Posted by: Laura | May 26, 2011

Head, Heart, Hands, and Health: The Iowa 4-H Experience

We are excited to announce that we now have a new exhibit in our Reading Room:  “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health: The Iowa 4-H Experience”.  Read about and see some fun artifacts related to the history of 4-H:  4-H camp, the 4-H emblem, state conferences, early 4-H pioneers who were influential in its formation, and 4-H uniforms.  Although there is no longer really an official 4-H uniform for 4-H, in years gone by 4-Hers were required to wear uniforms – we even have an example of a 4-H uniform for you to see in the exhibit!

During the early state 4-H conferences, the attendees would have a group photograph in a different formation every year.  In 1934, it was the state of Iowa enclosing 4 H’s.  The photograph was taken on central campus.  Beardshear and the Campanile can be seen in the background.  The exhibit contains examples of more formations.

Iowa was extremely influential in the formation and development of 4-H.  The origins of 4-H clubs in Iowa can be traced back decades before the formation of the Extension Service and the formal organization of what we now know as 4-H Clubs. Interest in agricultural training for youth started as early as 1857 when the Iowa State Agricultural Society conducted a statewide corn growing contest for boys. This contest established some of the principles that were later used in the formation of 4-H: a contest was organized, a record of the project work was kept, the work was supervised, and a report was made. Subsequent contests were commonly held by institutes and fairs to provide educational and competitive opportunities for rural youth. Contests were also conducted by newspapers and agricultural magazines such as Wallace’s Farmer and Successful Farming.

1929 Annual Iowa 4-H Girls’ Convention formation.  Margaret Hall (burned in 1938) can be seen on the left, and Mackay Hall in the background.  For more information on the state 4-H conventions, see our earlier blog post.

In 1902, A. B. Graham in Ohio began formalizing clubs for boys and girls to promote vocational agriculture as an extracurricular activity. His clubs, considered to be the founding clubs of 4-H, incorporated meetings, officers, and projects. In Iowa, Cap E. Miller, superintendent of schools in Keokuk County, was an early adopter of boys and girls club work. He began organizing Boys Agricultural Clubs and Girls Home Culture Clubs as early as 1903. O. H. Benson of Wright County and Jessie Field Shambaugh of Page County quickly adopted the club idea as well. Both would make major contributions to 4-H. Shambaugh wrote the “Country Girls Creed” and Benson is credited with creating the 3-H and later helping to create the 4-H clover emblem which became the official emblem of 4-H.

For more on the history of 4-H in Iowa, please take a look at the historical note in the Iowa State University 4-H Youth Development Records.  And then come on up to see our exhibit in the Special Collections Department Reading Room, located on the 4th floor of Parks Library!

For their help in putting this exhibit together, we would like to thank:

  • Suzanne LeSar and the Department of Apparel, Educational Studies, and Hospitality Management
  • Phyllis Mondt and Iowa 4-H Youth Development
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  1. [...] Special Collections Department.  In fact, while you’re up here you can take a look at the exhibit in our Reading Room about 4-H!  More about 4-Hers involved in the State Fair can also be found throughout the 4-H [...]


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