Baylor University, the Texas Collection

Farmers Improvement Society Records, Inclusive 1892-1943, Bulk 1930-1942



Records Summary

Creator Smith, Robert Lloyd, 1861 - 1942, Ruby Cobb Smith
Title Farmers Improvement Society Records
Dates: Inclusive 1892-1943, Bulk 1930-1942
Abstract The Farmers Improvement Society Records consists of manuscripts primarily authored by Robert and Ruby Smith about the Farmers Improvement Society. These papers contain correspondence, financial papers, photographs, legal documents, literary manuscripts, and other printed materials.
Quantity: 5 document boxes and 6 oversized folders.
Language of the Material English
Repository Baylor University, The Texas Collection

Biography/Profile

Robert Lloyd Smith, founder of the Farmers Improvement Society, was one of the leading African-American educators and public figures in Texas during the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Both of his wives, one of whom passed away early in his stay in Texas, assisted him in his many political and educational pursuits, until his death in 1942. For over fifty years, Robert Smith poured his energy and passion into this society as a way of helping sharecropping African-Americans improve their lives.

Smith was born in 1861 to free African-American parents in Charleston, South Carolina. From early in life, he received a very unusual amount of schooling, first at Avery Normal Institute, then at the University of South Carolina in mathematics and English, and finally at Atlanta University in teaching. After teaching in public schools from 1880 to 1885 in Georgia and South Carolina, Robert Smith came to Oakland, Texas, with his wife Francis Isabella.

Smith was appointed principal of the school at Oakland, and shortly transformed the school into one of the best teacher training schools in the state. Inspired by New England self-improvement societies, Smith founded one in 1889 for African-Americans in Oakland, which he named the Village Improvement Society. The society focused on helping black people improve the aesthetics of their areas of town. The Society also formed a school for local African-American children. This society would become the foundation for the future Farmers Improvement Society.

Smith also became involved in politics by running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1894 and 1896, winning two terms. As a member of the legislature, Smith pushed hard for education, introducing bills authorizing land purchases for Prairie View College, but met with defeat on bills contesting the Landlord and Tenant Act, and outlawing lynching and election fraud. Smith left the legislature in 1898. He also served as deputy United States Marshal, headed the Negro Extension Division, served on the board of the Jeanes and Slater Foundation with Andrew Carnegie and Booker T. Washington, and served as first president of the National Negro Business League.

Continuing his efforts to help African-American sharecroppers, Smith changed the name of his Village Improvement Society to the Farmers Improvement Society, and began organizing branches throughout Texas with five stated goals: aiding members upon a death in the family, improving homes and communities, abolishing the credit structure, helping families cooperate in purchases, and spreading new farming methods. The society held a yearly conference for members, provided life insurance, financed a bank, operated an overalls factory, and provided a social life in a religious and fraternal setting for African-Americans across Texas. By 1911, the high point of the organization, the society claimed 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Though juvenile branches were started after that, and other ways to increase membership were tried, the onset of the Depression signaled the beginning of the end for the society.

While still in the state legislature, Smith began attending national conferences with other black leaders, and eventually became an aide to Booker T. Washington. He corresponded regularly with Washington, and borrowed many of his ideas to try out in Texas.

One of the most important of the many imported ideas from Booker Washington was the idea of a vocational school to help educate the children of African-American sharecroppers. The Farmers Improvement Society began a boarding vocational-agricultural school for black children in Fannin County, Texas, near Ladonia. Smith, as a lifelong educator, became heavily involved in the finances, teaching, organization, and daily tasks of this school. Despite good attendance, problems with finances continued, and Smith’s death spelled the end of the school.

Robert Smith died on 1942 July 10, in Waco, Texas, which had been his home since he served in the Texas legislature. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Waco.


Scope and Content

The Farmers Improvement Society Records were acquired by gift in one transaction from donor Mrs. Mildred J. Rhambo in 1973 February. Before the materials donated were split into the Jules Bledsoe Collection, the Smith-Cobb Family Collection, and this collection, there were twenty-six boxes total. This collection begins in 1892 and continues until 1942, the year of Smith’s death. The Financial Documents and Correspondence series are the largest series in the collection.

Almost all materials were written by Robert Smith or Ruby Cobb Smith, since Smith was the only president of the Farmers Improvement Society.

This collection has only one picture, but many pictures relating to the Farmers Improvement Society are

present in the Smith-Cobb Family Collection.


Arrangement

The Farmers Improvement Society Records were organized prior to this document, but with no inventory or finding aid. Most of the headings already existing were kept.
Currently the Farmers Improvement Society Records is arranged in six series: I. Correspondence, II. Financial Documents, III. Legal Documents, IV. Literary Productions, V. Photographic Materials, and VI. Oversized Materials.

Restrictions

Access Restrictions

All requests for copying of materials must be submitted to The Texas Collection in writing. Please use the Request Form for Copying Materials sheet. Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator (s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Physical Description

General condition: Average.


Index Terms

African American leadership -- Texas.
African American legislators -- Texas.
African Americans -- Texas -- Politics and government.
Agriculture -- Societies, etc.
Smith, Robert Lloyd, 1861-1942.
Texas -- Race relations.

Related Resources

Items in related collections

Smith-Cobb Family Collection, Inclusive: 1861-1968, Bulk: 1948-1965

Related references

Carroll, Robert. “Robert Lloyd Smith and the Farmers’ Improvement Society of Texas.” M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1974.
Pitre, Merlin. Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares: Black Leadership in Texas, 1870-1890. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1997.
Pitre, Merline. “Robert Lloyd Smith: A Black Lawmaker in the Shadow of Booker T. Washington.” Phylon 46, 3 (3rd Quarter, 1985): 262-268.
Rice, Lawrence D. “Farmers’ Home Improvement Society.” Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed 2011 June 21.
Reid, Debra. “Rural African Americans and Progressive Reform.” Agricultural History 74, 2 (2000 Spring): 322-339.

Related Resource Files


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Farmers Improvement Society Records, Accession #2126, Box #, Folder #, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Acquisition Information

Accession No. 2126. Acquired 1973-02-00

Processing Information

Described by Paul T. Fisher. Released on 2012-06-22.

Archivist's Notes: This collection is closely related to the Smith-Cobb Family Collection and the Jules Bledsoe Collection. As told in Robert Carroll’s “Robert Lloyd Smith” thesis, all of the manuscripts that made up those two collections plus the Smith-Cobb Family Collection were gathered from a house in Waco that was about to be demolished. This house was almost certainly the old Cobb family house at 823 North Fourth Street. The resulting twenty-six boxes of materials were donated to the Texas Collection, and were separated into the three collections that exist today.

The Literary: Membership Cards materials are filed according to their original order, numerically by branch instead of chronologically.


Detailed Description of the Collection

Correspondence 1904-1933

Administrative Information
Physical Description
General condition: Good.
Biography/Profile
Correspondence to and from a variety of people, though mostly by Robert and Ruby Smith. Most letters have to do with the insurance the Farmers Improvement Society provided. Most letters are in average to good condition.
Acquisition Information
Accession No. 2126.
box folder
1 1 Correspondence: General 1904-1932
2 Correspondence: General 1933-1934
3 Correspondence: General 1935-1940
4 Correspondence: General 1941
5 Correspondence: General 1942-1943
6 Correspondence: General undated
7 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1931
8 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1932
9 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1933 January
10 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1933 February
11 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1933 March-April
12 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1936-1937 March
13 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1937 April-December
14 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1938 January-May
15 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1938 June-October
16 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1938 November-December
17 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1939 January-March 1939
18 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1939 April-July
19 Correspondence: Burial Benefits August-December 1939
20 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1949 January-September
21 Correspondence: Burial Benefits October 1940-April 1941
22 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1941 May-September
23 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1941 October
24 Correspondence: Burial Benefits 1941 November-December
25 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1907- June 1931
26 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1931 August-December
27 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1932 January-April
28 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1932 May-December
29 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1933 January
box folder
2 1 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1933 February
2 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1933 March-September
3 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1936
4 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1937-1940
5 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1941 January-September
6 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1941 October-1942 January
7 Correspondence: Financial Matters 1942 March-July, undated
8 Correspondence: Robert L. Smith to Ruby Cobb Smith 1922-1927
9 Correspondence: Robert L. Smith to Ruby Cobb Smith 1928-1940, undated
10 Correspondence: Form Letters 1919-1933, undated



Legal Documents 1892-1923

Administrative Information
Biography/Profile
Insurance papers make up most of this series. The articles of incorporation for Smith’s Farmers Improvement Society would be of particular interest to anyone studying this collection. Most of the series is in fair condition.
Acquisition Information
Accession No. 2126.
box folder
2 11 Legal: General 1929-1938, undated
12 Legal: Deeds 1892-1940
13 Legal: Life Insurance: Death Certificates and Statements 1922-1941
14 Legal: Life Insurance: Burial Certificates 1904-1936
15 Legal: Life Insurance: Burial Certificates 1937-1939
16 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Certificate 1904-1911
17 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Certificates 1912-1923
18 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1932-1937
19 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1938 March-July
20 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1938 August-November
21 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1939
22 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1940
23 Legal: Life Insurance: Endowment Personal File 1941
24 Legal: Articles of Incorporation: Folder 1 of 3 undated
25 Legal: Articles of Incorporation: Folder 2 of 3 undated
26 Legal: Articles of Incorporation: Folder 3 of 3 undated



Financial Documents 1911-1942, undated

Administrative Information
Physical Description
General condition: Good.
Biography/Profile
Series includes tax documents, membership dues materials, and various claims from members of the society. At the end of the series is a ledger on the financial dealings of the society’s boarding school. Most of the series is in average to good condition.
Acquisition Information
Accession No. 2126.
box folder
2 27 Financial: General 1918-1943, undated
box folder
3 1 Financial: General undated
2 Financial: Tax Documents 1918-1946, undated
3 Financial: Stock Certificates 1911-1919
4 Financial: Farmers Improvement School: Checks and Balance Statements 1918-1942
5 Financial: Blank Forms 1924-1934, undated
6 Financial: Blank Forms undated
7 Financial: Farmers Improvement School: Subscriptions 1918 September-October
8 Financial: Farmers Improvement School: Subscriptions: Folder 1 of 3 1918 October
9 Financial: Farmers Improvement School: Subscriptions: Folder 2 of 3 1918 October
10 Financial: Farmers Improvement School: Subscriptions: Folder 3 of 3 1918 October, undated
11 Financial: Membership Dues 1903-1936
12 Financial: Membership Dues 1937-1942
13 Financial: Membership Dues undated
14 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 1 of 4 1940
15 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 2 of 4 1940
16 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 3 of 4 1940
17 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 4 of 4 1940
18 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 1 of 8 1941
19 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 2 of 8 1941
20 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 3 of 8 1941
21 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 4 of 8 1941
22 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 5 of 8 1941
23 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 6 of 8 1941
24 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 7 of 8 1941
25 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 8 of 8 1941
26 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 1 of 5 1942
27 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 2 of 5 1942
box folder
4 1 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 3 of 5 1942
2 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 4 of 5 1942
3 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Folder 5 of 5 1942
4 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Envelopes 1939-1941 June
5 Financial: Quarterly Statements: Envelopes 1941 July-1942
6 Financial: Ledger 1 1914-1917
7 Financial: Ledger 2: Folder 1 of 3 1931-1932, undated
8 Financial: Ledger 2: Folder 2 of 3 undated
9 Financial: Ledger 2: Folder 3 of 3 1940, undated
10 Financial: Ledger 3 undated
11 Financial: Ledger 4 1918-1930, undated
12 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims 1929-1937
13 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 1 of 2 1938
14 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 2 of 2 1938
15 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 1 of 2 1939
16 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 2 of 2 1939
17 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims 1940
18 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims 1941
19 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 1 of 2 undated
box folder
5 1 Financial: Life Insurance: Mortuary Claims: Folder 2 of 2 undated
box folder
14 OVZ 1 Financial: Ledger 1 1907-1938
2 Financial: Ledger 2 1927-1936
3 Financial: Ledger 3 1931-1942



Literary Productions 1902-1942, undated

Administrative Information
Biography/Profile
The small literary series includes notes from Smith’s speeches, various biographical materials, minutes from meetings, and membership cards from the society. Most of the series is in average condition.
Acquisition Information
Accession No. 2126.
box folder
5 2 Literary: General 1939-1942, undated
3 Literary: Reports 1902-1941, undated
4 Literary: Pamphlets 1924, undated
5 Literary: Publicity Materials 1918-1939
6 Literary: Biographical: Folder 1 of 2 undated
7 Literary: Biographical: Folder 2 of 2 undated
8 Literary: Notes: Speeches, Orations: Folder 1 of 4 undated
9 Literary: Notes: Speeches, Orations: Folder 2 of 4 undated
10 Literary: Notes: Speeches, Orations: Folder 3 of 4 undated
11 Literary: Notes: Speeches, Orations: Folder 4 of 4 undated
12 Literary: Farmers Improvement School: Chapel undated
13 Literary: Farmers Improvement School: Folder 1 of 3 undated
14 Literary: Farmers Improvement School: Folder 2 of 3 undated
15 Literary: Farmers Improvement School: Folder 3 of 3 undated
16 Literary: Membership: Applications 1930-1941
17 Literary: Membership: Applications 1942, undated
18 Literary: Membership: Applications undated
19 Literary: Membership: Certificates 1904-1910
20 Literary: Membership: Certificates 1912-1924
21 Literary: Membership: Certificates 1925-1927
22 Literary: Membership: Certificates 1928-1932
23 Literary: Membership: Certificates 1934-1939, undated
24 Literary: Minutes: Folder 1 of 2 1904
25 Literary: Minutes: Folder 2 of 2 1904
box folder
15 OVZ n/a Literary: Membership Cards 1904-1934
box folder
16 OVZ n/a Literary: Membership Cards 1904-1935
box folder
17 OVZ n/a Literary: Membership Cards 1905-1935
box folder
18 OVZ n/a Literary: Membership Cards 1912-1951
box folder
19 OVZ 1 Literary: Membership Ledger 1902-1938
2 Literary: Membership Ledger 1927-1935



Photographic Materials undated

Administrative Information
Biography/Profile
Series includes one photograph of the Farmers Improvement School. There are many more photographs of the school and other Farmers Improvement functions in the Smith-Cobb Family Collection. The series is in excellent condition.
Acquisition Information
Accession No. 2126.
box folder
5 26 Photographic: Farmers Improvement School undated