May 8 marked the Centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, or Agriculture Extension Act, passed by the United State Congress in 1914, creating a nationwide system of cooperative extension services that provide outreach activities through land-grant universities.
Perry Holden, circa 1903-1912, seated at desk with papers and ears of corn. University Photograph Collection, Box 1360, Folder 6.
In celebration, the Special Collections Department at the Iowa State University Library put together a small exhibit on Extension pioneers in Iowa before and after the Smith-Lever Act. Iowa, in fact, was a leader among the states in Extension activity. In 1906, the Iowa General Assembly appropriated funds to establish a Department of Extension at Iowa State College eight years before Smith-Lever, but the earliest activities that would become the Cooperative Extension Service began even earlier. Let’s look at the stories of two Iowa pioneers in Extension work: Perry G. Holden and Jessie Field Shambaugh.
Perry G. Holden, known for his energy and charisma, has been called the “father of Extension in Iowa.” At the recommendation of a former colleague, he was hired by Iowa State College to teach a trial section on corn as part of a short course offered to farmers on new agricultural methods. The committee did not believe farmers would be interested in such a boring subject as corn production, but when Holden arrived with his charts, demonstration materials, and engaging personality, the farmers demanded more! When President Beardshear got wind of this, he hired Holden as a full-time professor of agronomy, and he was able to continue his outreach activities to farmers.
Holden is perhaps best known for his “Seed Corn Gospel Trains.” He used the train cars as traveling exhibit and lecture halls to reach masses of people, demonstrating his methods of testing seed corn in order to improve crop yields. Stopping in designated rail stations, he brought the research of the university out to the farmers where they were. The first tour began April 18, 1904, making 50 stops between Gowrie and Estherville. By his own estimate, Holden lectured to three thousand people during his first tour. The trains drew such large crowds that sometimes the train car windows had to be opened so that people outside the cars could listen.
Oat Train stop in Waukon, Iowa, 1911. Overflow of farmers who couldn’t get on the train were lectured by Paul C. Taff, later Assistant Director of Iowa State Extension Service, while he was still a student at Iowa State College. University Photograph Collection, Box 1364, Folder 2.
In 1906, Holden was appointed the first superintendent of Extension, a post he held until 1912 when he left to run for governor of Iowa. During his tenure, he established the three main branches of outreach that formed the core of early Extension work in Iowa: demonstration farms, short courses, and education trains.
Jessie Field Shambaugh, ca. 1906-1912. RS 16/3/60, Box 2, Folder 4.
Jessie Field Shambaugh, or “Miss Jessie” as she was known to her students at the Goldenrod School, is regarded as the “Mother of 4-H.” Born in 1881 in Clarinda, Iowa, Shambaugh began her teaching career in 1901 at the age of 19. The Goldenrod School in Page County, Iowa provided her the opportunity to innovate in something she felt passionate about – rural education for rural children. While at Goldenrod School, students took courses related to farming and homemaking. This practical approach to education garnered enthusiasm in the community and among the students. At the school, Shambaugh organized “Boys’ Corn Clubs” and “Girls’ Home Clubs,” and as county superintendent in 1906 she expanded these into the regular curriculum for 130 rural schools. Goldenrod School is credited as being the “birthplace of 4-H.”
From these boys’ and girls’ clubs came the 4-H clubs. In 1906, Shambaugh created the three-leaf clover pin to encourage children to participate in Junior Achievement Shows. Each leaf contained an “H,” which stood for “Head, Heart, and Hands.” Like 4-H, the 3-H motto was “Learning by Doing, to Make the Best Better.” Not long after, a fourth leaf was added, with its “H” standing for “Home.”
Boys Farm Camp, set up by Miss Jessie Field, 1910. University Photograph Collection, Box 1349, Folder 3.
Jessie Field Shambaugh held the first Farm Camp in 1910. This was the forerunner to today’s 4-H camps, and was for boys only. The following year, she held the first girl’s camp, the Camp of the Golden Maids, as the girls thought they should have the same opportunity. Each of these camps focused on different roles in rural life. At Farm Camp, the boys judged corn and horses, took classes in grain study and rope tying, practiced military drills, and played baseball. The Golden Maids cooked, sewed, and learned how to keep a proper home. Today, 4-H clubs and camps are coeducational and the boys and girls have the same opportunities open to them.
Cover of the “Third Annual Iowa Boys and Girls Club Contest” program booklet, 1912. RS 16/3/56, Box 1, Folder 16.
These are just some highlights from the exhibit. We hope you stop by Special Collections to see the full exhibit!
To learn more about Extension collections in the Special Collections Department, visit our University Archives Collection Inventory page for Extension as well as our Extension subject guide.