“Let All Be Educated Alike Up to a Certain Point”

For Frederick Law Olmsted and Booker T. Washington, shaping the land stood at the heart of democracy. Yet their pedagogical legacies enforced racialized divisions that affect landscape architecture to this day.

Balding bearded man seated on couch, writing on a paper on his knee.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., 1895. [Historic New England, Gift of Joseph Hudak, firm of Olmsted Brothers, Brookline, Mass.]

It is not for nothing that, in the United States, Frederick Law Olmsted is often called the father of landscape architecture. We still inhabit many of the parks, gardens, campuses, and suburbs designed by him or under his leadership, and by his sons or under their leadership. Olmsted was instrumental in establishing and naming the profession, and his work was foundational for academic landscape-architectural curricula. He supported the development of the nation’s system of land-grant colleges, institutions that offered many of the first courses in landscape gardening, and his son led the first landscape architecture program, begun at Harvard in 1900. By the early decades of the 20th century, these schools, in turn, had established the paths by which mastery could be achieved in the profession. Pedagogy in the new departments reflected and furthered an urban bias that had been characteristic of Olmsted’s public work, along with an emphasis on wealthy private clients that also recalled his firm’s portfolio.

Early landscape gardeners and landscape architects understood the practice as a way to encourage settler expansion in the young United States.

Early landscape gardeners and landscape architects, including Andrew Jackson Downing, Horace William Shaler Cleveland, and Olmsted himself understood their occupation as a way to encourage colonial settlement and expansion in the young United States, by creating gardens and private estate grounds as well as municipal and metropolitan park systems. Downing, for example, considered his activity a method for taming the “spirit of unrest” in the young republic and for inducing his countrymen and women to settle down. 1 Cleveland and Olmsted also saw in landscape a means to stimulate urban and economic growth. One result of this expansion by means of park design and construction (as well as landscape conservation) was the direct displacement of Black and Indigenous people. In 1857 in New York City, to take one well-known instance, construction of Central Park destroyed Seneca Village, a settlement of mostly African American landowners. In 1868, when Olmsted and his working partner Calvert Vaux designed Riverside, a suburb along the Des Plaines River near Chicago, they named a part of the village’s park Indian Garden, alluding generically and perhaps cavalierly to the land’s dispossessed inhabitants. 2 Tribes living in the area — Potawatomi and Ottawa among them — had been subject to the federal Indian Appropriations Acts that, beginning in 1851, forcibly relocated Native Americans onto farming reservations where their sovereign rights to hunting, fishing, and gathering were restricted.

Conversely, when Olmsted traveled in the South in the 1850s, he observed that the constituting practices of landscape design and maintenance — planting, shaping, and otherwise working the land — were carried out largely by enslaved Black people for the enrichment of the planter class. When he published his last letter on these travels (in the New York Daily Times in 1854), he appealed to fellow Northerners to abstain from products derived from land wrested from Indigenous peoples by force and fraud, or produced by sweated labor. 3

Plan for Riverside, a Chicago suburb.
Olmsted Plans and Drawings Collection: Olmsted Job #607 Riverside, Illinois; Olmsted Plan #607-z1-pt1, General Plan of Riverside, Olmsted, Vaux and Co., Landscape Architects, 1869. [Courtesy United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site]

In short, Olmsted’s attitudes toward Black and Indigenous populations were benevolent yet paternalistic. His views sharpened during his three tours through the slave states, when he witnessed and reported on the torture and abuse integral to the plantation economy. In regard to education, he was consistent in advocating university-level training for both “head-workers & hand-workers”; whether students were to become laborers, professionals, or scholars, his credo was “let all be educated alike up to a certain point.” 4 Yet he was never more than a moderate abolitionist.

The U.S. government officially proclaimed passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, on December 18, 1865. In the next decades in the South, educational institutions were founded for freedmen and women with courses aimed at training teachers, as well as producing laborers skilled in crop rotation, soil science, animal husbandry, horticulture, and landscape gardening. 5 One student of such subjects was sixteen-year-old Booker T. Washington, who in 1872 matriculated at Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School (now Hampton University) in Virginia, the only school of its era to accept both Black and Indigenous students. In 1881, the 25-year-old Washington became the first director of the private Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, building its campus and establishing curricula that included courses in landscape gardening.

In the decades following Emancipation, colleges for freedmen and women produced laborers skilled in crop rotation, soil science, horticulture, and animal husbandry.

In many ways Washington and Olmsted are an unlikely pair — one born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, the other born into a well-off merchant family in Connecticut in 1822. Yet, what one envisioned, the other sought to accomplish; one would live what the other promoted, a gradual emancipation in which African Americans would learn how to help themselves. 6 The two men shared an involvement in education, and their mutual interest in the creation of agricultural colleges as vectors for the codification of landscape practices was not incidental. Each believed in the civilizing force of nature. Gardens, landscapes, and the outdoors held a special place in their visions for conservative social reform; working, cultivating, and shaping the land stood at the heart of their democratic missions. Even so, it took until 1894 for them to meet, during one of Washington’s summer sojourns in Massachusetts. Olmsted, then 72 years old, was quick to offer consultation on the design of a campus for Tuskegee, at the time being constructed in part by the students themselves. This visit never came to pass. 7 Years later, however, in correspondence with Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Washington did seek and obtain expert advice regarding hydrological engineers to be employed on Tuskegee’s grounds. 8

Portrait of man in suit seated at a table with a newspaper.
Booker T. Washington, between 1890 and 1900. [Library of Congress]

Landscape architecture, or landscape gardening as it was still called in the second half of the 19th century, has thus played a special role in perpetuating and enforcing racism — although it is also true that students of color were being trained in vocational programs centered on agriculture, horticulture, and landscape gardening established after the Civil War. Both Olmsteds, father and son, offered their design services to some of these educational institutions and directly supported Washington’s efforts. Nevertheless, throughout Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, Black colleges were effectively restricted to landscape gardening’s rural and horticultural emphases. This remained the case even as many land-grant institutions serving predominantly White students followed Harvard in turning towards landscape architecture as simultaneously a rural and an urban art.

In the nuances of this history lie explanations for some predicaments with which we still grapple in the field. Knowing how early landscape-architectural education contributed to segregation and racial discrimination extends our understanding of many unjust practices in the design of the built environment at large — inequities that have been slow to receive public recognition. This history remains central, moreover, as design schools continue to reckon with imperatives to diversify the ranks of the profession.

Designing Appropriated Land

Olmsted began his self-studies in agriculture in 1845, and for a while ran a farm on Staten Island. In 1890, he reminisced that “although for 40 years I have had no time to give to agricultural affairs, I still feel myself to belong to the farming community and that all else that I am has grown from the agricultural trunk.” 9 He was not alone in this experience. Cleveland had begun his career as a farmer. Downing, their revered acquaintance, was lauded for work in horticulture and the nursery business as well as for his garden designs, and in 1851 he advocated for the founding of an agricultural college in New York State. 10 Downing’s plan was inspired by the dozens of agricultural and horticultural societies that had sprung up in the late 18th century to educate settler colonialists in the U.S. His proposal to the New York State Agricultural Society to provide “a practical … working school” helped to instigate a national initiative to establish what have become known as land-grant institutions. 11

Panoramic black-and-white photograph of university campus.
Richards Film Service, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1918. [Library of Congress]

Blueprint showing plan for college campus.
Olmsted Plans and Drawings Collection: Olmsted Job #6396 Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Virginia; Olmsted Plan #6396-1, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Virginia; October 9, 1917; Summer 1917. [Courtesy United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site]

Color tinted plan for college campus.
Olmsted Plans and Drawings Collection: Olmsted Job # 7966 Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical (A & M) College, Huntsville, Alabama; Olmsted Plan #7966-1026-pt1, General Plan for Agricultural and Mechanical College, Huntsville, Alabama. Olmsted Brothers, P. R. J., April 17, 1930. [Courtesy United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site]

Olmsted was involved in the land-grant movement in two ways: in discussions related to the Morrill Act (also known as the Land-Grant College Act), sponsored by Vermont Representative Justin Smith Morrill and passed by Congress in 1862; and in consultation for the design of grounds at some of the resulting institutions, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Agricultural College (today the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and the Maine Agricultural College (today the University of Maine). 12 Olmsted’s model for campus design was the New England town where, in his experience, land and livelihoods were closely woven together. He envisioned land-grant colleges as model farms and exemplary communities that could enhance the quality of rural life and thereby limit migration to cities.

In his mind, bringing education to the hinterland “civilized” the rural population. He likewise felt that bringing a piece of countryside into the city via the public park had “civilizing” effects on urban populations. For him, publicly supported education was a pillar of social reform, and effective educational environments fostered both physical exercise and a sense of civic belonging. All the while, Olmsted, like Morrill and their colleagues, took for granted the fact that the land apportioned for the early land-grant colleges, as well as the funds used to establish these institutions through the Morrill Act, derived from the federal government’s violent taking of Native American land. 13

Olmsted was familiar with race theories of his day, and his observations were infused with related theories about race and hybridization.

Olmsted was familiar with race theories of his day, alluding in A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856) to “the French” experts in the field. 14 Prominent in this group would have been the antislavery physician Paul Broca, who aligned himself scientifically (though not politically) with proslavery American craniologists such as Samuel Morton and Josiah Nott.15 Broca, Morton, Nott, and other polygenists claimed that human “races” were distinct species emerging from separate ancestries; they understood racializing characteristics to be static and innate, and debated the capacity of “primitive races” for moral and cognitive improvement. Such ideas made it easy to argue, as Nott did in his Types of Mankind (1854), that “Nations and races, like individuals, have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. … No two distinctly-marked races can dwell together on equal terms.” 16 The claim served slaveowners — many of whom, as Olmsted observed, “think that the laboring class is better of[f] in slavery, where it is furnished with master[s] who have a mercenary as well as humane interests in providing the necessities of a vigorous physical existence to their instruments of labor.” 17 Olmsted clearly opposed this view. Yet his observations during a visit to New Orleans in 1853 were infused with related theories about race and hybridization. He remarked on human “gradations of color” and the “sub-varieties,” and “sub-sub-varieties” of persons inhabiting the city, listing denominations used in the lexicon of French race theorists, including marabon, griffe, quarteron, and sang-mele. He reiterated an opinion that

the cross of the French and the Spanish with the African produces a finer and healthier result than that of the more Northern European races. … I should not be surprised if really thorough and sufficient scientific observation should show them to be more vigorous than either of the parent races. 18

Olmsted’s responses to Indigenous populations were similarly equivocal. Living on the Northern California frontier in the early 1860s, where he managed gold mines on the Mariposa Mining Estate, he commented on the industriousness of Miwok tribe members whom he encountered near Bear Valley. He noted that they were not “as bad a people as they [were] generally represented to be. … Their children are sometimes bright and quite interesting.” But, he added, “[t]hey are very ugly with hair like a heavy black fur shading their foreheads.” 19 Like other White settlers in the Gold Rush period, he referred to California’s Miwok — whose diet consisted in part of wild root vegetables — by the derogatory term “Diggers.” 20 Like many of his contemporaries, Olmsted considered Indigenous tribes to be primitive and uncivilized.

Four Native American people beside river, with mountains in the distance.
Miwok in Yosemite Valley, 1870. [The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, New York Public Library. In the public domain.]

With regard to emancipation, Olmsted aspired to only a gradual process. Even so, in the same public letter of 1854 in which he admonished Northerners about economic complicity with injustice, he vehemently criticized the pervasive Southern conviction that manual laborers could not attain high intellectual or psychological development. 21 It was this belief that led him to support the establishment of agricultural colleges in general, and to contribute to their campus designs.

Landscape Gardening at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute

Black colleges emerged across the South in the decades following the Civil War. Yet while many were officially eligible to receive land-grant funds, only a few — Hampton among them — profited from the opportunity. Many more — including Tuskegee — were supported by a second Morrill Act, also known as the Agricultural College Act of 1890. This law attempted to remedy the failures of the 1862 Morrill Act by requiring states to establish separate land-grant institutions for people of color. By 1909, sixteen Black land-grant schools had been opened. However, in sanctioning a “separate-but-equal” policy, the second law hardly diminished systemic inequalities.22

Booker T. Washington became the first director of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, establishing curricula that included courses in landscape gardening.

Founded by the interracial American Missionary Association to provide teacher training and vocational instruction to freedmen and women, Hampton Institute had been chartered as a land-grant school in 1870, two years before Booker T. Washington arrived. In 1878, the Institute matriculated its first class of Indigenous students, fifteen members of the Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes. The group had been seized as hostages by the U.S. Army, and Hampton’s principal, Samuel Chapman Armstrong, had agreed to educate them at the army’s request. Following the pattern at other land-grant sites, horticulture and gardening classes were part of the core curriculum for both  male and female students. 23 At the same time, in keeping with the aim to assimilate and “civilize” pupils and to prepare them for skilled labor, horticultural and agricultural curricula at Hampton excluded both African American vernacular practices and those of the Sioux, Chippewa, Oneida, Cherokee, and other tribal peoples who were soon being educated there.24

Two pages of black-and-white line drawings showing plan and section.
Two pages of a leaflet issued by Hampton Institute illustrating landscape planting and design guidelines, 1917. [Courtesy Hampton University Archives]

These aims toward assimilation are apparent in the prototypical design for a home garden illustrated in a Hampton leaflet from 1917. 25 The house is centrally located on the plot, which is organized symmetrically with a privet hedge, box bushes, climbing roses, magnolia, American holly, pink crepe myrtle, dogwood, lavender, and rosemary, all typical of antebellum estate gardens. 26 Symmetry, a characteristic of White plantation owners’ gardens, is enforced in the Hampton illustration by two pecan trees that frame the site’s main entrance. (Although pecan trees had long been known to both Indigenous and settler societies, only in the mid-19th century had they been successfully grafted and cultivated in Louisiana, through the skill of an enslaved man known as Antoine. 27) Chicken yards, clothes yards, and vegetable gardens were common for rural homesteads.

But Hampton’s layout sanctioned a particular spatial order, irrespective of Indigenous and African-American gardening traditions. Women of some Indigenous tribes cultivated corn, beans, and squash in both garden patches and large fields; enslaved fieldworkers and later tenant farmers cultivated “provision gardens” where, following West African planting practices, they mixed plants with different characteristics to keep insects at bay, shade out weeds, and conserve water and soil nutrients. 28 And whereas the Cherokee rose, also known as the Carolina rose, was a powerful symbol of suffering for Native Americans — it symbolized the Trail of Tears — it appears in the Hampton leaflet only in the guise in which it was commonly used by White Southerners, as a hedge plant and a mundane ornamental. 29

Frances Benjamin Johnston, Native American students at Hampton Institute, ca. 1899. [Library of Congress]

Black male students in peach orchard.
“Students Pruning Peach-Trees,” from Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements, 1905.

Black women university students in gardening course.
“Girls Gardening,” from Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements, 1905.

Cultivating Minds and Gardens at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute

Black leaders, White reformers, missionaries, and philanthropists at the turn of the last century disagreed on approaches to African American education. The missionary societies who supported early Black institutions like Hampton promoted a classical liberal pedagogy, a stance steadfastly defended by W.E.B. DuBois. In contrast, as opportunities for Black students diminished with the end of Reconstruction, Washington argued that African Americans should concentrate on the practical arts, training for the manual work that was most widely available to them.

This did not mean passing over the liberal arts. In speeches, Washington prompted Blacks “to put brains into the common occupations of life, and … to dignify common labor.” 30 He returned repeatedly to a word picture he had first deployed in an 1895 lecture at Fisk University in Tennessee:

The many colored men who had formerly earned a living by cutting the grass in the front yards and keeping the flower beds in trim were no competitors for the white man, who, bringing his knowledge of surveying and terracing and plotting land, and his knowledge of botany and blending colors into active play, had dignified and promoted the work. He was not called a grass cutter or a yard cleaner, but a florist or a landscape gardener. 31

Washington sought to rectify this situation, and horticulture — including landscape gardening or  “landscape handicraft” — began to be taught at Tuskegee in the same year as the Fisk lecture. 32  Classes were practical, considering garden layout, grading, construction, and industrial and mechanical drawing, and were offered through the Department of Mechanical Industries. The campus itself became the students’ design-build proving ground, and David Augustus Williston — whom Washington had hired for the 1902–1903 school year as chief landscape gardener, and who returned to Tuskegee in 1910 as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds — became the instructor. 33

Washington argued that African Americans should concentrate on practical arts, training for the manual work that was most available to them.

Williston had been one of the first Black graduates of Cornell University (the land-grant institution for New York State), where he earned an agriculture degree in 1898. 34 At Tuskegee, he soon became director of a new Department of Landscape Gardening, and by 1913, he regularly conducted two landscape-gardening courses. The basic offering was a one-year practicum in the care and maintenance of plants and grounds, including transplanting techniques and the construction of lawns, drives, and walks, all taught via a textbook by the Cornell horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey.35 The advanced option was a two-year course encompassing grading and planting plans and “the theory of Landscape Art,” taught on the basis of a textbook by British landscape gardener Edward Kemp. 36 The two-year course included the care of woody plants, tree surgery, and nursery work, based on Bernhard Eduard Fernow’s The Care of Trees (1911). A separate course in home ornamentation for senior and postgraduate students in agriculture extended to such public sites as “county roads and roadside improvement” as well as “parks, public squares, school grounds, etc.” 37 Teacher training included the establishment of school gardens.

Class of Black children in school uniforms, being taught by Black teacher.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Whittier Primary School students on a field trip studying plants, Hampton, Virginia, 1899. The Whittier Primary School was associated with the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. [Library of Congress]

Black children in school uniforms hoeing garden rows.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Whittier Primary School garden, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1899. [Courtesy Harvard University, Harvard Art Museums]

In 1899, Washington and his wife Margaret Murray Washington had returned from a trip to England inspired by a visit to the Swanley Horticultural College in Kent, where most students were women. Following this model, Washington decided to extend outdoor industrial training to female students at Tuskegee. 38 Soon women in lower-level classes were being taught the theory and practice of horticulture, floriculture, and landscape gardening, along with nature-study classes that prompted many to transfer from the sewing division. 39 Off campus, women became part of the Institute’s extension service.

By this time the 1887 Hatch Act had allocated federal funds for land-grant colleges to open agricultural-experiment stations where crops and management systems could be tested; in 1914, the Smith-Lever Act expanded these options by funding cooperative extension services to educate farmers in remote locations about new agricultural practices and technologies. Monies from the Hatch and Smith-Lever legislation were not made available to Black institutions. 40 Washington nevertheless launched his own extension service at Tuskegee, a cooperative “Movable School” developed in 1906 in collaboration with the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, head of the Agriculture Department. 41 Under these auspices, women in local communities could receive training from the Institute’s female extension agents, who provided instruction in raising vegetables and improving homes and yards, for example by planting flowers. 42 Tuskegee’s extension work included the printing of a series of informational and motivational leaflets, which like those produced at Hampton aimed to educate farming families in rural areas. One called on readers to cultivate “more race pride. Cultivate this as you would your crops.” 43

The positive horticultural rhetoric was hardly coincidental. Plant breeding was of course integral to the work being done at Tuskegee. Notwithstanding, botanists and plant breeders like Luther Burbank also promoted eugenicist ideas. Paleontologists John C. Merriam and Henry Fairfield Osborn, and writer-zoologist Madison Grant — who stood at the core of the American eugenics movement — founded the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918, explicitly associating the longevity and grandeur of the redwoods with the so-called “Nordic race.” 44 For Washington, as for many other Black thinkers of the era, the pernicious influence of the largely White eugenics movement and its “scientific” racism could be challenged with a counter-eugenics of social and biological racial uplift.

Positive horticultural rhetoric called on readers to cultivate ‘race pride. Cultivate this as you would your crops.’

Black eugenics stressed morality, respectability, temperance, and chastity — a bodily and environmental cleanliness. 45 A 1903 volume on The Negro Problem included Washington’s essay on the “Industrial Education for the Negro,” along with a piece by H.T. Kealing, who theorized about African Americans’ “inbred” vs. “inborn” characteristics. Kealing considered both to be hereditary, though the first was acquired by experience and “removable,” while the second was innate and “ineradicable.” By attributing negative “inbred” characteristics to the effects of slavery, Kealing showed a path towards the “improvement” of his race. 46

Tuskegee Hospital’s chief surgeon, John A. Kenney, also espoused eugenics as a means to “prevent … race deterioration” and “raise the moral and physical standard of the race.” 47 His colleague, Tuskegee sociologist Monroe N. Work, collected information on Black death rates that was exhibited at the Second International Eugenics Congress in 1921 and made available in the annual Negro Year Books, providing a basis for a public health campaign launched by the Negro Organization Society in collaboration with Washington. 48 Washington himself spoke about “The Negro Race” at the First National Conference on Race Betterment held in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1914, sponsored by the eugenicist Race Betterment Foundation. 49 He had been in contact with the foundation’s organizers, John Harvey Kellogg and Charles B. Davenport, since 1911, and at the conference openly acknowledged a positive impact of Kellogg’s teachings in his own life. 50 But whereas Washington used this acquaintanceship to foster interracial relations while arguing for racial uplift and claiming Black rights, White eugenicists were attracted to the Tuskegee Institute’s potential as a “human laboratory” — a use to which it would be put in the 1930s and 1940s, during the notorious United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study and the Tuskegee Anthropometric Study. 51

Two black-and-white photographs of Booker T. Washington wearing hat and shirt with tie and vest 1) hoeing potatoes and 2) feeding chickens.
Illustrations from Frederick E. Drinker, Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery, 1915.

Black and white photograph of Booker T. Washington and his son, a little boy in a cap, kneeling in the garden picking greens.
Illustration from Frederick E. Drinker, Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery, 1915.

Black and white photograph of Booker T. Washington in hat, vest, shirt and tie, picking lettuces.
Illustration from Frederick E. Drinker, Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery, 1915.

Connected to the invocation of gardening as a metaphor for eugenicist ideas was the conviction that horticulture was beneficial for strengthening the body politic, supporting public health, and improving food security. Washington believed in all these applications. Gardening, he argued, could heighten self-esteem; it provided a sense of purpose. No matter how big the garden, it would offer gratification and inspiration. At Tuskegee, he found an opportunity to practice what he preached at his own home. “I think I owe a great deal of my present strength and capacity for hard work to my love of outdoor life,” Washington wrote in Working with the Hands (1904); he felt, he explained,  “a nearness and kinship to the plants which makes them seem to me like members of my own family.” 52 The family’s garden, and the woods where they often walked on Sunday afternoons, offered respite “near the heart of nature, where no one can disturb or vex us, surrounded by pure air, the trees, the shrubbery, the flowers, and the sweet fragrance that springs from a hundred plants, enjoying the chirp of the crickets and the songs of the birds.” 53

From Landscape Gardening to Landscape Architecture

While Black leaders and educators were working to make the best possible education available to Black citizens, Olmsted was struggling to find the most appropriate name for his profession. By the late 1880s, he had come to terms with “landscape architect” as opposed to “landscape gardener,” believing that the former “better carries the professional idea. It makes more important also the idea of design.” He went on to argue that “‘Gardener’ includes service corresponding to that of carpenter and mason. Architect does not. Hence it is more discriminating and prepares the minds of clients for dealing with us on professional principles.” 54 The invocation of architecture, Olmsted argued, captured the public nature of the new professionals’ work. 55 The design, preservation, and conservation of open space could direct regional expansion and shape urban form. Rather than reacting to settlement by embellishing its private surroundings, as did landscape gardeners before them, the first generation of landscape architects understood themselves to be directing urban development. They were, as Olmsted explained, managers of public works in which landscape was the chief element.

Black male university students building a road.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, “Road-Building by Tuskegee students,” from Booker T. Washington, Working with the Hands, 1904.

Watercolor plan of tree-lined subdivision.
The GSD History Collection: Student Work. Folder AC020. “Plan of Proposed Land Subdivision, Newton Center, Mass.” by F. O. Baker, 1928. [Courtesy Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design]

Water color plan of waterside private house and garden.
The GSD History Collection: Student Work. Folder AC014. “Nanapashemet Manor” by Charles W. Eliot II, 1921. [Courtesy Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design]

When discussions about landscape architecture education arose at Harvard at the end of the 19th century, Olmsted’s former apprentice and close collaborator Charles Eliot made it clear that the emergent discipline was an “art of design” that encompassed “agriculture, forestry, gardening, engineering and even architecture … itself.” Eliot had in 1896 advised Harvard’s overseers to connect any courses in landscape architecture “with instruction in the other arts, and particularly in connection with Architecture.” 56 A few years later, following this recommendation and responding to the nation’s rapid urbanization, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and his assistant Arthur A. Shurcliff established an undergraduate degree program in landscape architecture within Harvard’s department of architecture. Influenced by the pastoral landscapes created by Olmsted senior, as well as by the prevailing Beaux-Arts style, student projects in the new undergrad program ranged from country estates to suburbs and urban parks. 57

Landscape gardening and design were integral to the Hampton-Tuskegee model, yet this model hindered access for Black and Indigenous students to university education in landscape architecture.

Many programs and departments, including those already in place at the University of Illinois, the Massachusetts Agricultural College, the Michigan Agricultural College, and the Iowa State Agricultural College followed Harvard’s example by changing their names. 58 Even Cornell, where the program had first been known as “Outdoor Art,” then “Rural Art,” and then “Landscape Art,” yielded in the 1920s to “Landscape Architecture.” Continued urbanization and the corollary expansion of the discipline led landscape-gardening curricula at other institutions to be revised as well, until the field of study uniformly came to be called landscape architecture, even though it is still taught in both architecture schools and colleges of agriculture.

All the while, the rural origins of landscape gardening and the urban bias of landscape architecture were exacerbating challenges faced by designers of color. Although landscape gardening and design were integral to the education of Black college students trained according to the Hampton-Tuskegee model — that is, as teachers and skilled laborers in agriculture and industry — this model hindered access for Black and Indigenous students to university education in landscape architecture. Where Washington, Williston, Carver, and other prominent innovators created opportunities for Black emancipation, White supremacists sought to hinder and control.

One result of this paradox was that courses in landscape gardening became a means by which to empower Black and Indigenous Americans, and simultaneously a tool by which to suppress their vernacular garden cultures and traditions for inhabiting the land. Supported by White supremacists who feared the political power of African Americans and Native Americans, even as they recognized the need for agricultural workers to sustain the Southern economy, the Hampton-Tuskegee model embraced students’ agrarian origins and discouraged the acquisition of skills necessary to urban survival in a rapidly modernizing nation. 59 The White president of Hampton Institute, Hollis B. Frissell (who also presided over the New York Colonization Society that supported the emigration of free Blacks to Africa), exemplified this attitude when he explained in 1900 that “The Indian should learn to farm and till the soil … and he should find his comfort and happiness in the flowers, the trees, the rivers, and all nature.” 60 Such paternalism and its implicit White supremacism ultimately constrained Booker T. Washington’s ambitions to free Blacks through skill-based education. No matter how related the core subjects were, landscape-gardening courses at the early agricultural institutes were divorced from what was considered the high art of landscape design being taught at Harvard from 1900 on.

Co-ed university class of Black students with White male teacher, beside marsh.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, field trip to marsh studying soil formation, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1899. [Library of Congress]

Man and boy kneeling on woodland hillside.
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Booker T. Washington and his son in the woods, from Booker T. Washington, Working with the Hands, 1904.

Since then, the breadth of landscape architecture practice has of course increased. Tragically, however, Olmsted’s conception of the landscape architect as a public servant has continued to be heavily compromised, while the discipline’s historic associations — first modeled by Olmsted and his firm — with conservative social reform and a clientele of wealthy individuals and corporations have persisted. Despite his idea that landscape architecture should serve “a common wealth,” this wealth has in every sense been distributed unequally. 61 The profession continues to enforce divisions between the design of landscapes and the labor of their actual construction, valuing the one over the other. Landscape architecture programs still lack diversity among students and faculty, even as growing attention is paid to issues of social and environmental justice in landscape architecture pedagogies. The academy can and must play a role in training a diverse, inclusive student body, and supporting practitioners, educators, and scholars who will be equipped to tackle the intensifying effects of climate change and urban development — effects that will vary radically depending on geographical location and on race, class, and gender. The history of landscape and the built environment have an important role to play in shaping this education for the future. 62

  1. Andrew Jackson Downing, Rural Essays (Leavitt and Allen, New York, 1858 [1853]), 14-15. See also Thomas Bender, Toward an Urban Vision: Ideas and Institutions in Nineteenth Century America (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 162; and David Schuyler, Apostle of Taste: Andrew Jackson Downing 1815-1852 (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 107-126.
  2. See David Schuyler and Jane Turner Censer, “Introduction,” in The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, vol. VI: The Years of Olmsted, Vaux & Company, 1865-1874, ed. David Schuyler and Jane Turner Censer (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 29-32; and Library of Congress, Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Subject File, 1857-1952, Community Design, Riverside, IL.
  3. See Yeoman [Frederick Law Olmsted], “The South: Letters on the Productions, Industry and Resources of the Southern States: Number Forty-Eight The Last, The New York Daily Times, February 13, 1854, 2.
  4. Frederick Law Olmsted to Charles Eliot Norton, April 26, 1866, in The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, vol. VI, 87-88.
  5. See Robert J. Norrell, Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 34-35; and Albert Shaw, “‘Learning by Doing’ at Hampton,” The American Monthly of American Reviews (April 1900), 417-432.
  6. See Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to Booker T. Washington, October 2, 1907, as well as Booker T. Washington to Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., October 18 and November 6, 1907, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Olmsted Associates Records: Job Files, 1863-1971; Files; 2919; Olmsted, Frederick Law, Jr.; Personal office files; Correspondence, 1901-1940; W, Y. See also Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to Booker T. Washington, November 19, 1907, Library of Congress, Booker T. Washington Papers, Part I, Special Correspondence, Box 70, Reel 64. Olmsted, Jr. noted this affinity in Washington’s writings, and in 1907 sent him a copy of the elder Olmsted’s A Journey in the Back County which had just appeared in a new edition.
  7. Washington to Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, September 21, 1894, in Booker T. Washington Papers, vol. 3: 1889-1895, ed. Louis R. Harlan (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1974), 469-470. Olmsted was travelling regularly in this period to North Carolina, where he had been commissioned to lay out George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore estate near Asheville. Just months after his meeting with Washington, however, he would dispatch his son to Biltmore in his stead;  he himself traveled there for the last time in spring 1895.
  8. See Washington to Olmsted, Jr. on October 18 and November 6, 1907; and Olmsted, Jr. to Washington on November 19, 1907.
  9. Frederick Law Olmsted, Frederick Law Olmsted Landscape Architect 1822-1903: Early Years and Experiences, ed. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Theodora Kimball (New York and London: G.P. Putnam, 1922), 72-73.
  10. See Andrew Jackson Downing, “A Chapter on Agricultural Schools,” The Horticulturalist 4, no. 6 (1849), 249-252; and Andrew Jackson Downing, “Address [at the Annual Meeting, January 15, 16, 1851],” Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society 10 (1850), 119-133. See also Frederick R. Steiner and Kenneth R. Brooks, “Agricultural Education and Landscape Architecture,” Landscape Journal 5, no. 1 (1986), 19-32.
  11. Downing, “Address,” 124.
  12. Milestone Documents: Morrill Act,” National Archives. See also Paul Venable Turner, Campus: An American Planning Tradition (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1984), 140-158; and Schuyler and Censer, 10-17. Although Olmsted consulted on campus design for many early land-grant schools, his advice was seldom followed. His sons continued this line of work, including designs for the campus at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (founded in 1875 as the Huntsville Normal School for Black students), and in 1917 consulting on alteration plans for the Hampton Institute campus.
  13. The federal government granted 30,000 acres in the form of “land scrip” certificates to each state; this land was typically sold, and the proceeds used to establish the respective state’s school.
  14. Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (New York: Dix & Edwards, 1856), 583.
  15. See Alice L. Conklin, In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850-1950 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).
  16. Josiah Clark Nott, Types of Mankind (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co, 1854), 79.
  17. Yeoman, “The South,” 2.
  18. Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, 583.
  19. Olmsted to his father John Olmsted, January 1, 1864, in The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, vol. V: The California Frontier, 1863–1865, ed. Victoria Post Ranney (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 173, 175.
  20. Ranney, The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, vol. V, 112n4.
  21. Yeoman, “The South,” 2.
  22. Frederick S. Humphries, “Land-Grant Institutions: Their Struggle for Survival and Equality,” in A Century of Service: Land-Grant Colleges and Universities 1890-1990, ed. Ralph D. Christy and Lionel Williamson (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 3-12. For a list of the nineteen schools, see “1890 Land-Grant Institutions Programs,” National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  23. William Anthony Aery, Hampton Institute: Aims, Methods, and Results (Hampton, VA: Hampton Institute, 1923), 13; Every-day Life at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (Hampton, VA: The Press of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, 1909); Albert Shaw, “‘Learning by Doing’ at Hampton,” The American Monthly Review of Reviews (April 1900), 417-432.
  24. Overall, Hampton would educate members of 65 different tribes. See Richard Westmacott, African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998); and Dianne D. Glave, “Rural African American Women, Gardening, and Progressive Reform in the South,” in To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History, ed. Dianne D. Glave and Mark Stoll (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), 37-50.
  25. The Hampton Leaflets 8, No. 1: “Home Decoration” (Hampton, VA: The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, 1917), 8-14.
  26. See Elaine Ware, “Formal Ornamental Gardens in the Ante-Bellum South,” Studies in Popular Culture 19, no. 2 (1996), 49-66; and James R. Cothran, Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003).
  27. See “The Pecan Tree,” Scientific American 55, no. 13 (1886), 202; and Lenny Wells, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2017), 13-14, 31-60.
  28. Charles Reagan Wilson, “Garden Patches,” in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vol. 11: Agriculture and Industry, ed. Melissa Walker and James C. Cobb (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 76.
  29. The plant is named after a Cherokee legend (nu na hi du na tlo hi lu i). Fearing that their children would not survive the forced dislocation and removal to the West, elders appealed to Heaven Dweller, who made roses grow along the trail where women had shed tears. The plant’s thorns were associated with the tribe’s resilience; its seven-leaf clusters with the Cherokee’s seven clans; and the flowers’ yellow reproductive organs with settlers’ greed for gold. See Aunt Mary, Tell Me A Story: A Collection of Cherokee Legends and Tales, ed. Mary Regina Ulmer Galloway (Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Communications, 1990),13-14.
  30. Frederick E. Drinker, Booker T. Washington: The Master Mind of a Child of Slavery (Washington D.C.: B.F. Johnson, 1915), 153. See also Booker T. Washington, The Story of My Life and Work (Toronto, Naperville, Atlanta: J. L. Nichols, 1900), 144.
  31. Washington, The Story of My Life and Work, 145.
  32. Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee to Date (Tuskegee, AL: Press of Tuskegee Institute Printing Division, 1909), 10; Tuskegee Institute, Thirty-First Annual Catalog: The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute 1911-1912 (Tuskegee, AL: Institute Press, 1912), 70.
  33. See Tuskegee Institute, Annual Catalog of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute 1907-1908 (Tuskegee, AL: Institute Press, 1908), 72; Booker T. Washington Papers, vol. 7: 1903-4, ed. Louis R. Harlan and Raymond W. Smock (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 165; Twenty-Second Annual Catalogue of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute 1902-1903 (Tuskegee, AL: Institute Press, 1903), 8, 101-102; and Booker T. Washington Papers, Box 666, Folder 8: Tuskegee Records, Departmental File: Buildings and Grounds, D.A. Williston. Washington was eager to tap into outside expertise whenever possible, and Williston had to accept his professional design competence being undermined at least once when Washington asked landscape architect John Nolen, who lectured at Tuskegee in 1911, to consult on the grounds. Nevertheless, Williston would remain at Tuskegee until 1929.
  34. See Ellen Weiss, “Tuskegee: Landscape in Black and White,” Winterthur Portfolio 36, no. 1 (2001), 19-37; Kirk Muckle and Dreck Wilson, “David Augustus Williston: Pioneering Black Professional,” Landscape Architecture 72, no. 1 (1982): 82-85; Tuskegee Institute, Thirty-First Annual Catalog, 5, 10; and Tuskegee Institute, Thirty-Sixth Annual Catalog: The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute 1916-1917 (Tuskegee, AL: Institute Press, 1917), 10.
  35. Tuskegee Institute, Thirty-First Annual Catalog, 77, 88-89. It is unclear which book by Bailey was used. A possibility is L.H. Bailey, Garden-Making: Suggestions for the Utilizing of Home-Grounds (1898).
  36. Edward Kemp, Landscape Gardening: How to Lay Out a Garden, edited, revised, and adapted to North America by F. A. Waugh (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1911).
  37. Tuskegee Institute, Thirty-First Annual Catalog, 88.
  38. Booker T. Washington, Working with the Hands (London: A. Morning, 1904), 108-118.
  39. Tuskegee and its People: Their Ideals and Achievements, ed. Booker T. Washington (New York: Appleton, 1906), 74-75. In 1911, Washington again emphasized the need to train students, including women, in landscape gardening so that they would be “capable of doing small jobs.” He pointed out to Williston, “It is especially true in England and is becoming true in this country all the time that some of the best landscape gardening is done by women.” See Booker T. Washington to D. A. Williston, September 7, 1911, Library of Congress, Booker T. Washington Papers, Box 666, Folder 8: Tuskegee Records, Departmental File: Buildings and Grounds, D.A. Williston.
  40. Carmen V. Harris, “‘The Extension Service is not an Integration Agency’: The Idea of Race in the Cooperative Extension Service,” Agricultural History 82, no. 2 (2008), 193-219.
  41. See Thomas Monroe Campbell, The Movable School goes to the Negro Farmer (Tuskegee, AL: Tuskegee Institute Press, 1936).
  42. See Glave, “Rural African American Women, Gardening, and Progressive Reform in the South,” 43-44.
  43. Cited in Carl Kelsey, The Negro Farmer (Chicago: Jennings & Pye, 1903), 74.
  44. See Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016), 145-153; and Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History (New York: Scribner, 1916). In the early 1920s, the eugenics movement adopted a sturdy tree as its symbol.
  45. See Ayah Nuriddin, “Engineering Uplift: Black Eugenics as Black Liberation,” In Nature Remade: Engineering Life, Envisioning Worlds, ed. Luis A. Campos, Michael R. Dietrich, Tiago Saraiva, and Christian C. Young (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021), 186-202; and Gregory Michael Dorr, Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008).
  46. H.T. Kealing, “The Characteristics of the Negro People,” in The Negro Problem (New York: James Pott, 1903), 161-185.
  47. John A. Kenney, “Eugenics and the School Teacher,” Journal of the National Medical Association 7, no. 4 (1915), 253-259.
  48. Monroe N. Work, ed., The Negro Year Book 1911-1912 (Tuskegee, AL: Institute Press, 1912); see also Nuriddin, “Engineering Uplift: Black Eugenics as Black Liberation,” 197.
  49. Booker T. Washington, “‘The Negro Race’: Proceedings of the first National Conference on Race Betterment” (Battle Creek, MI: National Conference on Race Betterment, 1914), 410-420.
  50. Washington, “The Negro Race,” 410, 419.
  51. See Paul A. Lombardo, “Anthropometry, Race, and Eugenic Research: ‘Measurements of Growing Negro Children’ at the Tuskegee Institute, 1932–1944,” in The Uses of Humans in Experiment: Perspectives from the 17th to the 20th Century, ed. Erika Dyck and Larry Stewart (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 215-239. On January 17, 1912, Charles B. Davenport wrote to Washington asking to visit Tuskegee for a study of “the heredity of eye, hair and skin color and the form of hair in the descendants of negro x white crosses.” Library of Congress, Booker T. Washington Papers, Box 524, Folder 36: Special Correspondence, Charles Benedict Davenport.
  52. Washington, Working with the Hands, 153, 157.
  53. Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1901), 264-265.
  54. Frederick Law Olmsted to Charles Eliot, October 28, 1886, in Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Reel 20, frames 680-686. See also “A Letter relating to Professional Practice from F.L. Olmsted, Sr., to Charles Eliot,” in: Landscape Architecture 11 (1921), 189. For the history of the French term architecte-paysagiste, and its adoption in the United States, see Joseph Disponzio, “Landscape Architecture: A Brief Account of Origins,” in Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 34 (2014), 3, 192-200.
  55. See Frederick Law Olmsted, “Mr. Olmsted on Landscape Gardening,” The Garden 10 (August 12, 1876).
  56. See Charles Eliot to Charles Francis Adams, December 12, 1896, in Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot, Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1902), 630-631.
  57. On the early years of landscape architectural education at Harvard University, see Anthony Alofsin, The Struggle for Modernism: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City Planning at Harvard (New York: Norton, 2002), 16-51; and Jill Pearlman, Inventing American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007), 61-64.
  58. See Steiner and Brooks, “Agricultural Education and Landscape Architecture.”
  59. James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 (Chapel Hill: The University of Carolina Press, 1988), 33-78; Donal F. Lindsey, Indians at Hampton Institute, 1877-1923 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 176-182.
  60. H. B. Frissell, “What is the Relation of the Indian of the Present Decade to the Indian of the Future?” in Report of the Superintendent of Indian Schools (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 58-59.
  61. “A Letter relating to Professional Practice from F.L. Olmsted, Sr., to Charles Eliot,” 190.
  62. See Kofi Boone, “Notes Toward a History of Black Landscape Architecture,” Places Journal, October 2020, https://doi.org/10.22269/201028; and Sonja Dümpelmann, “Taking Turns: Landscape and Environmental History at the Crossroads,” Landscape Research 36, no. 6 (2011), 625-640.
Sonja Dümpelmann, ““Let All Be Educated Alike Up to a Certain Point”,” Places Journal, June 2022. Accessed 30 May 2023. https://doi.org/10.22269/220621

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