History of 4-H


The Smith–Lever Act of 1914 is a United States federal law that established a system of cooperative extension services, connected to the land-grant universities, in order to inform people about current developments in agriculture, home economics, public policy/government, leadership, 4-H, economic development, coastal issues (National Sea Grant College Program), and many other related subjects. It helped farmers learn new agricultural techniques by the introduction of home instruction.

4-H in the United States is a youth organization administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with the mission of "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development". The name represents four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The organization has over 6.5 million members in the United States, from ages 5 to 21, in approximately 90,000 clubs.

Glimpse of Oregon 4-H History

It was in 1911 that the Board of Regents of Oregon Agricultural College established the Oregon Extension Service, the same year that L.R. Alderman, state superintendent of public instruction, took action that became the foundation for today’s 4-H program.

Leo thompson, Malheur Co, 1920sActually, the roots of 4-H in Oregon reach back to 1904 when Alderman, then Yamhill County school superintendent, organized the first boy’s industrial club in his home community of Dayton. The idea spread and industrial club wok appeared in Yamhill, Polk and Benton counties in 1905. Done through the schools, the industrial club movement consisted mainly of a fair at which boys and girls could show articles which they had made or animals they had raised.

When Alderman became state superintendent of public instruction in 1911, he obtained funds from the state bankers’ association and the Union Stock Yards Company of Portland to hire two assistants to spread the work throughout the state, setting the stage for modern 4-H. His two assistants worked with county school superintendents to create interest in the fair idea.

The work was continued, thanks to an appropriation by the 1913 session of the Oregon Legislature which also authorized the conduct of juvenile industrial work under the direction of the state superintendent. That same legislative session also passed the laws which enabled Oregon counties to appropriate money for Extension work and which authorized Oregon to participate in the Extension education effort called for when Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914.

The early industrial work gave little attention to the teaching of subject matter. At the same time, work with youth in agriculture and home economics was being considered as an appropriate function of the national Extension movement then taking shape. In 1914, with agreement from the state superintendent of public instruction, the Oregon Extension Service employed F.L. Griffin as the first state leader of industrial clubs. His task was to assist the State Department of Education by bringing the resources of the OSU Schools of Agriculture and Home Economics into the youth programs.

A formal agreement between Extension and the State Department of Education was signed in 1916 which gave Extension the responsibility for supervising and direction boys’ and girls’ industrial work. The program was to be conducted in cooperation with county school superintendents and teachers.

The work was then redirected to organizing major activities of farm and home into definite projects. Each project contemplated a year’s or a season’s productive effort along practical and economic lines.

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