In 1889, Chatham County farm boy Clarence Poe, age 18, became editor of the Progressive Farmer, a struggling eight-page weekly in Raleigh.
In an era when Southern agriculture still paid more heed to phases of the moon than to science, Poe, who had never finished high school, almost single-handedly popularized “book farming.” The Progressive Farmer grew to a circulation of nearly 1.5 million and at one time ran more advertising than any other monthly magazine in the nation.
Poe not only battled cattle ticks, hookworm and hog cholera (and encouraged youngsters to grow more corn, as in this pinback button from the collection), but also took stands against child labor, usury, and lynching. He remained actively involved until suffering a fatal stroke in 1964 at age 83.
The decline of the small farm gradually undercut the circulation and influence of the Progressive Farmer—in contrast to its extraordinarily prosperous 1966 offshoot, Southern Living magazine.