During the short, interim presidency of Harry B. Hirsch, the National Farm School’s board of trustees searched out a permanent replacement for the school’s revered founder Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf. In Herbert D. Allman, they found a leader who always stayed rooted in the past while moving the institution forward, even during the trying times of the Great Depression.
In his 1935 president’s message at the school’s 38th annual meeting, Allman’s encouraging words struck chords of optimism and determination—values that he held dear.
Despite “the tremendous shrinkage of income that now handicaps all unendowed institutions,” Allman told the assembly, “I am pleased to announce that the school, with increased enrollment and larger faculty, has so far safely weathered the storm.”
Allman concluded the address with inspiration from the past. “The arduous struggles of the pioneers who founded this school with little money and no endowment, are ever before us,” he said. “We, too, should have the same courage and determination to provide the best training for every student who enters. If we continue to build with wisdom, courage and patience, the aspirations and traditions of the National Farm School will be perpetuated by those who come after us.”
In his 14 years as president, Allman did just that—built the school with wisdom, courage and patience. The former head of corporate giants Lewis Chase and Columbia wall paper companies applied his business acumen and unwavering work ethic to the running of the school, ushering it through some of the hardest economic times in U.S. history. Allman attributed the school’s continued success during the Depression to what he called its “solidarity of purpose.” Performing the distinct service of training hard working young men in the agricultural fields was more important than ever as the country struggled with unemployment and hunger.
During Allman’s tenure, the Farm School’s reputation continued to grow boasting a perpetual long waiting list of worthy applicants. With its emphasis on teaching practical farming rather than theory alone, the school trained students on 1,200 acres of land, which served as a laboratory for research, experimentation, demonstration and the practice of all farm operations.
Born in Philadelphia in 1863, Allman’s early education took place in the classrooms of that city’s public schools. Later, he attended the School of Industrial Art and the Franklin Institute. By the age of 21, Allman had gone from the position of junior clerk to a partner in the wall paper concern owned by M.M. Kayser—thanks to his initiative building the business through the development of a mail order facet, which internationalized the company’s clientele. Later, he rose to president of the wall paper companies, dedicating more than 25 years to the business portion of his career.
At 48, he retired, focusing more on his philanthropic, educational and artistic aspirations. In addition to being president of the National Farm School, Allman was vice president and chairman of the educational committee for the School of Design for Women; chairman, charity and welfare committee, chamber of commerce, and art committee for Fairmount Park Association; secretary of the Vacant Lot Association; a member of the Manufacturers’ Club, Engineers’ Club, Manufacturers’ Country Club, Penn Athletic Club, City Club, Optimist Club, Masonic Lodge F. and A.M. Keystone Chapter. He was also chief of the local Sugar Division under the then director of Food Administration Herbert Hoover, during World War I.
In 1935, Allman published his lovingly penned A Unique Institution: The Story of the National Farm School, in which he wrote, “…with optimism in our hearts and eyes on the future, we shall courageously labor to build even a better National Farm School, advancing the traditions and fine records made during the past. When we look back over a period of almost forty years and realize the growth of the National Farm School, when we contemplate all its trials and all its triumphs, we cannot but feel grateful that to us has been given the duty of stewardship.”
In 1939, Allman retired, passing the torch to Harold B. Allen who would lead the school through most of World War II. Allman died in 1943.