A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society

In the late 1800s, Robert Lloyd Smith came to Texas. Smith, a highly educated man and an advocate of Booker T. Washington’s  philosophy of education and economic improvement for African-Americans,  called himself a “practical sociologist.”  He was also an educator and a businessman.  In 1890 Smith founded the Farmers’ Home Improvement Society in Colorado County.

Smith created the F.I.S. as a self-improvement society to help tenant farmers out of a cycle of debt and poverty. The Society provided life insurance, financed a bank in Waco, operated an agricultural boarding school, and provided a social life in a religious and fraternal setting for African-Americans across Texas. At its high point in 1911, the Farmers’ Improvement Society claimed 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Smith’s wife, Ruby Cobb of Waco, was instrumental in helping him run the F.I.S. 

A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society was curated by Paul Fisher and Ann Payne and is made possible through the generous gift of materials from the Smith-Cobb family of Waco.

Stop by The Texas Collection from February 1 – March 20, 2012 to view the exhibit.


Click on images to enlarge.

This entry was posted in African-Americans, Archives, Events, exhibits, Photographs, Waco. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society

  1. Clytie Moran says:

    I would like to get more information on Farmers Improvement Society of Texas. Family oral history relates that my grandfather, Professor M. W. Lawson of Montgomery County was president of the Farmer’s Bank somewhere around 1914 until his untimely death in 1917. Any information or regarding bank records/pictures would be extremely appreciated.
    Thank you
    Clytie Moran

    • Amanda Norman says:

      Thanks for sharing about your grandfather! We have many photos of the bank in the Farmers Improvement Society records here at The Texas Collection. For a general history of the F.I.S., we also have a master’s thesis, “Robert Lloyd Smith and the Farmers’ Improvement Society of Texas,” that was written here at Baylor in 1974 by Robert Carroll and is the best single resource on the society. I will put you in touch with our processing archivist who worked with these records–he’ll look to see if we have Professor Lawson’s membership card. We hope you can come visit us here at The Texas Collection!

  2. this site says:

    Where to get more information about farmers home improvement society.

  3. don says:

    I viewed the site of the college near Wolf City yeasterday and would like to know if there is any additional information and photos available.

    Thank you.

  4. Pingback: A Day in the (Texas Collection) Life: Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist | The Texas Collection

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