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Hands-On 4-H History

Hands-on activities and projects can be a fun and satisfying component of 4-H history for 4-H members, their families, clubs, communities or county. And, there is no limit to the creativity that can be generated. These activities can be a guide for assisting county Extension staff in determining what 4-H history is relevant to "keep" or "not to keep" and to build a program around it.

This section of the National 4-H History Preservation Website offers stories, suggestions and assistance that can help you as an individual get started thinking about 4-H history and what activities might interest you.

In addition to offering advice, the National 4-H History Preservation Program also welcomes advice. Please let us know about your "Hands-On" 4-H History project. Was it similar to something that we suggested; or, entirely different. We would like to hear from you and share your ideas with others. This "Hands-On" section of the history website will continue to be a "work in progress." As we hear about club, community and county 4-H history creative activities they will be added to the existing segments, or new ones created. Additionally, if you have photos you can send along to support your "Hands-On" activities, we would welcome these, too.

If 4-H has been an important part of community life in your county, let "History" become your 5th "H".

When in Doubt, Don't Throw it Out

In this time of downsizing Extension offices and getting rid of everything that is not usable today, 4-H history may be slipping through our fingers. This alarming fact is foremost in the minds of the National 4-H History Preservation team as we learn how whole state and county 4-H offices have simply gotten rid of much of the information on how the 4-H program came into being and grew all across the country. That's why one of our new programs is addressing this very situation.

Members of our team are currently building a program that we hope will help 4-H at every level to be preserved and made available to current efforts in: program development, staff development and training and fund raising for current program development and growth.

Local leaders, county, regional and state staff will all be able to find resources and exchange ideas on how and where they have saved and used historical 4-H information on our history preservation website.

If you have a success story on how you or someone you know has or is helping to save or use 4-H history successfully, please let us know at: We welcome your information and ideas.

Presentation on the importance and "process" of When in Doubt, Don't Throw it Out) Include:• Common Savers - As It Happens• Uncommon Savers - As It Happens• For Saving Today or Uncovering the Past• What `Drove' the 4-H Program Makes History• Ways to Help Collect Our 4-H History

Suggestions for Creating a History Saving Team

What is the role of the history saving team?

Choose four to five members:

  • One active adult volunteer 4-H leader - interested in 4-H history, served five or more years.
  • One retired volunteer 4-H leader or 4-H staff member - familiar with broader perspective on local 4-H program.
  • Two or three 4-H youth leaders - for documenting current 4-H with cameras, interviews or collecting program data.
  • 4-H staff member.

Common Savers -- As IT Happens (County 4-H Extension Office)

  • Club names, volunteer and member names
  • Names of county staff, Extension committee, County Commissioners, University Directors
  • Achievement (Night) Programs
  • Yearly plans of work, S 237 reports
  • Site maps of 4-H activities
  • Newspaper clippings on successes, community service, human interest stories
  • Press releases, unsolicited letters with references to programs
  • Photos of county fair club banners, revealing current 4-H themes, signs of the time, slogans of the day
  • Photos of 4-H exhibits reflecting technology, practices, interests
  • Samples of individual 4-H club secretary's minuts from different club types
  • Video of a 4-H club meeting, a demonstration, a judging session, etc. with emphasis on participation not just faces
  • Items from new programs, projects others
  • Anecdotal descriptions of any "wow" program happenings written by you, teen leaders, others
  • Flyers of new 4-H programs, telling more than dates, times and places
  • Samples of new ribbons used, other memorabilia.
Uncommon Savers -- As IT Happens (County 4-H Extension Office)
  • Articles in government reports, other sites, referencing 4-H
  • Sample awards
  • Grant proposals for excellent descriptions of 4-H program, lists of collaborators, budgets, etc.
  • Web search obits for recent leaders; member bios with 4-H descriptions
  • Web search fair board minutes of meetings, commissioner minutes, library writings. When searching 4-H, put quotation marks around it - "4-H" to eliminate entries citing 4's and H's.
  • A list of outside donors, supporters of your 4-H, possible photos
  • Notes on what's 'hot', 'in demand' in programs, public concerns, band-wagon issues
  • Thank you letters received noting strengths of a particular program
  • Your own memo notes on your feelings about a current issue or on the results of a delivered program. Imagine how valuable such found notes would be today if found written by a 4-H staff member in the 1930's; illustrating that you are an important part of history today.
  • Photos showing 4-H members using new technology of today with performing their 4-H project work or activities
  • Good photos documenting 4-H activities and events with the surrounding physical atmospheresand a portrayal of the ambiance associated with the participants
  • Any documents showing proof of the involvement of parents in the 4-H program
  • Think about what is highly valued in today's society and capture through photos or written evidence on how the 4-H experience fulfills these needs.

Suggestions for Creating a History Research Team

What is the role of the history research team?

Choose four to five members:

  • One 4-H club member alumnus and currently a volunteer 4-H leader - still involved with the program, has current relationship with Extnsion Office and has sense of program perspective over years.
  • One `old timer' 4-H alumnus member with community connections - may have kept in touch with other vintage leaders or members, may remember earlier staff and also known to collect 4-H history.
  • One technical wizard - someone with computer skills, a sense of organizing and sorting data and familiar with 4-H language.
  • One community power-leader figure with 4-H interests - someone with a connection to larger communities beyond 4-H participants, also perhaps a political or prominent social leader; can solicit donoirs and create leads for public awareness of this project.
  • One current 4-H staff member.

Finding Old 4-H History

Following is a partial list of where to possibly find old local 4-H history:

  • County 4-H Office archives
  • State 4-H Office archives
  • State Ag Department archives
  • State Home Economics/FCS Department archives
  • County Extension Committee secretary reports
  • County Commissioner meeting records
  • Local newspaper archives
  • Local museums
  • Area and state historical societies and museums
  • Secretary books of past 4-H clubs
  • Basement collections of past 4-H participants, members & leaders
  • Old "home movies" of 4-H meetings, events, interviews
  • Past 4-H staff collections
  • Past 4-H members' project records
  • Antique shops
  • Local Farm Bureau archival records
  • National 4-H History Preservation resources

Looking for Firsts and Lasts in County 4-H History

The first and the last of various 4-H program components create history. Here are some to be looking for as local history is being collected:

  • Identify the first 4-H office with designated staff working with 4-H
  • Identify the first 4-H club organized with leader and member names
  • Identify the first integrated 4-H club in gender, race, etc.
  • Identify the first 4-H club in each township, community, suburb, etc.
  • Identify the first 4-H club to reach 25 years, 50 years
  • Identify the first 4-H club hosted by a school, business, agency, etc.
  • Identify the first 'competition' event
  • Identify the first 4-H members to participate in competition outside the local county
  • Identify the first year with membership of a county-wide 4-H Federation or committee structure
  • Identify the first local radio or TV program conducted by 4-H participants
  • Identify the first observed 4-H Sunday and last
  • Identify the first club tour and last
  • Identify the first county 4-H community service project
  • Identify the first 4-H member to receive national recognition

Starting a Local 4-H History Club

If you have a strong interest in 4-H history - particularly that of the 4-H club you once belonged to... or perhaps belong to now... you may want to consider starting a local or county 4-H history club to document the history and preserve the local artifacts of your club, your county 4-H fair or other related activities.

A local 4-H History Club can be an exciting adventure going in many different directions, depending entirely upon your interests and your needs. In most cases we can assume that a local club would probably be at the county level, however it may well serve a single community.

How "structured" or "unstructured" you want your club to be is entirely your decision. For the most part, a local 4-H History Club certainly may not need bylaws or a charter, and may not even need officers; again, a personal choice. If you decide not to have officers, then you will need a person designated as leader, or co-leaders, and perhaps some committee chairs.

Start with your county Extension office. Let them know you have an interest in starting a local 4-H History Club and would like to work with them, if they have an interest in both setting up the club and determining club direction. In many cases, the county Extension 4-H staff... or retired staff, may actually be the source of starting the club themselves. In all cases, the local 4-H History Club should be supporting the work of the county 4-H office and staff.

While we often think of documenting and presrving our past history, its just as important to document contemporary history - what we are doing today - so in years to come we will have a record of our activities and experiences.

A local 4-H History Club can take multiple directions. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Begin to document the history of 4-H in your county.
  2. Work with residences in various communities in the county to document the 4-H history of every club in the county - current and in the past.
  3. Document the history of 4-H in county relating to the fair.
  4. Working with the county Extension office, begin developing a 4-H history archives.
  5. Develop a working relationship with the county history preservation society, county libraries, county museum or any similar organized groups to solicit their interest and assistance. Would any of these groups be interested in cooperating with your club in establishing a small history museum or permanent 4-H history display?
  6. If you are interested in soliciting 4-H artifacts from former 4-H members, work with the local media and let them know what you are doing.
  7. Members of your club may be intersted in offering a 4-H History Club speakers bureau or show-and-tell demonstrations describing 4-H from its earliest days and the impact it has had on the county.
  8. If you have members of your club who are comfortable giving interviews to the media - local newspaper, radio and television - this is a great way to spread the news about your club.
  9. Develop a 4-H history audio-visual presentation, even one on CD or DVD that could be sold to raise funds for the county 4-H program.
  10. Write a county 4-H history book; again, as a possible fund raiser for the county 4-H program.
  11. Determine who in the county might be prime candidates for doing some oral history interviews about their experiences and recollections of 4-H past.
  12. Your club may find having a booth at the county fair for raising awareness for 4-H history in your county could pay big dividends.
  13. You are certain to have some members of your club who may be collectors... interested in collecting 4-H memorabilia. This can be one of the most fun activities of a 4-H History Club, sharing artifacts of 4-H history, visiting flea markets and other possible sources for retrieving these items of the past. Join the 4-H Collectors Club at the national level - - membership is free. Perhaps in some cases, 4-H collecting may be center point of your club if your membership is more interested in this than actually documenting 4-H history. And, again, this is a decision of your club and your members.
  14. If your county Extension office has a website, ask if it may be possible to have a segment on their website about your local 4-H History Club.

A local 4-H History Club can often get help and perhaps become a part of an existing group or organization such as a county historical society, local museum or library.

These are just a few of the directions in which a local 4-H History Club can go - any, and all of them, are appropriate... and, there are many more if you start a club and begin doing some activities. Let us know how you are doing; send an e-mail to the National 4-H History Preservation Program at

Now, going back to the beginning. Although a local 4-H History Club may sound great, there are a couple of basic questions you should ask yourself. First, do you have a strong interest in 4-H history... and, do you have the time? A club may not have to take a lot of time, but this can often get out-of-hand if club members get excited about projects and possibilities. Determine if there are others in the county who may share your interest in 4-H history and would be willing to participate. How often should your club meet? This is entirely up to you. Some clubs may decide to schedule monthly meetings while others may create their schedule from meeting to meeting. If your club is very project oriented, these projects may dictate when and where your club meets.

Two things to remember. First, a local 4-H History Club can provide a tremendous service to your county in documenting an important segment of the county's history. And, second, it should be pleasurable. Go at it with the intent of having fun.

Starting a Local 4-H History Museum

Having a 4-H history museum in your county probably sounds like a great idea. But, first, we need to clarify exactly what we are talking about. Technically, there are a few local 4-H history museums in existance in the U.S. but these are indeed rare.

What is more suitable for most counties is a permanent 4-H museum display in some already existing facility. Three likely candidates spring to mind - the county Extension office, a local library, or the county Historical Society. There may well be others, depending upon your county.

So what are we talking about. First, a local 4-H history museum should be a permanent display of history. This can range from some prmanent display cases in a separate room set aside for the 4-H museum. A room is far the best option so long as you have enough 4-H history to fill it. But there are things that just don't lend themselves to a display case. For example, an old official 4-H uniform looks great on a period mannikin, but probably doesn't fit inside of a case.

Where to start? The logical place to begin is to find a small group of people who are interested in helping start a local 4-H museum. In all likelihood, these may be 4-H alumni, local leaders and county Extension staff (both current or past for both groups), local businessmen, and perhaps someone from the local library or historical society. As a group, determine what you envision the county 4-H history museum looking like. Where you would like to see the museum housed. What types of 4-H artivacts you would like to see included. Remember, everything doesn't have to be on permanent display. In fact, it is better if the exhibits or changed periodically. 4-H camp or 4-H fair artifacts might be more appropriate to have on display in the summertime, whereas 4-H Week or seasonal 4-H projects may lend themselves to other times of the year.

The next step is two-fold. Determining a site for the museum and beginning to gather local 4-H memorabilia. An article in the local newspaper can often help pull the items out of the basements and attics. Have some established guidelines on what you will accept and a documented, clear understanding before you start excepting contributions to the museum. You probably don't need 150 copies of old 4-H goat mamuals, but a photograph of a 4-H float from the 1930s may become an exhibit centerpiece.

Undoubtedly, you are going to also need to develop a budget - how much money will be needed? Even if you are lucky enough to have someone offer you free space for the museum, you still need appropriate display cases - lighted cases and secure cases. You will need appropriate signage. You may want some audio/visual displays or maybe even computer-based. Your 4-H museum may need to have its own website. Will the museum be staffed? What hours will it be open for the general public? And, remember, having a good location that is easily accessibl by potential museum visitors may be far more important than the free space offered. In other words, its nice to have "free space" for the museum, but if it is a remote location meaning nobody is going to see it, that's not good either.

Make sure the county Extension office is a full participant in every step along the way. Get their staff input and ideas as the 4-H museum is going to reflect on their office as well as on your group. Relating to the money, a fund raiser for establishing a 4-H history museum can be very popular. Many 4-H alumni, particularly, would be receptive to the project.

Printed materials for the museum, such as programs, reports, record books, even scrapbooks, don't always lend themselves to display purposes, but this is why it is also a good idea to consider having a museum website as these items can easily be scanned for inclusion on your site.

We anticipate that with more local 4-H history museums being developed, we will have a lot of ideas to share in this segment in the future... including yours.

How to Write a 4-H Club History

Writing a local club history is nearly as personal as writing a family history - it usually involves a single community, or part of a community. If the club has a fairly long history... several decades, it becomes generational, not unlike a family. And, we can assume most families belonging to the 4-H club pretty much know one another. So what sorts of things do we want to include?

  • How the club started. How did you choose your club name? Who was the first leader; first members? What kinds of projects did the members enroll in, and what kinds of club activities were held?
  • If possible, compile rosters of club members through the years, and club officers, club leaders.
  • Significant occurences in the club, i.e. club members who sent to state competition and their experiences, or to National 4-H Congress or National 4-H Conference; did any club member ever become an IFYE or any club family host an IFYE; did the club ever win a Share-the-Fun competition, county club 4-H baseball league or bowling league; was there ever a "4-H wedding" between two members of the club. This list can go on as far as you imagination allows... experiences at the county fair, 4-H camp, building a 4-H float or display, special recognitions.
  • Search out old 4-H memorabilia relating to the club. Ask families in the community who have (or had) members in the club if they have any photos of club activities they can share.

Include oral histories from some of the older members and from club leaders.

What do you want to do with your history - print the history, put it on CD or DVD, write a feature in the local newspaper. Whatever direction you take, make sure you share a copy of the end result with your local library. And, from the very beginning, let your county Extension office know you interest in writing the club history and get their suggestions and support. They may already have a file on your club which could provide a good start.

Writing a 4-H History of Your County

(Bill Svendsgaard)

4-H History Displays at the Fair, the Library, etc.

Starting a 4-H History Exhibit

Each item of this 1920s collection of calling cards, news clippings, train ticket, photos, postcard, programs, letter and 4-H Armour Club Tour pennant has a 4-H story in it.

Visible displays are a great way to reach people, whether at the county fair, 4-H office, a local library or school or the show window of a local business. National 4-H Week, fair week… actually, most any time is a good time for an exhibit featuring 4-H history.

The more old local photographs you can use in your history display; the better. Search for old photos from the county fair; 4-H'ers with their projects; activities at 4-H Camp; delegates heading off to National 4-H Camp, National 4-H Conference or National 4-H Congress; 4-H picnics or achievement nights; 4-H fund raisers; floats and displays from years gone by…

People love to see themselves in these photos, or pick out and recognize friends or neighbors, perhaps from 20, 30 or 40 years ago!

If you are lucky enough to find a lot of local photos, why not change the photos in your window display every month. After a short while, people will start coming by just to see if the exhibit has been changed. Or, you could give your changing exhibits a theme - have an exhibit depicting livestock projects, maybe one on foods projects or clothing projects, engineering type projects, 4-H camp, county trip winners to national 4-H events through the years… people will look forward to the changing exhibits. And, it may well be easy to find a couple of volunteers to take on the exhibit job; preferably current 4-H members and a couple of volunteer adult leaders working together.

In addition to photos, don't forget other interesting historic memorabilia to go along with them. 4-H ribbons, buttons and trophies, old 4-H Week posters or 4-H calendars, old record books, 4-H uniforms, 4-H heritage quilts… there is no end to what could be included - just if you can find it.

Working with Your Local Historical Society on 4-H History

(several state examples)

Collecting 4-H Memorabilia

Many people who have experienced 4-H - as a member, parent, club leader, extension agent, donor or friend - have fond memories of these experiences.

Some of you have kept the artifacts and memorabilia associated with your 4-H years... perhaps a 4-H medal or ribbon, a record book, project manual or leaders guide, a scrapbook. You probably have memories of 4-H club meetings, the 4-H fair and perhaps experienced going to 4-H camp, 4-H Congress or some other event.

The 4-H History Preservation program has a website dedicated just to 4-H collecting:

Build a County 4-H History Tree

As you gather 4-H collectibles and find old pictures, let your momentum of findings generate more and more. If it was intresting enough to choose and keep, it's interesting enough for others to get excitd in finding more to help you. Shout out what you have - shout out what you need. The time is now because never before have so many families gotten into their own family genealogy... lead them to transfer that excitment into helping create the genealogy tree of 4-H in their county.

Adapt the traditional family tree idea into a county 4-H history tree. What a great organizer for you with the help of many others. The trunk becomes the county 4-H program from its beginning with its inception date at the bottom of the trunk. The very earliest programs become the bottom branches, with their beginning dates embedded where they leave the trunk and the branch's length is drawn by how long the program lasted. Lots of 4-H programs come and go; some hold their own for years while other last only a year or so, but all branch out chronologically along the trunk to the top which would be the current year. Some programs generate another program so they so they could divide off from the parent branch. Ilnterspaced along the trunk would also be individual clubs. For counties of a long history and countless programs, the tree may become a wall poster where many can help add onto it throughout the year and they confirm the necessary information. Lots of ingenuity happens when individual clubs may wish to complete their own information - such as adding leaves on their club branch with a family name on each leaf, and so on.

(4-H History Tree diagram example)

Create a 4-H Leader Timeline

This project would serve as a fine accompaniment to the History Tree. Create a paper time line on a wall or hallway, perhaps in the Extension office, local library or community center, with years marked off covering the years of history for your county 4-H program... or local 4-H club. It will be easy to write in all present leaders as they can tell you what year they started serving, but the search goes on as everyone tries to remember, or contacts those they know were once a leader. Emphasizing the importance and historical validity for all previous leaders to be included will generate a greater search. It's surprising how somebody knows somebody who knows somebody to find the names of these leaders to get information from them about their whole 4-H experience. 4-H volunteer leaders hold the history either in their stories or in their boxes of saved mementos, offering more information far beyond filed fliers in a 4-H office. It's more than one person or even a team could ever discover on their own. Even adding to this provenance would be photos of them with a one line quote of their experience. Enter each leader's name on the year that service began, along with the name of the 4-H club if you are doing the timeline for an entire county.

(leadership timeline diagram example)

4-H Program Picture Puzzles

Use the "jump on the bandwagon" truism and generate more by posting three pictures together to fill the three quarters of a square with one quarter unfilled. For example, three pictures may be from the 4-H Fashion Review (maybe even as precise as a given year) and you need one more from anyone to complete the square. It becomes a hunt by many and perhaps points or prizes can be given to fan momentum or create many of these puzzle squares and have each club choose a couple of puzzles. You may be surprised how many personal pictures actually are taken throughout a year by family participants. They become valuable history documentation that usually gets lost in a couple of years if not collected. When everyone knows that the true benefit of participating is helping construct their own county or club 4-H history, there is more validity in providing assistance - and who knows who doesn't want to become a part of history. As you know what's missing from your history, you choose the squares to fill. Remember, any subject area can become a puzzle - 4-H camp, fair, public speaking contests, livestock judging... if it's a part of a project, activity or event, it can easily become a picture puzzle.

How to Plan and Conduct Oral Audio and Visual History Interviews

Why Collect 4-H Oral History?

A goal of the 4-H Oral History project is to collect information that reflects personal and community based 4-H history and the 4-H organization’s story. Getting different perspectives on history involves asking many different people to share their stories.

For example, Former staff members can explain how the organization made decisions, promoted programs, managed events or recruited volunteers. From information like this, the story of how the organization has changed through time will emerge. Volunteer leaders can explain what activities were popular with kids, what programs were most enduring in their communities, and how adults benefited from their involvement with kids. Former 4-H members can tell about how 4-H helped them grow as individuals or influenced their career choice. This kind of information will tell both the organizational and the personal story.

Why Should 4-H’ers Be Involved in Collecting 4-H History?

The story of 4-H in the United States is in the hearts and minds of people who lives were touched by 4-H. It is the collective memory of our families and communities. Much of it has never been recorded. 4-H members enrolled in 4-H today are important stakeholders in the 4-H story. You represent the contemporary generation of 4-H’ers. As “insiders” you know 4-H language and traditions. By “doing history” and recording memories of others, you can learn many new skills including interviewing, historical research, and written and oral communication skills.

Why Should 4-H Volunteer Leaders and Staff Be Involved?

4-H Volunteer Leaders and Staff are important insiders—movers and shakers, even—of the organization. Building on the efforts of those 4-H leaders and staff who came before is part of our 4-H identity. Being “4-H proud” or aware of 4-H traditions is a reflective activity that helps adults in 4-H better understand the current principles and goals of the 4-H organization. Nostalgia, alone, might motivate some adults to be involved with the project. Those who love antiques, old photographs, and talking about the past will enjoy the 4-H Oral History project as an enrichment activity that fills a need in their personal or professional lives.

4-H staff continues the history of the organization. They rely on passed-down knowledge about their county events and customs. Staff members are in the forefront to introduce new 4-H programs. They have connections to former 4-H people. They also have direct access to 4-H office files. Together with volunteer leaders, 4-H staff can prepare and conduct training for 4-H members that will make the 4-H Oral History Project a success!

Getting Started

(Adapted from MU Extension Oral History Project – David L. Burton – April 2012)

Here’s a quick guide to some things you need to think about as you begin an Oral History Project.

  • Decide your goal for conducting the oral history interview.
  • Identify your audience. How will you select the people you will interview? Contact potential interviewees, explain your project, and ask for help.
  • Assemble an interview team. You will need someone to conduct the interview and someone to manage the recording equipment, especially if you are planning to conduct a video interview.
  • Think about the equipment you will need to use. Research and choose the kind of recording that you want to produce. For example, does it need to be broadcast quality? Does it need a long life? What can you afford? How will you edit the interview? The local extension office, a school in the community and/or a public cable station may be good sources of equipment you can borrow.
  • Compile a list of topics or questions for the interview.
  • Participate in training or research information about conducting Oral History Projects.
  • Practice interviewing and practice using the recording equipment.
  • Schedule and conduct the interview.
  • Edit the interview after it is completed and prepare it for submission.

There are many steps involved that will ensure a successful Oral History Project. If you are a 4-H staff person or adult volunteer, you will want to plan one or more training sessions for the 4-H members who will conduct the interviews. Michigan 4-H has a good project book that will be helpful. Other state extension programs may also have resources that you can use and we will post links to materials on this website as they become available.

Planning and Creating a 4-H Heritage Quilt

(Michigan & Ohio 4-H Quilt articles; Jan Scholl's article on 4-H quilts in the NEAFCS Journal; others)

Requirements for Identifying Items in the 4-H Virtual Quilt Exhibit

When submitting images for the 4-H Virtual Quilt Exhibit, the following pieces of information must be provided for each image.

  • Name of Quilt:
  • Quilt image:
  • Exhibition number:
  • Overall Quilt description:
  • When was quilt made:
  • Where was quilt made:
  • Quilt Top description:
  • Quilt Top materials and construction:
  • Quilt Back materials and construction:
  • Quilt binding:
  • Quilt notes and observations:
  • Quiltmaker identification:
  • Quilt provenance or history:
  • Exhibition history of quilt:
  • Quilt ownership and/or permanent location:
  • Other information:

Unique... and Historical 4-H Crafts

While 4-H heritage quilts deserve a section by themselves, traditionally 4-H members have been known to produce many other forms of unique crafts and handiwork projects displaying the 4-H emblem or telling the 4-H story. These go back to the very beginning of 4-H and take many different forms. These include lace making, tatting, crocheting, embroidery and other needlework, hooked rugs, basketry, pottery, wood carving, leathercraft, handmade dolls and folk art to name just a few. These items all display an affection that the maker had for 4-H or for a particular 4-H experience. And, they are all a part of 4-H history, particularly at the local level where they were produced. As you observe 4-H exhibits at 4-H county fairs or achievement days, pay particular attention to the crafts or handiwork area and you are sure to see these types of items displayed bearing the 4-H emblem. The crafts you see at exhibits today are part of what is called contemporary 4-H History. They should be documented and saved for the future.
String art is the unique medium used here by Maryland 4-H'er, Diana Kahler, to create the official clover.

At the same time you can also suggest to 4-H leaders and members or 4-H agents to keep their eyes open for these same items from the past as they help to clean out their family attics, garages or office files. If you have a particularly creative piece of 4-H crafts in your possession or county office, please send us a picture of it with the details. We will put a few of these up on this segment of the "Hands On 4-H" section of the history website. What can be done with these items or photographs of them?

  1. Make a window display during National 4-H Week or at the annual county or local achievement program or your county fair.
  2. Ask the local library or museum for a space where 4-H history items can be displayed on a permanent or rotating (changing) basis.
  3. Take photographs of them and use them to illustrate articles in "then and now" columns in the local newspaper.
  4. Print the photos on fabric for quilts or on tee shirts for 4-H historical events or fundraising activities.
  5. Use them as props or idea stimulators when conducting oral history interviews with former 4-H members, leaders or extension staff members.
  6. Display them at 4-H activity planning sessions to stimulate some new handicraft projects to be created at 4-H camps or other events.
  7. Photograph them and print note cards to sell as a club or county fund-raising activity.
  8. Be creative!

Creating a County 4-H "Blue Ribbon" History Cookbook

Wouldn't it be great to have the recipes from all those 4-H grand champion and blue ribbon cakes and pies you saw at the county fair over the years? A lot of these recipes are probably still around. Its just a matter of researching the fair records and finding the families of the winners. And, you'll probably find some really good, old recipes along the way. It wouldn't be uncommon for someone to say, "My grandmother won a blue ribbon on her chocolate cake in 4-H back in the early 1930's… we still use her recipe." What a great project - pulling all of these local prize-winning recipes together. With the computer, its not that much work… and, it might well be something that can be sold - "Fifty years of 4-H Blue Ribbon Recipes in Taylor County" - something like that.

Many 4-H clubs and 4-H foundations have produced 4-H cookbooks through the years using blue ribbon 4-H recipes. Most of these were produced for fund-raising purposes. Some of the cookbooks combine history with the recipes… while still being a fund-raiser.

"North Carolina's 4-H Centennial Cookbook: Celebrating 100 Years of Blue Ribbon Recipes" is truly a combined 4-H recipe and history book. Many colorful stories accompany the recipes as described by 4-H alumni. The collection, compiled in commemoration of the 2009 centennial of the state's 4-H program, is generating proceeds which will be used to establish a 4-H Foods and Nutrition Endowment, so that 4-H'ers in the next century will continue their own success stories to tell.

Another one of these cookbooks is "Favorite Recipes of Illinois 4-H Through the Years," produced by the Illinois 4-H Foundation.

Ray Martin IV, of Walkersville 4-H Club, Walkersville, Maryland, proudly displays his Grand Champion coconut layer cake at the 2012 Frederick County 4-H Cake Auction at the Great Frederick Fair. Posing with Ray is Rick Agoris of the Ridgeville Service Center of Mount Airy, who purchased the cake for $2,750.

It includes all of the most requested 4-H recipes from the past 60 years. Jananne Finck, retired University of Illinois Extension educator for nutrition and wellness, and a member of the cookbook committee, says "Fairly often I hear from a former 4-H'er who is looking for a lost recipe. Anyone who took a foods project in 4-H will enjoy this book."

"4-H Family Favorites" - the simple title of a cookbook compiled by the Facilities Betterment Project Committee, Cherokee, Iowa, contains 384 well-loved recipes of 4-H members, families, leaders and alumni. In addition to the recipes, the book contains many pages of helpful cooking hints along with a special section on 4-H history and the history of the 4-H uniform.

The recently published Racine County (Wisconsin) 4-H cookbook with 875 recipes from 4-H families and alumni, also includes a section on 4-H history. And, Pike County, Indiana's 4-H cookbook has over 400 recipes. The proceeds from their effort will go toward upgrading the kitchen at the 4-H building.

4-H Night at the Movies

If you need an activity for a cold winter's night for your 4-H club, or even at the county level, consider a 4-H Night at the Movies featuring old 4-H films or videos.

The National 4-H History Preservation program is building an Audio/Visual archive, digitizing old 4-H films… some of them dating back into the 1920s. As these get added to the 4-H history preservation website, they will provide a ready resource for a Night at the Movies. You'll have to provide your own popcorn, but there should be a great selection of movies from which to choose - even some full length features made in Hollywood.

Adding to this, locally produced home movies or slide sets will make the evening even more enjoyable.

Visit: for the 4-H Films, Audio/Visual Archives.

Planning a History Night at the Club Level

Identifying and Using 4-H Alumni for History

(from Alumni section; many states)

It is estimated that there are over 60 million 4-H alumni in the U.S. Some of the parents and leaders in your 4-H program were probably in 4-H. Other people who live and work in your community were involved in 4-H clubs and programs.

4-H alumni are living connections to 4-H history. Learning more about their 4-H experiences and comparing them to what is happening in 4-H today can be an interesting and fun hands-on history activity.

In your club meetings or as an individual activity, talk with some 4-H alumni about their 4-H experiences. Compare what they did in 4-H to what you do now. Here are some ideas to get you started:

- What were the major 4-H projects?
- What did 4-H clubs do? What were their 4-H meetings like?
- What service projects did they do?
-What county, state and national 4-H events did they attend (such as camps, state conferences, National 4-H Conference or National 4- Congress)? What were they like? What did they do and learn?
- What impact did these have on them?

You might be surprised at how 4-H is the same and how 4-H has changed. You may find alumni that have stories that you want to capture in a Voices of 4-H History project interview.

Interpreting 4-H History - Reenactments

(Virginia 4-H... others)

Planning a Successful 4-H Reunion

Promote a 4-H History Dance Night

At the local club or county level, you may want to consider planning and holding a 4-H Dance Night based on history as a special activity. This could be fun for current 4-H members and leaders, parents and grandparents, and 4-H alumni.

Determine your time frame - for example, from the 1920's through current. Feature music from every decade. In this case, it may be easier to have a disc jockey handle the music rather than expect a live band to feature all the various types of music.

Consider having table top displays or cork-board display panels that can feature photos of 4-H history, county 4-H king and queen contests from years past, and perhaps photos of proms or homecoming dances from the local high schools. Those attending will be interested in identifying people they recognize or remember.

Maybe highlight a dance competition for various eras… the Charleston from the 1920's… the big band music of the 40's… jitterbug… rock and roll… maybe even throw in a polka or a Texas two step… you get the idea. Encourage couples to dress for their specialty if they are competing in the competition. At some point during the evening you may want to consider a special feature that breaks the audience down… a special dance only for those under 20, another for those 20-40, and 40-60, and maybe even participants 60 and over, playing an appropriate music selection for each group. A spin-off might be to consider playing a rather fast paced music selection over and over and hold a mini-dance marathon… say 15 or 20 minutes, and see how many people are still dancing when the music stops. You can consider judges and prizes for any of these activities. The more ways you can think of to weave 4-H history into the evening, the better.

A 4-H History Dance Night can also be a fund-raiser, although perhaps rather than attempting to sell tickets, having a way to solicit donations as people leave might be a more appropriate way of fund-raising.

Offer a Public Speaking Contest on 4-H History

If you are seeking ways to give your 4-H'ers - either at the club or the county level - some extra "practice" in honing their public speaking skills, consider holding a public speaking contest on 4-H History. You can set the specific rules and guidelines, or use the same guidelines used for other 4-H public speaking events.

Help the participants to choose a topic which they will feel comfortable in talking about and capable of researching. Here are 10 quick examples:

  • history of their local 4-H club
  • the 4-H fair - 20 years ago and today
  • early years at 4-H camp
  • how 4-H started in our county
  • the days when 4-H'ers wore uniforms
  • my parents' experiences growing up and belonging to 4-H
  • my grandparents' experiences in 4-H
  • what was a 4-H Victory Garden?
  • does anyone remember Mulligan Stew?
  • the history of the 4-H clover emblem.

The National 4-H History Preservation website offers many other possibilities if the member wants to do some researching through the site archives or the National 4-H History section. They may select National 4-H Camp, the 4-H Postage Stamp, 4-H and Sports, U.S. Presidents and 4-H or many other topics. Many states have written state 4-H histories and county histories in conjunction with their centennial celebrations. These books and resources should also be considered.

If you hold a Public Speaking Contest on 4-H History, be sure to document the speeches on audio or video so the presentations can become a part of your local 4-H history archives.

Consider a 4-H History Fashion Show

Most county 4-H programs at some point in their history - sometimes for decades - have offered a 4-H fashion show (or dress revue, depending upon the era). These have often been highlights of the county fair or sometimes are a special event in and of themselves.

A 4-H history fashion show can actually go two entirely different directions. You can build a show around past winners and participants in 4-H fashion shows gone by, inviting back 4-H alumni to once again model the outfits they wore in previous fashion shows, or have a current 4-H member wear their outfit. A whole program can be built around this concept and it can be a lot of fun and a good publicity event.

The second type of history fashion show can be built around a show modeling the various 4-H uniforms worn over the past century. The National 4-H History Development Program has a development team currently working on researching and writing about all the various 4-H uniforms worn through the years and attempting to come up with patterns for many of them so they can be re-made and worn in a show like this. To contact this team working on 4-H uniform history, write:

Making Decisions on Where to Donate Your 4-H History

4-H and U.S. Presidents

Since almost the beginning of 4-H, presidents and/or first ladies have met with 4-H members, volunteers and staff to recognize their efforts and the accomplishments of the 4-H program.

Have any 4-H members, alumni, volunteers or staff in your club or local 4-H program been honored by the president or first lady for their 4-H accomplishments? Invite them to tell their stories at a club meeting, or interview them to share at a club meeting or write an article foryour 4-H newsletter or web page.

For many years… up until 1993, the 4-H Presidential awards were presented to top 4-H winners at th National 4-H Congress; given in the name of the President of the United States. A complete list of Presidential winners can be found on the 4-H history preservation website. A direct link is:

If there are any past presidential winners living in your area, they would be great candidates for an oral history interview.

For several decades, selected 4-H members presentd the 4-H Report-to-the-Nation to the president. Role-play that you and members of your club have been asked to give a new 4-H Report-to-the-Nation to the president. What information would you need to gather? What would you tell the president about 4-H today?

During National 4-H Week, prepare a 4-H Report-to-the-Community about your club or county progam that you can present to local officials and stakeholders. Thank them for their support that has contributed to these local 4-H achievements.

Create a 4-H Photo Wall of Memories

Here is a great 4-H history activity for the county fair, county achievement night… or, even for display in the county Extension office - Create a 4-H Wall of Memories.

This is a totally participatory project. Simply create signs for every decade: 2000-2009; 1990-1999; 1980-1989; perhaps going clear back to the 1920s.

Ask 4-H members, 4-H clubs, alumni, to bring snapshots… photos of themselves with one of their 4-H projects from the time they were in 4-H. If you are a member of a 4-H multi-generational family, you may have photos of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who were in 4-H, as well. Bring the photos and place them on the wall under the appropriate decade. Make sure every photo has a caption identifying who is in the picture.

When the Photo Wall is completed… actually it can be an ongoing project, it will become a great conversation piece. People will view the photos, trying to identify the people in each picture and recalling great memories and experiences of times gone by. They may see Jim and his Hereford steer… Jane and her 3-layer chocolate cake… Scott participating in a tractor skills course… Andrew building a model rocket… Mary in her 4-H Queen dress… Betty and Barb at 4-H Camp… Clarence returning from a 4-H International experience… Frank and Susan at the 4-H Fair… Bob and Susan on a hayride (Susan gets around)… Mel at National 4-H Conference… anyway, you get the idea.

4-H photo walls can also be geared to special events. A photo wall of 4-H camp through the years, or the 4-H fair, or just your local 4-H club through the years, all have possibilities.

Consider a 4-H History Bowl

Set up very similar to the old television "College Bowl" program pitting teams from three colleges again on another in a competitive setting. The 4-H History Bowl can be done in a county with clubs competing, at the state level with various sections of the state in competion, or perhaps even with an individual club. If done as an activity within the program of a county achievement night, for example, teams might be composed of parents, 4-H leaders and agents and other guests… not just 4-H members.

The Tennessee 4-H History Bowl is an excellent example.

The three geographic sections of Tennessee -- Western, Central and Eastern -- compete, each having a team of players. There are two parts to the contest. In Part I, there is a pool of 12 questions with each team having the opportunity to answer four questions each without any competition from the other teams. The questions are rotated between the regions. Each team's questions are drawn from the pool of questions on stage. A correct answer counts 10 points. An incorrect answer results in 10 points deducted from a team's score. There is no penalty for an unanswered question.Teams have five seconds to answer a question. In Part II, each team, seated at a table, will have a signal box. When a question is asked, the first team to press its signal button will have the opporltunity to answer the question. The team whose signal light is activated will have the opportunity to answer the question even if another team answers out of turn. After one signal button is pressed, no other signal will register. Contestants should b sure their signal is lit before giving an answer. The team with the activated signal will have five seconds in which to give an answer. Either member of the team may press the signal button and either may answer the question, but it would b wise for one team member to be sure of the answer before flashing the signal. If the signal button is pressed before the question is completed, the team must answer without no further information given. Correct answers will count 10 points each. An incorrect answer or failure to answer after a team has turned on its signal light will take 10 points from a team score. There will be no partial credit for a question. A team that "goes in the hole" 50 points drops out of the contest. The contest will continue until on team has scored 200 points or until expiration of allotted time, whichever comes first. If two or more teams are tied when time is up, one question will be asked to break the tie (other teams are not eligible). Score keepers standing behind the teams will use cards to keep the audience informed on team scores. Scores in Parts I and II will be combined to determine the winner.

While Tennessee's Bowl structure includes three teams of two people each, the number of teams or number of team members is whatever is appropriate for your situation.

The questions covered in the Tennessee example are of three types -- Tennessee history, 4-H history and Tennessee Current Events.

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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