|Miami County Historical Museum - 12 E. Peoria, P O Box 123 - Paola, KS 66071 Phone: 913-294-4940 - all rights reserved
George Washington Carver
George was born into slavery in 1864 or 1865, in Diamond Grove, Missouri. The exact date
is unknown. George, his brother James and mother, Mary, belonged to Moses and Susan
Carver. George's father was probably a slave on a nearby farm who was killed in an
accident when George was an infant.
The Carvers - Baby George and his mother were stolen from the Carver farm by
Confederate bushwhackers while James hid. The thieves must have thought George too
sickly to earn a good price, and he was either abandoned or given away. In any case, the
Carvers found George and accepted both him and his brother into their home. The
childless Carvers, who never agreed with conventional slavery, treated the boys as if they
were their own children. George and James never saw their mother again. The Carvers
were the only real parents they ever knew. Since slaves rarely had last names, George
and James later took the name "Carver" and used it as their own.
laundry, mending clothes and cooking. As a very young child, George learned to
appreciate nature, working in the family garden. He also had the woods and wildlife of
Missouri as his backyard. He earned the nickname "the plant doctor" because of his ability
to help plants thrive.
"I wanted to know every strange stone, flower, insect, bird, or beast," Carver said.
School - George, although not a slave to the Carvers, was suppose to be able to attend
the local church school when all slaves were freed. Prejudice still prevailed, however, and
he was forced to attend a school eight miles away.
Neosho, MO - At the age of 12 (around 1877), George traveled to a nearby town to attend
a school for black children. He slept all winter in a cold barn, did odd jobs around town for
meals and went to school. The barn belonged to a black couple who was childless. They
provided George better living quarters and meals in return for household chores. He could
visit the Carvers on occasion but never lived with them again. Only a year later it was
obvious that George must look elsewhere for a better education. He then left Missouri
Fort Scott, KS - George was 100 miles away from his birthplace and beginning a quest for
education that lasted over 20 years. He quickly found work doing domestic chores and
began attending school. The housekeeping lessons he learned at Susan Carver's side
served him well, keeping him fed while others were starving.
High School - Olathe, Kansas, near Kansas City, became young George's next stop. By
1880, he was on his way to Paola and then Minneapolis, Kansas, where he completed
high school. He was acquiring an education and feeding his desire to learn in a mostly
white school. The saddest part of this time was the loss of his brother. George saw Jim for
the last time in 1883. Jim died a short time later of smallpox in Seneca, MO.
The Old College Try - Carver applied and was accepted to Highland College in 1885.
Spending all of his money to get there, he was shocked to be turned away when the
school officials saw that he was black. This frustration is probably what made Carver
decide to become a farmer like Moses Carver and to give up on his education. He stayed
on in Highland for a while, doing domestic work before trying his hand at something
completely new and different.
Homesteading - Beeler, Kansas was a good place to start his new life, thought five years.
At the end of those years, the homesteader was given the permanent title. George took
advantage of the offer and began building a home and clearing the land. He also took an
active part in community life by taking art lessons, joining the local literary society and
playing accordion at community events. Homesteading was very difficult, however, and
George decided it wasn't the life he really wanted. Three years later he gave up this
lifestyle and looked toward the East.
Simpson College - It was a friendship with Dr. and Mrs. Miliholland in Winterset, Iowa that
led to George's admission to Simpson College. This college in nearby Indianola accepted
students without regard to race. He supported himself by opening a laundry. George
studied art but did not take any science classes. His art teacher, Etta Budd, was the
daughter of a horticulture professor at Iowa State. She noticed George's interest in
flowers and encouraged him to attend Iowa State.
Iowa State College - Carver blossomed at Iowa State as he joined the Debating Club, Art
Club, German Club and YMCA. He achieved the highest rank in the National Guard Student
Battalion and also became the first trainer for the football team. He earned his Bachelor's
degree in 1894. His teachers encouraged him to earn his Master of Agriculture degree and
to teach freshman courses. He pursued both and became a gifted teacher.
Job Offers - Although Iowa State wanted to keep Carver on its teaching staff after his
graduation, he felt compelled to help others in black colleges. He had offers from Alcorn
Agricultural and Mechanical College in Mississippi and from Tuskegee Normal and Industrial
Institute in Alabama. In the end, Tuskegee allowed him to finish his master's degree that
summer before joining its faculty.
Tuskegee Institute - In October of 1896, Carver found himself in the Deep South. He had
traveled over 1000 miles to a place where blacks were not treated in the same way he
was used to being treated. He knew that this was the place to fulfill his dreams with
research as a scientist and also a place where he could help his people realize all they
could become following the end of slavery.
The Original Recycler - Having no real laboratory, Carver asked students to help him comb
through garbage to find usable glass and containers for reuse. Everything was made
useful, and nothing was thrown away. Carver believed everything had a purpose, even if
that purpose might change over time.
A New Era - For years farmers had been planting cotton season after season. They were
depleting the soil and actually producing less and less. Carver also watched the
destructive path the boll weevil made as it worked its way through the South. He warned
farmers that their cotton crops would disappear and all that would remain would be
famine and unusable soil. With crop rotation Carver ushered in a new era in agriculture in
the South. He encouraged the farmers to plant sweet potatoes, peanuts and soybeans to
help restore the soil. These crops were easy to grow and provided the much needed
nutrients for soil.
The Peanut Man - When the farmers did listen, they found themselves with a huge crop of
peanuts and no market for their crop. Farmers were mad at Carver. The story goes that
he locked himself in his laboratory and asked God why He made the peanut. Days later he
emerged with over 300 products that could be made from the peanut plant. Years later
Carver was asked to speak before Congress about these discoveries and the usefulness
Humanitarian - Carver believed his ideas and inventions were gifts from God. Therefore,
he never accepted any money for them. Unlike many inventors of the time, Carver earned
nothing when he might have become a millionaire. Patents were issued for many
inventions, but only a couple were set up to benefit Tuskegee Institute after Carver died.
Honors - Carver wrote pamphlets in simple language and taught the things that helped
people survive and prosper. To him the greatest reward was to see people learning and
being self sufficient. However, he was given many honorary degrees and had many
influential friends like Henry Ford and President Franklin Roosevelt. A museum and a
foundation were also named for Dr. Carver.
Death - George Washington Carver died at Tuskegee Institute on January 5, to his friend
Booker T. Washington.
|copy from George Washington Carver: A Biography:
A Biography - By Gary R. Kremer
Click image to enlarge