.” National Academy of Science. . Accessed January 2, 2013.

Jack, Zachary Michael, ed. Liberty Hyde Bailey: Essential Agrarian and Environmental Writings. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.