Born in South Haven, Michigan. In 1876 Bailey met botanist Lucy Millington who encouraged his interest in botany. Bailey entered the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC, now Michigan State University) in 1878 and graduated in 1882. He then spent two years as a herbarium assistant to the renowned botanist Asa Gray, of Harvard University.
In 1884 Bailey returned to MAC to become professor and chair of the Horticulture and Landscape Gardening Department, establishing the first horticulture department in the country.
In 1888, he moved to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and assumed the chair of Practical and Experimental Horticulture. He was elected Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1900. He founded what was then known as the New York State College of Agriculture and was named its dean from 1903-1913. In 1908, he was appointed Chairman of The National Commission on Country Life by President Theodore Roosevelt. Its 1909 Report called for rebuilding a great agricultural civilization in America.
Bailey represented an agrarianism that stood in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. He had a vision of suffusing all higher education, including horticulture, with a spirit of public work and integrating “expert knowledge” into a broader context of democratic community action. As a leader of the Country Life Movement, he strove to preserve the American rural civilization, which he thought was a vital and wholesome alternative to the impersonal and corrupting city life…he endorsed the family and the values of the family farm.
At this time he wrote Mother Earth, a “powerful testament to Nature as God..”.
To farm well; to provide well; to produce it oneself; to be independent of trade, so far as this is possible in the furnishing of the table, – these are good elements in living.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Holy Earth, 1915
L H Bailey cofounded of the American Society for Horticultural Science and is credited with being instrumental in starting agricultural extension services, the 4-H movement, the Extension System, the nature study movement, parcel post and rural electrification. He was considered the father of rural sociology and rural journalism.
Bailey’s real legacy was, the themes and direction that he gave the new agrarian movement that very different from previous agrarian thought. He saw technological innovation as friendly to the family farm and inevitably resulting in decentralization. His simultaneous embrace of the rural civilization and of technological progress had been based on a denial of the possibility of overproduction of farm products. When that became a reality in the 1920s, he turned to a “new economics” that would give farmers special treatment. He chose to preserve technology rather than the family farms. After this, he retreated from the Country Life movement into scientific study.
He edited The Cyclopedia of American Agriculture (1907–09), the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture (1900–02), continued as the Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture (1916–1919) and the Rural Science, Rural Textbook, Gardencraft, and Young Folks Library series of manuals. He was the founding editor of the journals Country Life in America and the Cornell Countryman.
He dominated the field of horticultural literature, writing sixty-five books (selling more than a million copies) including scientific works; efforts to explain botany to laypeople, a collection of poetry; edited more than 100 books and published at least 1,300 articles and over 100 papers in pure taxonomy. His most significant and lasting contributions were in the botanical study of cultivated plants.
Bailey made significant contributions to the taxonomic study of palms reportedly stemming from his inability to answer his wife’s questions about the plants during a family trip to Jamaica in 1910. After retiring as dean of the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1913, he devoted the better part of three decades to finding, collecting, and writing about palms.
Travelling extensively in search of palms and other plants, he was frequently abroad and recalled spending his 79th birthday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his 82nd in Oaxaca, Mexico, his 88th in Trinidad, his 90th in Grenada, and his 91st at sea on a small sailboat between Saint Eustatius and Saint Kitts.
When Bailey began studying palms, 700 species had been identified. The number reached 1,000 by 1946, due in large part to his studies. He left behind a manuscript of the first page of the introduction … Genera Palmarum was ultimately published by Drs. Natalie Uhl and John Dransfield in 1987.
In 1908 he was elected first President of the American Nature Study Society.
In 1917 he was elected a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences.
In 1998, about 140 years after his birth, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Scholars Program was created at Michigan State University reflecting his love of learning and expressive learning styles to provide a space for students to become educated in fields that interest them.
L H Bailey’s works include:
- Talks Afield About Plants and the Science of Plants (1885)
- Field Notes on Apple Culture (1886)
- The Survival of the Unlike (1896)
- The Forcing-Book (1897)
- The Principles of Fruit-Growing (1897)
- The Nursery Book (1897)
- Plant-Breeding (1897)
- The Pruning Manual (1898)
- Sketch of the Evolution of our Native Fruits (1898)
- Principles of Agriculture (1898)
- Cyclopedia of American Horticulture (1900, Fifth edition, 1906)
-revised, renamed as The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture, 2nd. ed. 1917, 3rd. ed. 1919
- The Principles of Vegetable Gardening (1901)
- The Nature-Study Idea (1903)
- The Outlook to Nature (1905)
- The State and the Farmer (1908)
- The Training of Farmers (1909)
- Manual of Gardening (1910)
- The Country Life Movement (1911)
- The Practical Garden Book (1913)
- The Holy Earth (1915)
- Wind and Weather (poetry) (1916)
- Universal Service (1918)
- The Seven Stars (1923)
- The Harvest: Of the Year to the Tiller of the Soil (1927)
- The Garden Lover (1928)
- The Horticulturist’s Rule-Book
- Farm and garden Rule-Book
- How plants get their names
“A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey, Country Life In America, 1903
- Liberty Hyde Bailey – Wikipedia
- Liberty Hyde Bailey biography at the L. H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium (BH) at Cornell University
- Liberty Hyde Bailey | American botanist | Britannica
- Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory
- Liberty Hyde Bailey – A Man for All Seasons , Cornell Library exhibition
- Voices from the Field Liberty Hyde Bailey – YouTube
- Liberty Hyde Bailey Founded the 4-H Movement and the College of Agriculture, Cornell Sun, 2010/10/19
- Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum And Gardens
- Liberty Hyde Bailey: The Father of Agriculture at Cornell University