T. O. Sandy (1857–1919)


T. O. Sandy was Virginia’s earliest agricultural extension agent. A farmer, scientist, and teacher, he opened the state’s first extension office in Burkeville in 1907, serving the residents in surrounding counties with practical agricultural advice. In 1914, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg assumed the administration of the statewide program. Sandy, who had briefly attended Virginia Tech, coordinated Virginia’s extension efforts until his retirement in 1917. During Sandy’s tenure as extension agent, farming practices and attitudes toward scientific agriculture in Virginia significantly improved.

Thomas Oldham Sandy was born in Essex County, Virginia, on February 22, 1857. He matriculated at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1875, but did not complete a degree and left the next year. In 1879 he bought a cattle and horse farm in Westmoreland County. On June 25, 1891, Sandy married Sallie Thweatt Miller and the couple settled at her ancestral home in Nottoway County. Their farm, called Locust Grove, was located only a few miles from the small town of Burkeville. Sandy first attempted to produce dark-fired tobacco, but could not make a profit and switched to other crops. At Locust Grove, he employed scientific farming methods long before other famers adopted such progressive approaches. He was one of the first farmers in eastern Virginia to grow alfalfa and mixed grasses; diversify crops; enrich the depleted clay-based soil with lime, manure, and other natural fertilizers; build silos; and invest heavily in a dairy herd. Within less than two decades, Sandy’s experimentation had turned Locust Grove into a showplace farm and his successful example of scientific farming made him a recognized leader in agricultural circles.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the General Education Board (financially supported by John D. Rockefeller) led the nationwide agricultural extension and demonstration movement. In Virginia, the board designated Hollis B. Frissell, head of the Hampton Institute, to organize demonstration work for black farmers, and Joseph D. Eggleston Jr., the state superintendent of public instruction, to bring the demonstration program to white famers. The genesis of this statewide effort came at a Richmond meeting in 1906, with a number of influential politicians, university presidents, businessmen, and agricultural experts—including Sandy—in attendance. At this meeting Sandy accepted the offer to be the state’s first extension agent for white farmers.

Sandy Hall

Early in 1907, Sandy opened an extension office in Burkeville to serve farmers in adjoining counties. In February, the General Education Board awarded Virginia $4,500 for demonstration work and appointed Sandy as state agent for Virginia. Sandy hired agents to begin the outreach efforts and by May 1907, he reported that twenty farmers had agreed to participate in extension programs. Participating farmers signed a contract with Sandy agreeing to farm a small plot, typically of less than five acres. While the farmers did most of the work, agents developed a husbandry plan for the grower to follow and kept track of costs and returns. Future farmers were an important part of extension work. Within a few years, Sandy and his agents had organized boys’ corn clubs across Virginia. In 1910, Sandy hired Ella Graham Agnew, the nation’s first home demonstration agent and first female field worker for the Department of Agriculture, to develop girls’ gardening, canning, and poultry clubs.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 assigned oversight of nationwide extension and demonstration programs to the Department of Agriculture. At that time, Virginia Tech became the designated institution to coordinate the statewide program and renamed it the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. In 1916, Sandy relocated to Blacksburg to manage statewide agricultural extension activities. The next year he resigned as state agent due to ill health. He died two years later, on June 7, 1919, at Locust Grove. Virginia Tech recognized his service to scientific agriculture and demonstration farming by naming the campus extension building Sandy Hall.

February 22, 1857
Thomas Oldham Sandy is born in Essex County.
T. O. Sandy studies at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
T. O. Sandy purchases a farm in Westmoreland County.
June 25, 1891
T. O. Sandy marries Sallie Thweatt Miller and settles at her ancestral home in Nottoway County, named Locust Grove. The couple will have two children, T. Oldham and Scott. At Locust Grove, Sandy uses scientific and progressive agricultural methods.
T. O. Sandy becomes the first agricultural extension agent for white farmers in Virginia.
January 1907
T. O. Sandy opens an agricultural extension office in Burkeville to serve farmers in adjoining counties.
February 1907
The General Education Board awards Virginia $4,500 for demonstration work and appoints T. O. Sandy as state agent for Virginia.
T. O. Sandy and his home demonstration agents organize boys' corn clubs across Virginia.
T. O. Sandy hires Ella G. Agnew, the nation's first home demonstration agent and first female field worker for the Department of Agriculture, to develop girls' gardening, canning, and poultry clubs.
The Department of Agriculture designates Virginia Tech as the institution to coordinate statewide agricultural extension. Virginia Tech renames the program the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.
T. O. Sandy relocates to Blacksburg to manage statewide agricultural extension activities.
T. O. Sandy resigns his post as a state agricultural agent due to ill health.
June 7, 1919
T. O. Sandy dies at Locust Grove.
  • College of the Fields: Some Highlights of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1914–1980. Blacksburg: Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1987.
  • Kinnear, Duncan Lyle. The First 100 Years: A History of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Blacksburg: Virginia Polytechnic Institute Educational Foundation, Inc., 1972.
APA Citation:
Purcell, Aaron. T. O. Sandy (1857–1919). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/sandy-t-o-1857-1919.
MLA Citation:
Purcell, Aaron. "T. O. Sandy (1857–1919)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 27 Feb. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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