A son of Lauritz Ulrik la Cour (no. 52) and Ellen Kirstine la Cour, Jørgen was born on 8 June 1838 at Skærsø manor and was named after his paternal grandfather. At the age of eight, he started at his uncle Peter la Cour’s boarding school at Margrethelund farm, which meant he only went home to Skærsø on Sundays. When two years later his father purchased Jægergården, a house outside Aarhus, Jørgen attended lower secondary school there. His brother, Poul la Cour (no. 74), had a childhood memory we will render here in his own [translated] words: “It was while we lived at Jægergården, which Father had purchased so that Jørgen and his younger brothers could have a good education. A road separated the garden from the flat area out towards the sea. We were down there playing one day, throwing stones, presumably to see who could throw the farthest. I was a small child, no more than five years old, and had not yet learnt the art of throwing straight, so my throws went off to the left, and one of my stones must have gone between the legs of a pair of passing horses. A man with an immensely angry face left his cart and came straight towards me, and an anxious feeling went through me, but in the next moment, Jørgen had moved so he stood in front of me, and his willingness to take a beating and his speech in my defence disarmed the angry man. That was my first impression of chivalry in this world. He was a boy of 12 or 13, but he seemed like a man.”
In 1853 Jørgen was transferred to the upper classes of the grammar school*, and he graduated in 1854. He wanted to learn farming, but first he wanted to learn more about the subjects upon which agriculture is based, so he went to Copenhagen and prepared for admission to the polytechnic there, which had an agricultural department, and in 1855 he passed the entrance exams. After studying very diligently, he received a degree in agriculture in 1857. But now he had to learn how to practice agriculture, and it would have been difficult to find a better place to do that than at Skærsø. He became an apprentice and worked there for one and a half years, although he spent the last part of his time there working as farm-bailiff* to learn how to stand on his own two feet. As early as 1858, however, when the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University was founded and the agricultural department was looking for an assistant, Jørgen applied for and won this
position, which he held until 1 May 1867.
His work at the University was interrupted for a while when he was drafted into the army. He was ordered to report to a school for reserve officers at Kronborg Castle on 8 August 1861, but he was able to return to his University post as early as in the autumn of 1861, after being made a reserve lieutenant. But then in 1864 came the Second Schleswig War*, and he had to report for duty.
About Jørgen as a soldier in the war, Erik Skram, one of Jørgen’s subordinates at the time, wrote: “He was the ideal
officer: mild, firm, wise and careful without being complicated. It almost seemed as though invisible rays of humanity surrounded him, and his red-bearded face shone with sympathetic goodness. His men loved him.” And he fought with honour in battle. He had repeated opportunities to show his courage and resourcefulness, and on 27 June 1864 he
was made a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog* for his brave and heroic performance in the passage to Als: despite orders to retreat, he continued to hold the bridgehead at Dybbøl to cover the other troops who went back over the bridge, only obeying the third time he received the order, so that his platoon was the last to retreat across the bridge. Jørgen’s experiences during the Second Schleswig War* are described in the 1964 book Med Far i Felten (“With Father on the Battlefield”) by Vilhelm la Cour, a copy of which is in the la Cour family archives.
After the war, Jørgen returned to the University, but had to leave again the following year – this time on a peaceful errand, however. After serving as the head of the folk high school* in Arresødal in the winter of 1864-65, he travelled at public expense to Belgium, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Switzerland and Germany to learn about agricultural conditions and institutions in those countries. He returned to England in 1867, this time as a representative of the Royal Danish Agricultural Society. These trips were highly educational and matured him, and he returned home “enriched with experiences and an insight that served him well in the major undertakings that awaited him”.
Jørgen became co-editor of the Tidsskrift for Landøkonomi (“Journal of Rural Economics”) in 1867 and sole editor the following year. About Jørgen’s editorial career, distinguished Danish agricultural editor, publisher and writer Hans A. Hertel* wrote, “It is a wealth of topics that la Cour has himself treated in his more than 30 years with this publication, but one thing that should especially be highlighted is the overview of ordinary farming conditions for the past year with which he opened each publication, starting in 1867: they eventually became quite detailed and were met with a degree of interest that, I daresay, made them the most-read studies of agricultural economics each year. As time passed, La Cour’s treatment of the year’s varying events actually grew gradually more and more brilliantly structured and executed with talent. Not only did he bring to the forefront the most important matters, but he often also threw light on issues that went unnoticed but were in reality quite momentous, and the presentation at times featured a flow and energy that made it pleasant reading.”
On 20 September 1867 Jørgen married Agathe Johanne la Cour (née Gote Birkedal Barfod) in Vartov* church. Agathe was born on 29 January 1845 in Søvang, a village near Copenhagen, and her parents were author Povl Frederik Barfod and Emilie Birkedal. The home from which she came was described by J.N. Winther as “this peculiar home, which old Barfod and his lovable wife made into a blessed meeting place for many young people from the Barfod, la Cour, Lønborg, Husum, Rørdam, and Birkedal families and others, as well as their friends. The entertainment was in an earthly sense modest, in a spiritual sense sumptuous. One was met by such a spiritual wealth, such endearing love, such a fresh youthfulness among both old and young, such a pure and gentle breeze from the spiritual world that we thought it was like a paradise on earth.” In 1862, Agathe followed her father on an eventful trip to Sweden, which he portrayed in his book En rejse i Dalarna (“A Journey in Dalarne”). She learned rural housekeeping at Skærsø manor from June to November 1865.
On 1 November 1867, Jørgen founded the Landboskolen agricultural college in Nærum, and then, on 1 October 1868, moved it to the building in Lyngby whose foundation stone he had laid on 27 August 1867 and for which his father-in-law, Frederik Barfod, had written the song titled Rejs dig hus med lave tinder I Vorherres navn (” Raise a Low- peaked Building in the Lord’s Name”). The new agricultural college did not only teach farming, but also mathematics, history and languages as a supplement to the often rather limited education children received at rural schools. Jørgen’s work managing the college has been described as follows: “As head of a college and a teacher of young adults, la Cour had rare talents. He was a highly educated man in the best sense of the word, and his abundance of spirit influenced all his work, both in and outside the college. He had a rich store of knowledge that spanned across numerous and widely different areas and rested upon a foundation of a highly developed sense of public spirit fortified by an unusually clear intellect. He had a keen eye for the hearts and minds of his fellow human beings and especially of young people. He was an exceptionally good speaker and regarded as the most eloquent man of his time in agriculture. His language was well-formed, clear and rich in images. He could speak about purely practical farming matters with a warmth and a strength of conviction that captivated even the sleepiest listeners. His powerful voice, his strapping, manly build, and his expressive eyes, which could sparkle with enthusiasm for whatever subject he was currently preoccupied with – they often helped him make an indelible impression with his lectures and talks.” His wife Agathe handled the college’s finances and was her husband’s chief support and best employee. As J.N. Winther rightly said, “That is why la Cour also declared many times, with deep-felt emotion, that without his wife’s support, he would not have succeeded in his life’s work – and that is the truth.”
Jørgen was superintendent of the college from 1867 to 1884 and from 1889 until his death in 1898. From 1890 to 1892, he was also head of the Grundtvig* folk high school*, which moved to Lyngby in 1890. Also after the time when H. Rosendal was in charge of the daily management of the school, Jørgen worked as the administrative head of both institutions. He once wrote the following: “The Danish agricultural college in Lyngby is a child of the Danish folk high school and, like this school, must be built on a foundation of faith and public life.” And this was the guiding principle he followed. This is why his childhood friend and good colleague J.N. Winther was right when he said, “Through his example, his life, his language, he taught the Danish people that the goal is to love God above all and to love their neighbours as themselves. This was the source of his piety and his patriotism. His Christian faith and his patriotism were the underpinnings that were noticeable even when he talked about subjects not directly affected by these powerful currents.” Jørgen was admitted to the Royal Agricultural Society in 1875, where he made connections that would prove highly fruitful in the following decades.
Ugeskrift for Landmænd (“Farmers’ Weekly”) editor A. Bing aptly described Jørgen’s personality and his work as secretary for the Society as follows: “The work that la Cour did, especially through the ’80s and ’90s, is unique in the history of the Agricultural Society. He devoted to it an immense amount of labour and his never-resting mind. At critical times he knew no difference between day and night, and sacrificed rest and meals. To use an image from his own figurative world, one could describe him as the Heimdal of agriculture, always awake and at his post when the situation required quick action and forceful intervention by the agricultural leadership. In all ventures of the Society, he was the leading intellect, whether it was
about assembling specialists to give advice on market conditions, or about sales to foreign countries or the transport of our agricultural products, tool and machine test implementation, plant culture experiments, the consultancy institution or the many matters submitted by the Ministry to the Society for consideration. La Cour possessed an unusual ability to get to the bottom of a matter and see it from all the sides that could affect its implementation.”
In 1878 Jørgen was made secretary of the Farmers’ Assembly in Svendborg and in July that same year awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Dannebrog*. In 1879 he became vice- chair (and later chair) of the Copenhagen county farmers’ association. In 1881 he was appointed a captain in the reinforcement troops, assigned to the 35th Battalion and then discharged upon application in 1890. The Swedish Agricultural Academy accepted him as a non-Swedish member in 1881. Jørgen resigned from Landboskolen in 1884 and moved to Copenhagen. Later, he both played a major role in the planning and organisation of the Nordic Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888 and served as secretary general at the first Nordic Agricultural Congress.
In July 1888, Jørgen received both the gold medal and the Commander Grand Cross of the Swedish Royal Order of Vasa. It was also Jørgen who took the initiative in founding the rural agriculture department at the 1888 Exhibition, and he founded the Landbrugsmuseet agricultural museum. In April 1889, he once again took the helm at the Landboskolen in Lyngby and purchased Brede Ladegård manor. He was elected president of the Royal Danish Agricultural Society in 1891, a position he held until he resigned a few days before his death, and in 1892 became head of its consultancy office. At the Danish Ministry of Agriculture, he was in charge of supervising export conditions for the agricultural industry.
Jørgen died at the Diakonissestiftelsen hospital in Copenhagen on 21 February 1898 and was buried on 24 February in the Lyngby cemetery. On his grave, some of his former students placed a memorial stone, which included the following lines by J.N. Winther: “Loving and faithful, never timid, obtained his strength from the covenant of baptism, believed in full the word of the Lord and is therefore now a guest at the Lord’s table”. Det forenede Dampskibsselskab (” The United Steamship Company” ) named one of its steamships after him**, and a street in Copenhagen bears his name. A marble bust of him was placed in the main hall of Landbohusholdningsselskabet (“the Agricultural Housekeeping Society”). On 21 June 1903, a life-sized bronze statue of him was erected between Landboskolen and the Grundtvig folk high school*; the statue now stands in front of the college’s current location in Roskilde. Jørgen’s life is described in the 1916 book Folkets Ledere (“Leaders of the People”) by K. Hansen, which can be found in the la Cour family archives.
After Jørgen’s death, Agathe lived at Landboskolen until 1907, and then, until 1915, at Brede Ladegård manor. She sold her part of Skærsø manor to her brother-in-law Jacob in 1903 and sold Brede Ladegård manor to her son Poul in 1904. Agathe died on 31 January 1929 in Lyngby. (Six children: the Lyngby Line.)