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Published: June 25, 2011

4-H Clubs

An educative organization for nearly 7 million youngsters 9 to 19, founded in Iowa in 1906 to help farm youth “learn by doing.” Expanded into a national organization in 1914, 4-H was a rural counterpart to the YOUNG MEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION, YOUNG MEN’S/YOUNG WOMEN’S HEBREW ASSOCIATION and urban settlement houses of that era in that it was a response to growing fears that idle adolescents in America were out of control. Only 10% of American children attended high school while the rest went to work in factories, mines and fields. Jessie Field Shambaugh (1881–1971), the Page County, Iowa, superintendent of schools, founded the first clubs in 1906. At the time, agricultural employment was seasonal work that left tens of thousands of adolescents roaming the roads of the American countryside.
After the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE to provide agricultural education for adults, the extension of such educational services to youngsters was a natural outgrowth, and the 4-H Clubs served as a conduit for those services. Although suburban and urban youngsters now outnumber rural members, 4-H continues to function under the Cooperative Extension Service, in cooperation with state and county governments, various agricultural colleges and county extension agents. Each club has a volunteer adult, trained by a county extension agent. The emblem of 4-H is a four-leaf clover, designed by Shambaugh, with an H on each leaf, representing the words Head, Hands, Heart and Health. Each member participates in one or more appropriate career-oriented projects such as raising and selling livestock, raising and canning vegetables and fruit, conducting scientific experiments, participating in an engineering project and participating in some citizenship or leadership project. Educational television provides special programs for 4-H members, teaching electronic work, automotive care and safety, animal care and preparedness in emergencies. 4-H expanded into Canada in 1931 and has now spread to some 85 other countries.