FIELD OF STUDY: Agricultural Science
ACTIVE RESEARCH ERA: 18/19th century
AFFILIATED INSTITUTIONS :
- Iowa State University- Bachelor’s and Master’s in Agricultural Sciences
- Tuskegee University- Faculty
RELATED PRINCETON COURSES:
- EEB 308
- ENV 365
Background, early life, and outside interests:
George Washington Carver was born around 1864 on a farm in Missouri that belonged to Moses Carver. Although Moses is said to have been against slavery he purchased Carver’s mother 9 years before to help him tend to his farm. Shortly after Carver was born he, his mother, and his sister were kidnapped but soon after Moses was able to find and retrieve him. As a child, Carver was quite frail and sickly so he could not help Moses in the field and instead resigned to help his wife, Susan, with more “domestic” tasks such as cooking, embroidering, laundry, and most impactful, gardening. From working in the garden Carver grew a love for plants and he would experiment with natural pesticides, fungicides, and soil conditioners.
By age 11, Carver had left the farm to move to Neosho with Andrew and Mariah Watkins and attend an all-black school. Mariah, who was a midwife and a nurse, shared her knowledge of medicinal herbs with Carver. The school didn’t provide the best education and so Carver moved towards the midwest where he hopped around and put himself through school with domestic skills. He graduated high school and applied to Highland College where he was initially accepted but the offer was rescinded once they learned he was black.
In the late 1880s, he met a white couple in Iowa that encouraged him to pursue higher education, and with that support, he applied to Simpson College and initially intended to live life as an artist but a professor of his encouraged him to apply to Iowa State Agricultural School and pursue a career in botany.
In 1896 he took a job with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute where he conducted agricultural research and taught until his death.
This scientist is most know for:
Carver is known as the “Peanut Man” due to the several uses he discovered for peanuts. One of the most known was planting peanuts to upgrade the quality of the soil that had been damaged from years of planting only cotton and during the rise of Polio, he discovered peanut oil helped relieve some of the pain. He eventually became known for his agricultural experiments, which brought about the ideas of fertilization, crop rotation, and created a market for previously unused but vital crops like peanuts, and sweet potatoes, and for his activism for racial equality. Throughout his career, he helped to “change the agricultural and economic life of many poor farmers” and revolutionalized southern agriculture after his death the farm where he was born was declared a national monument, it was the first national memorial to an African American.
Barriers broken by this scientist:
Carver had a successful scientific career despite the intense racial discrimination faced by people of color during his time. Carver was born into slavery. As a child, Carver was very sickly and weak, he describes his time in childhood as a constant battle between life and death. As he grew older he faced discrimination due to his race and time and time again had to do more for less.
"George Washington Carver". 2022. Science History Institute. https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/george-washington-car….
"George Washington Carver - American Chemical Society". 2022. American Chemical Society. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/….
Kremer, Gary, and Carlynn Trout. 2022. "George Washington Carver - SHSMO Historic Missourians". SHSMO Historic Missourians. https://historicmissourians.shsmo.org/george-washington-carver.
Vanessa Herrera and Teodor Grosu