Benjamin Bristow Adams
Benjamin Bristow Adams was born to Crawford Cadwallader and Ada G. Harrison Adams in Washington, D.C., November 11, 1875. He, three younger sisters and one younger brother were left fatherless in 1885. From the age of ten he was forced to help support his family and was frequently boarded out to relatives on a Virginia farm with his younger brother. He attended Central High School in Washington from 1890-1892 and advanced in the school cadet corps. In 1892 he left school to become co-founder and editor of a weekly magazine, the "Pathfinder." The magazine began as a weekly news review for children but evolved into a paper for the benefit of "current events" teachers.
In 1896 Bristow left for the west to start college at the newly established university of Stanford. He paid his trip west with money earned during summers as a lifeguard at the Washington Public Bathing Beach, Big Basin. He intended to work for his room and board at college; tuition was free. He entered Stanford by exam, not application. Consequently he attended under the status of a special student. He concentrated in drawing and painting his first two years, and English in his last two. He was to have graduated in 1900 as an English major with a concentration in drawing, but because he was short one credit he was not given a diploma. In 1906 David Starr Jordan, professor and president of Stanford, awarded Bristow his belated diploma despite the lack of one credit.
During his college years Bristow pursued his interests in art and journalism. At the end of his freshman year, David Starr Jorden, chairman of the Bering Sea Fur Seal Commission, appointed Bristow artist for the commission. For five months, Bristow made observations and sketches of the fur seals of the Pribilof Islands. These sketches were later used to illustrate the commission's three volume report. Bristow had pursued his art training some years before at the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia and the Corcoran Art School in Washington, D.C. While at Stanford, he studied at the Barron Studios.
Following his journalistic bent to pay his room and board, Bristow did writing by correspondence for the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Boston Transcript. Bristow also edited all of the Stanford publications, without monetary recompense, during his four years at that institution. He also founded and edited the "Stanford Chaparral," 1898-1900, the first college humor magazine in the west.
After completing four years of studies at Stanford Bristow returned to work on the "Pathfinder" in Washington, D.C. He continued to work as a free-lance writer and illustrator for magazines including "McClure's," "Everybody's," "Country Life in America," and the "Washington Star."
In 1902 he married Luella Farmer whom he had met in a freshman art class at Stanford. They had conducted their courtship through extensive correspondence since 1900. Soon after marrying they had four children: Eleanor, Gertrude, Everett and Benjamin Bristow II. The growth and development of the family is documented in the correspondence.
In 1904 Bristow became vice president of H. M. Suter Publishing Company where he designed a series of college athletic posters, edited "Forestry and Irrigation," forerunner "American Forests" and was managing editor of a weekly news review, "Washington Life" later called "American Spectator."
Bristow was asked to join the U.S. Forest Service in 1906, in their office of Information. There he edited bulletins and issued news reports. From the information he absorbed editing and writing articles on forestry, he was able to pass the civil service technical forestry examination. Subsequently he became a forestry assistant in the Choctawatchee National Forest in west Florida. There he was involved in introducing exotic tree species: eucalyptus, Australian wattle, cork oak and French maritime pine. As a result of his work and research in this area Stanford elected him to Sigma Xi, an honorary scientific organization.
While in the forestry service, Bristow became a member of the Society of American Foresters, and was elected to the post of secretary and representative. In this capacity he attended the dedication of Fernow Hall at Cornell in May 1914. He spent the summer of 1914 visiting many of the state and national forests in the Rockies and far west as a forest examiner.
November 1914, Bristow accepted a position at Cornell University as a full professor in the Agricultural School and department head in charge of publications and information. . As a professor he started courses in journalism, advertising and publicity, and forestry and conservation. Bristow, familiarly known as B.A. by generations of Cornellians, became an immediate favorite with the students. He encouraged their friendship through his weekly Monday night open house or "at homes" at 202 Fall Creek Drive. There students congregated in the second floor study listening to anecdotes of Bristow's travel, discussing current events, airing their problems and enjoying Mrs. Adams' delicious home-made hot chocolate and cookies.
Aside from professorial tasks, Bristow started the mimeograph news service and supervised the Extension Publications and the Experiment Station Bulletins. During the thirty years he taught and edited at Cornell, the University won more awards for excellence of the printed word than any other Land Grant College.
Combining his love of students with his love of journalism, Bristow became a member of the board of directors of the "Cornell Daily Sun" and unofficial advisor to the "Cornell Countryman" and the "Cornell Widow." Bristow pursued many other jobs and activities relating to his journalistic interests while a forester and professor. In 1909 he was a public director of the National Milk Show and Dairy Exposition in New York City; in 1923 he served in the same capacity for the World's Dairy Congress. During World War I in 1918, Bristow took a temporary leave from the University and joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture's campaign for stimulation of food production. From that work he progressed to the Military Intelligence Division of the General Staff of the Army, where he was engaged in counter-espionage and counter-propaganda, as liaison officer with the Commission on Public Information, The Department of Justice, and the Military Morale Branch. In 1921 he wrote Fanner's bulletin 1202, "An Agricultural Almanac" for the U.S. Department of Agriculture For six months in 1930, he taught a conservation and natural resources course at the University of Hawaii. In the early thirties he was made regional director for the Federal Writer's Project (WPA) in New York. He retained this position until he was dismissed by Henry G. Alsberg, for unsuccessful completion of work. Actually he was dismissed for charging Wallace Miller, who posed as a Stanford graduate, with being a communist and recommending his removal from the project. This affair got wide publicity and brought Bristow into the national headlines. Finally, in 1939, Bristow was given an reward for appreciation of service by the New York Press Association.
Bristow pursued interests aside from journalism in his spare time. He had gone out for track while in college and retained an active interest in the sport while at Cornell. He was a referee for over 30 years, officiating evening games in full evening dress tails, white tie, white gloves, and top hat. In 1924 he visited England with the Cornell and Princeton track teams as they competed against Oxford and Cambridge. In 1926 Bristow visited continental Europe, studying farming and agricultural techniques.
Bristow's artistic and literary talents allowed him to earn enough money to pay for two trips around the world. In 1930 he traveled around the world north of the equator, in 1937-1938 he traveled around the world south of the equator. From the great variety of experiences of his travels, Bristow gave years of monthly talks over WGY in Schenectady, entitled "The World and Us." He also broadcast a weekly book review, "Let's Read a Book" over the Cornell Radio Station for over fifteen years.
Bristow retired in 1943 but was immediately reappointed by the Trustees for an additional year of service. He was made Professor Emeritus in 1944 and once again recalled to serve through 1945. In July 1945 he was asked to teach courses in the summer session. In 1938, 1939, and 1941 he also taught a summer session in Extension Methods conducted by Colorado State College at Fort Collins. There he taught editing, extension writings and publicity methods in extension.
Bristow had planned for years to spend his retirement doing oil painting and gardening. Although he did manage to do one art show, he was never able to pursue this interest as much as he liked. He became alderman for the Ithaca Town Council, then acting mayor of Ithaca for seven years, retiring the year before his death. He also founded and edited the "Cornell Plantations," a quarterly publication from 1942-1956. These activities plus his obligations in radio broadcasting, and numerous duties and organizations to which he belonged amply filled his time. Among the various honorary organizations and clubs which he belonged to during his life were: National Press Club; Society of American Foresters (Secretary, 1913); New York Press Association (life membership and Director-at-large); Sigma Delta Chi, professional journalism society (National Honorary President, 1920); American Association of Agricultural College Editors, (president, 1921); American Association of Teachers of Journalism; Sigma Xi; Alpha Gamma Rho; Epsilon Sigma Phi; Savage Club of Ithaca.
B.A. died, after a year of illness in a nursing home, in November 1956. He was survived by his wife, Luella, four children and four grandchildren.