A leading agricultural administrator and educator, Cully Cobb was born on a farm in Giles County, Tennessee, in 1884. Cobb moved to Mississippi in 1904 to attend Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College in Starkville (now Mississippi State University). After graduating, he began a career in agricultural education, becoming the first principal of the new agricultural high school in Chickasaw County in 1908. He gained more renown in Mississippi in 1910 as the first head of the state’s Corn Clubs. With a base in Starkville, Cobb toured the state, teaching agricultural methods, especially to boys, by encouraging them to grow corn in innovative ways and to compete for prizes at county fairs. When the 1914 Smith-Lever Act provided funds to turn groups like the Corn Clubs into 4-H Clubs, Cobb helped expand their focus to include pigs, cattle, and tomatoes. Under his leadership, the state agricultural department published Mississippi Club Boy for its members, and Cobb became a popular speaker.
In 1919 Cobb moved to Atlanta to publish one of the South’s leading agricultural magazines, Southern Ruralist. It printed how-to articles, discussed agricultural modernization, and called for government aid to agriculture through changes in tariff policy.
In 1933 Cobb moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as the first head of the cotton division of the New Deal’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration. He administered programs that encouraged cotton farmers and planters to destroy the 1933 cotton crop and then limit production to raise prices. These programs included subsidies for farmers, and when agency leaders divided over whether local committees of southern cotton planters would fairly allocate subsidies between landowners and their workers, Cobb supported the local committees. He endured significant criticism for not siding more often or more aggressively with tenant farmers, many of whom lost their jobs and began migrating to cities in both the North and the South. Cobb argued that the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s goal was to stabilize the system of agriculture during a time of depression, not to reform it to make it more fair.
Cobb retired from the Department of Agriculture in 1937, moved back to Georgia, wrote and edited, and pursued a number of civic projects along with his wife, Lois Dowdle Cobb. The Cobbs returned to Starkville to endow the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University in the early 1970s, and he died in 1975.
- Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 (1985)
- Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960 (1987)
- Mississippi State University, Cobb Institute of Archaeology website, www.cobb.msstate.edu
- Lawrence J. Nelson, King Cotton’s Advocate: Oscar G. Johnston and the New Deal (1999)
- Roy V. Scott and J. G. Shoalmire, The Public Career of Cully A. Cobb: A Study in Agricultural Leadership (1973)