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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

4-H & Youth Programs

History of 4-H

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A state-wide program for rural youth began in Nebraska in 1905, when Jasper L. McBrien State Superintendent appointed as his deputy a young school superintendent from York County. E.C. Bishop had introduced corn growing, sewing and baking as home projects in one of his schools and had attracted considerable attention. McBrien wanted him to start similar work on a statewide basis.

In early 1905, Bishop sent a letter to county superintendents offering 500 kernels of Reid's Yellow Dent seed corn to the first 500 boys who wrote in. The response was overwhelming. The 500 shipments were gone in no time and many more were admitted. The girls also clamored for a part in the program and were admitted as "corn cookers" with success.

Some counties had enough entries to permit a county contest to precede the state competition. These counties permitted the boys to enter 10 ears from the field, this to teach them the value of good seed corn selection. Bulletins on seed selection were mailed to guide them in the work.

That fall, some 700 boys and girls descended on Lincoln, for a three day session of instruction, judging, speechmaking, and banquets.

On the second day, the delegates assembled and formed two state youth organizations: The Nebraska Boy's Agricultural Association, and The Nebraska Girl's Domestic Science Association. That evening these youth crowded the Lincoln Hotel for a banquet of corn products.

Nebraska's two associations continued to grow and to broaden the scope to include many crop and domestic science projects.

Other states had similar foundations being built at this same time. In Iowa, W.M. Beardshear, President of the Natural Education Association spoke of building the character of the child, "not by means of the three R's, but rather by means of the three H's - Head, Heart, and Hand - and make him fit for self-government, self control, self-help: a living, thinking being." In 1911, O.H. Benson spoke of education for leadership along the lines of four H's rather than three R' s - suggesting the four H's stand for "head, heart, hands, and hustle!" Later that year, O.B. Martin (Benson's superior) suggested the fourth H stand for "health."

A fifth H (standing for Home) was added to some circular's and pins in 1912, but didn't gain widespread acceptance.

Mr. Benson was transferred to the U.S.D.A. Office of Farm Management in May of 1912 and became the first agent employed to develop boy's and girl's club work in the North and West. The south had already utilized the "Boy's Cotton Club" to educate on the Boll Weevil. Corn clubs also introduced the theory of diversity from the "one crop" cotton farms of the region.

Interestingly, some states emphasized different crops in the early years. Massachusetts developed the Potato Club, and Georgia had the Poultry Club. Most of the early club work was being put into practice largely through county superintendents of schools.

By 1914 the progress of club work was such that the Smith-Lever Act did not create something entirely new. It merely gave a firm financial foundation, on a nationwide basis, to a work that had already made great strides in the North and the South.

After the war ended the government's emergency funds began to run out. The Nebraska Legislature passed county agent legislation in 1919. The law provided that "whenever the petitioners shall organize themselves into a society known as a Farm Bureau and be recognized as a Farm Bureau by the University of Nebraska, they shall receive appropriations for the start or continuance of extension work in the county." The partnership with Farm Bureau continued for many years. Each partner gained and progressed in organization, size and strength because of the partnership.

Boy with Basket of Corn

Extension was required because of government funding to not be partial to any one specific organization. By the early 1950's several other farm groups had organized and the need to separate became apparent. Despite the separation, Farm Bureau has continued to be a loyal backer of the Extension Program and 4-H activities at county and state levels.

Sources: Agriculture's Voice for 75 Years, 1992; The 4-H Story, F. Reck,1951

Lancaster County, Nebraska
4-H & Youth Resources

For Lancaster County Residents:

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180