Liberty Hyde Bailey's contributions are remembered and classified in many different ways by many different people, but all of his work, whether scientific or civic, arguably found its center in his concern for rural people (among whom he counted himself) and rural places in an industrializing world. In 1905, he wrote:
I stand, then, for the open country, for its affairs, for the trees that grow there, for the heaven above, for its men, for its women, for its institutions. [...] They are my people; with them I was born; their problems are my problems; for them I mean to labor as long as I have strength and life.
Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Outlook to Nature, 1905, pp. 81-2
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Project is a digital project and larger effort to revive interest both in Bailey's life and work and in the larger project of thoughtfully engaging the wide range of rural experience that transcends Bailey's vision. It ultimately aims to engage the rural in all its diversity and complexity. Right now, it primarily consists of a forthcoming book series called The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library, an in-process proposal for a Liberty Hyde Bailey Center, and an online resource hub for Bailey research. The website supplements those efforts with digital material that will both enhance series publications and open up Bailey's rich legacy to the inheritors of his rural advocacy work today.
Among his many contributions, Bailey became one of the primary philosophers and statesmen of the "country life movement," a social movement for the improvement of rural life that advocated for reforms like rural electrification, better roads, a parcel post, and cooperative organizing to resist urban and middleman control of commodity pricing. It was a diverse and often contradictory movement. Bailey, who chaired the national Commission on Country Life as appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, believed that the country life movement should not be understood as an "uplift" of rural society by urban society, that it was not a "back-to-the-land" movement, and that it should not devolve into centralized government "efficiency" programs, but should be a grassroots, ground-up, cooperative movement led by and for the people of the open country and the landscapes they inhabit. He articulated his ideals in The Country-Life Movement in the United States (1911), The Holy Earth (1915), and many other books, and he was the primary author of the influential Report of the Commission on Country Life (1909, 1911).
This new web project seeks to encourage scholarship on Bailey's forgotten contributions to the country life movement, which were widely influential for many years in the work of rural reformers and the American Country Life Association, but more pressingly it seeks to make resources available for the many people currently involved in country life work—the modern country-lifers, who consider the whole rural situation and the problems of sustainability and resilience as at once social, ecological, and economic.
A modern country life movement will not look like it did in Bailey's time, but it can learn from what came before, and The Liberty Hyde Bailey Project would aid the effort.
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library reintroduces the incredibly wide-ranging literary corpus of naturist, philosopher, gardener, and poet Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) to a twenty-first-century audience. Including affordable, modern, and authoritative editions of Bailey's essential writings, scholarly works offering fresh appraisals of Bailey's legacy, and an open-source digital platform and archive to promote the study and teaching of Bailey's work, the series will provide the best primary and secondary material available on this influential New Agrarian prophet and environmental movement-maker. Reading through the Liberty Hyde Bailey Library opens the door not only to understanding one of the most interesting minds at work in the early twentieth century, but also to the larger, complex history of early environmental thought in America.
Robert Dirig, Former Assistant Curator of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Herbarium (1980-2008), Cornell University
Scott J. Peters, Professor of Development Sociology, Cornell University
Daniel Wayne Rinn, Independent Scholar (PhD in History from the University of Rochester)
Mary Swander, Distinguished Professor of English, Emerita, Iowa State University, and former Poet Laureate of Iowa
Paul B. Thompson, W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics, Michigan State University
In memoriam – Jane L. Taylor, Founding Curator of the Michigan 4-H Children's Garden, Michigan State University