Oral History #1 Henry E. Clepper

Henry E. Clepper was interviewed by Elwood R. Maunder of the Forest History Society in 1975. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania 1901, Clepper graduated from Pennsylvania State Forest Academy at Mont Alto in 1921 with the degree of Bachelor of Forestry. He soon left his post in state government to assume the position of associate editor of The Journal of Forestry. In 1936, Clepper moved to Washington, D.C. to become an information specialist in the United States Forest Service.


Bracketed information has been added by the editor for clarity. Ellipses (…) indicate that text has been omitted.

Interviewer: Would you discuss what you remember about the academy and people at Mont Alto?

Clepper: The history of the institution is an interesting one as regards forestry education. One has to introduce its history by mentioning one of the eminent men of America, Dr. Joseph Trimball Rothrock, who in 1886 helped establish the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, helped establish the Department of Forestry in Pennsylvania, and was the first Commissioner of Forestry. After he saw the commonwealth acquire nearly a million acres of state forests and found there was no institution in the state that would be willing to prepare young men for careers as foresters to manage state forests, he asked the University of Pennsylvania to begin a curriculum in forestry. He was turned down by the University of Pennsylvania as well as by the Pennsylvania State College, so in 1903 the state legislature, at his request, adopted a law providing for what was first called a school of forest wardens but became almost immediately known as the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy.

Interviewer: Are young men today [1975] who seek the same kind of careers afforded as much opportunity to get an academy-like training in forestry as was true then? Or have the professional schools tended to foreclose that possibility to a great extent?

Clepper: My friends in professional education have taken considerable pride, which is merited, in the development of curriculums that are broader, containing more cultural subjects, based more profoundly on the humanities than was the case when I went to school. Back in the early years of forestry education in America—roughly the period 1900 to 1920—the emphasis was on practical fieldwork and technical knowledge. They were technical schools in the highest sense. Many a young man graduated from forestry school in those days without having studied much English and without having done any required reading of the classics, but he had a thorough knowledge of how to estimate timber, erect fire towers, construct roads and trails, and manage field crews. Perhaps that was the kind of training that was most needed for the period. The curriculums today have much less of the so-called hardware courses that the forestry student was expected to complete years ago. For example, one of the courses we had to pass was in truck and automobile mechanics. Why? Simply because in those days roads in the mountains were primitive and paved highways were few. Skilled mechanics and garages were in towns and cities. A forester in charge of a state forest had equipment, which in those days frequently broke down, so that he had to know something about the repair of it. Even though he may not make the repair himself, he had to be able to direct others in what to do. This is probably a minor matter, and I don’t think any dean of forestry today would, for a moment think of having truck and automobile mechanics even as an elective course.