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Eugene Butler Papers

Identifier: MSS-389

Scope and Contents

The Eugene Butler papers contain the personal and business correspondence of Progressive Farmer editor-in-chief Eugene Butler. There is also a small amount of correspondence related to his father, Dr. Tait Butler, particularly in regard to a memorial plaque for the Tennessee Agricultural Hall of Fame. The largest proportion of the collection materials is concerned with Eugene Butler’s position as editor and senior executive of the Progressive Farmer Company. These include correspondence, office memoranda and reports related to the company’s affairs, drafts of editorials and photocopies of editorials and articles written by Butler and others. There are a large number of files containing information on agricultural and other subjects in the form of correspondence, clippings, brochures, press releases and other material collected by Butler as the basis of his editorials. Copies of articles Butler wrote to document the history of the Progressive Farmer Company are included. Butler’s involvement with Mississippi State University’s Class of 1913, the Development Foundation and Alumni Association are documented in extensive correspondence. The collection also contains a copy of a family scrapbook compiled by Robert Britt Butler and copies of the photographs contained therein. There are also a small collection of files collected by Eugene Butler’s biographer, Dr. Lin Wright.

The papers are divided into five series. The first, Progressive Farmer, is the largest series and contains material related to the workings of the company and Eugene Butler’s role within it, including departmental reports and financial data. The correspondence and office memoranda date back to 1927 and cover a wide range of the company’s affairs, including editorials from 1948 to 1975, as well as letters and memoranda involving company management and directors. There are a number of folders of photocopies made by Butler of Progressive Farmer editorials written by him and others dating back to 1924, as well as drafts and correspondence about editorials. The series also includes copies of speeches made by Butler and others to company editors and sales people, and to outside groups. Boxes 3 to 11 contain the files Butler compiled on a large number of subjects related directly and indirectly to agriculture upon which he based his editorials and articles. These include correspondence, press releases, clippings and brochures. A significant number concern cotton farming, including the boll weevil and other pests, cotton organizations and government regulation. Other files cover agricultural topics such as crop yields, fertilizers, environmental issues and soil conservation. Among subjects not directly related to agriculture in the South that Butler was also interested in were education, especially racial integration in the early 1970s, the workings of government and politics, and international issues such as world food shortages and Rhodesia. Boxes 10 and 11 contain material related to Butler’s overseas trips, including his visits to Africa and Australasia in the 1960s, as well as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace-sponsored tour of South America by agricultural journalists in 1941 and a similar tour of Europe sponsored by the Mutual Security Agency in 1952. Three folders deal with the launch of the lifestyle magazine Southern Living in 1966. Long before he retired, Butler began writing articles on the history of the Progressive Farmer Company and Boxes 12 and 13 contain the drafts and final copies of these unpublished articles that document the company and its journalistic crusades. The series also include some publications, most notably an 1872 copy of The Southern Cultivator and an 1878 issue of The Southern Planter and Farmer, and five issues of The Progressive Farmer published between 1939 and 1972.

The second series, Tait Butler, comprises correspondence by and concerning Eugene Butler’s father, Dr. Tait Butler. Much of the material is correspondence, publications and other research materials gathered by Eugene Butler in preparation for a biographical sketch to accompany the plaque of Dr. Butler which was placed in the Tennessee Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1957, and correspondence relating to the execution of the plaque and the dedication ceremony. The series also includes some of Dr Butler’s correspondence with Eugene Butler and others dating between 1911 and 1942. One folder concerns Eugene Butler’s efforts to dispose of his father’s collection of experiment station bulletins.

Series three, Eugene Butler, concerns Butler’s activities outside the Progressive Farmer Company. These document his interest in the Alpha Zeta fraternity and the Butler family history, as well as his love of books and membership of the Newcomen Society. There are three folders of personal correspondence, and correspondence and drafts concerning a chapter titled “Tall Grass” which he wrote for the book This is the South published in 1959. Butler was life president of the Mississippi State University Class of 1913 and the series contains extensive correspondence on his activities with the group, their meetings and relationship with the Alumni Association. He was also a board member of the university’s development foundation during the late 1960s and 1970s and a highly-regarded alumnus, and there are folders of correspondence documenting his close relationship with the university.

The fourth series, Robert Britt Butler scrapbook, is a photocopy of the contents of a scrapbook put together by Eugene Butler’s grandson of family photographs, clippings and other miscellany. Copies of the photographs themselves are also included.

Series five, Shy Giant of the South: Linsey H. Wright research files, includes thirty folders of material used by Dr. Linsey H. Wright of Mississippi State University during the writing of Eugene Butler’s biography published in 1980.


  • 1883 - 1999
  • Majority of material found within 1925 - 1980


Access Restrictions

Open to all researchers.

Use Restrictions

Any requests for permission to publish, quote, or reproduce materials from this collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian for Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Mississippi State University as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biographical Information

Eugene Butler was born on June 11, 1894, in Starkville, Mississippi. His father, Dr. Tait Butler (1862-1939), was a Canadian from Sterling, Ontario, who became the first professor of veterinary medicine at Mississippi A&M College in 1891. Tait Butler married Dell Bell (1871-1964) of Starkville in 1893. Dr. Butler founded the Southern Farm Gazette in 1895 and became full-time editor from 1896 until he sold the magazine in 1898. The family left Starkville that year and eventually settled in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Tait Butler worked as the state veterinarian. Eugene’s sister Seta (d. 2004) was born in 1902. In 1908 Dr. Butler became an editor and shareholder of the Progressive Farmer magazine, which then took over the Southern Farm Gazette. The two magazines were merged and Tait Butler moved back to Starkville to run the western edition of the Progressive Farmer in 1909. Dr. Butler subsequently moved the edition to Memphis, Tennessee, and remained there as editor and vice-president of the company until his death on January 13, 1939.

Eugene Butler enrolled in Mississippi A&M College in 1909 and received his first bachelor’s degree in 1913. He then worked as a farm laborer for four years to gain experience while also pursuing additional degrees. He received a second bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Cornell University in 1915, and a master’s degree in agronomy—with a minor in journalism—from Iowa State University in 1917.

Butler returned to Memphis to work for his father as an assistant editor of what was now the central edition of the Progressive Farmer. In 1922 Eugene Butler became editor of the Texas edition of Progressive Farmer and manager of the Dallas office. The Texas city remained his home for the rest of his life. He became a member of the Progressive Farmer executive committee in 1939, vice-president of the board of directors in 1943, and president of the company in 1953. Six years later he was named editor-in-chief and became chairman of the board in 1964.

Eugene Butler served as president of the Progressive Farmer Company until 1968, when the company's name was changed to Southern Progress Corporation. He continued as chairman of the board and editor-in-chief until 1983 when the company was bought by Time Inc. Retiring as editor-in-chief in 1985, Butler continued to visit his office weekly until his 100th birthday while researching and writing the Progressive Farmer Company history. Continuing his father’s work, Butler built the Progressive Farmer into the pre-eminent farming publication in the South. During his time at the helm, the company introduced the lifestyle magazine Southern Living in 1966 and established the Oxmoor Press of Birmingham, Alabama.

Like his father, Eugene Butler was interested in all things agricultural and mounted a number of crusades on behalf of farmers and farming. Though a political conservative, he campaigned through the magazine for more accessible rural healthcare, promoted water and soil conservation, and sought more equitable farm legislation. He also worked with the legislature to get the government to require fertilizer labels to provide a specific chemical analysis, and called for crop diversification to balance those that depleted the soil. Butler collected information on all manner of contemporary agricultural issues as the basis of his hundreds of articles and editorials for the Progressive Farmer and numerous speeches. In 1941 he was a member of a group of agricultural journalists sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that toured South America. Eleven years later he joined another such group that went to Europe under the auspices of the Mutual Security Agency. In the 1960s he toured Africa and also went to Australia and New Zealand. He was a charter member of the Texas Agricultural Workers Association, a charter member and historian of the Dallas Agricultural Club, and a researcher and activist for cotton insect control.

Eugene Butler received a number of awards during his lifetime. Among them were the 1953 Hoblitzelle National Award in the Agricultural Sciences from the American Institute of Nutrition, and an award for "Outstanding Contribution to Welfare of all Texas Agriculture through Accurate and Effective Presentation of Information and Constructive Leadership" given by the Texas Cottonseed Crushers Association. In 1991 North Carolina State University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

A loyal alumnus of Mississippi State University, Butler served on the board of the school’s development foundation, and was life-president of the Class of 1913; he was also its last-surviving member. He donated nearly $2 million to the university and in 1979 he was given the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

Butler married Mary Britt Burns (1897-1981) in 1921. They had two children: Eugene Britt (b.1922) and Mary Jean (b.1931). The son maintained the family tradition of working for the Progressive Farmer Company. Eugene Butler died in Dallas on June 5, 1995, six days before his 101st birthday.


Eugene Butler papers.

Wright, L. H. Shy Giant of the South, 1988.


17 Cubic Feet (: 17 record cartons; 3 SMO folders; VMP box.)

Language of Materials



Series 1. Progressive Farmer -Boxes 1-13; Small Oversize Manuscripts Box 40; Visual Materials: Photographs Box 11 Series 2. Tait Butler - Box 13; Small Oversize Manuscripts Box 40; Visual Materials: Photographs Box 11

Series 3. Eugene Butler- Boxes 13-16; Small Oversize Manuscript Box 40; Visual Materials: Photographs Box 11

Series 4. Robert Britt Butler scrapbook - Box 16; Visual Materials: Photographs Box 11

Series 5. Shy Giant of the South: Lin Wright research files - Boxes 16-17

Related Archival Materials

Eugene Butler Papers, Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University, College Station, Tex.

Manuscript on Dr. Tait Butler, 1953, University of Tennessee Special Collections Library, Knoxville, Tenn.

Processing Information

The papers include ten accretions and were reorganized for coherency. A list of the original accretions is available.

The files were placed in new folders and the originals disposed of. Original folder titles were retained where useful. Clippings and photocopies with adhesive tape were copied and disposed of. Duplicates were disposed of.


Eugene Butler Papers
Gerald Chaudron
April 2009
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts Repository