4-H Clubs

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4-H CLUBS. The 4-H Clubs, which began as a rural youth movement in the early twentieth century, have developed into one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, helping suburban and urban as well as rural youth and adults "learn, grow, and work together as catalysts for positive change," in the words of the 4-H Council. The program coordinates cooperative efforts by youth, volunteer leaders, state land-grant universities, state and local governments, 4-H Foundations, as well as the Cooperative State Research and Educational and Extension Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The movement uses a variety of methods, including clubs, school enrichment groups, camps, individual study programs, child care programs, and instructional television programs. The name "4-H" came into general use after World War I; the H 's stand for head, heart, hands, and health. The 4-H movement receives federal money through the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 (which supports all extension programs) and private support from the National 4-H Service Committee, founded in 1921, and the National 4-H Club Foundation, founded in 1948. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service of the state land-grant universities share administrative responsibilities for 4-H.

The 4-H movement originally sought to encourage rural students to incorporate farm experimentation into their studies. A variety of corn production contests offering prizes for the most impressive yields on an acre of land encouraged students to join the corn clubs, or experiment clubs, as they became known. Youthful contestants often grew more than a hundred bushels of corn on their plots; a South Carolina boy raised 228.7 bushels of corn on an acre in 1910, nearly ten times the nationwide average that year (27.4 bushels per acre). In addition to corn clubs, tomato-canning clubs, cotton clubs, and even pig clubs started up in the Midwest and South. The national clover emblem associated with 4-H dates back to 1908, when it it was designed by O. H. Benson. In 1910 Iowa used three-leaf and four-leaf clover pins to recognize achievement among club members. In 1911 the clover emblem appeared on labels marking 4-H brand tomatoes, salmon, corn, potatoes, and apples that members had grown, picked, caught, preserved, and marketed. The 4-H emblem was patented in 1924, and a 1939 law protects the use of both the 4-H name and the emblem.

After World War II, 4-H expanded beyond its traditional work in plant and animal science, nutrition, and clothing and began sending alumni abroad to encourage similar work internationally. By the early twenty-first century, more than 6.8 million people were participating in American 4-H, and millions more in international work. The program has produced more than 50 million alumni.


McCormick, Robert W., and Virginia E. McCormick. "4-H: A. B. Graham's Dream." Timeline 13 (1996).

Rasmussen, Wayne David. Taking the University To the People: Seventy-five Years of Cooperative Extension. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989.

Wessel, Thomas R., and Marilyn Wessel. 4-H, an American Idea: 1900–1980. Chevy Chase, Md.: National 4-H Council, 1982.

Marilyn F.Wessel/d. b.

See alsoAgriculture ; Agriculture, Department of ; Child Care ; County and State Fairs ; Education, Cooperative ; Land Grants: Land Grants for Education ; Rural Life ; Science Education ; Smith-Lever Act .