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The History of the National 4-H Camp, 1927-1956

The History of the National 4-H Camp, 1927-1956

Written by Tyler Archer, National 4-H Council, July 2010

Since its earliest years, experiential learning and the formation of relationships among youth from different backgrounds and geographic regions have been important cornerstones for the continued success of America's 4-H program. When (Township Superintendent of Schools in Ohio) A.B. Graham and (Superintendent of Schools in Clarion, Iowa) O.H. Benson and others in other states began the nation's first 4-H clubs at the start of the twentieth century, however, it is unlikely that these early pioneers envisioned how essential camping programs and national gatherings of members would become to 4-H.[1] The fact that these national programs have grown and prospered since the formative years of the 4-H program demonstrates their continued centrality to the 4-H mission throughout its history. Events such as National Conference, 4-H Congress and Citizenship Washington Focus have become annual traditions for 4-H youth around the country, and their success can be attributed in part to the vision of the early extension personnel and officials in the Department of Agriculture who established the first regular national gathering of 4-H members- National 4-H Camp. National 4-H Camp was held in Washington DC twenty-six times between 1927 and 1956 before being replaced as an annual event by National 4-H Conference in 1957. Although National 4-H Camp has been obsolete in name for more than half a century, the enthusiasm it created for 4-H through similar national programs remains. Moreover, for twenty-six years it made an indelible impression on the countless youth who participated in the event and experienced the speeches by national leaders, field trips to nationally significant sites, and camaraderie among participants that made it a much anticipated yearly tradition by 4-H members and leaders from around the country.

Because of the extensive geographic scope of 4-H, it became clear early in the organization's existence that national gatherings of some kind would be necessary to facilitate discussion and interaction between members and leaders. According to Franklin Reck, a national meeting of state leaders was held in 1919 and there had been considerable discussion about holding a regular national meeting. Such a meeting would facilitate the recognition of outstanding junior leaders as well as allow leaders "to restate their ideals and gain inspiration from each other" as they went about their club work.[2] Following much discussion among extension personnel as well as the Department of Agriculture, in 1925 USDA approved the establishment of a national Camp to be held in the nation's capital. The primary purposes of the first annual 4-H Camp were:

1.To reward and develop outstanding junior leaders in club work;
2.To acquaint club members with their government, and to acquaint Washington with club work; and
3.To provide a convenient time and place for a meeting of all state leaders, both north and south.[3]

After USDA granted approval for the Camp, the first annual National 4-H Camp was held June 16th-23rd, 1927 on the grounds of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC.[4] The first national 4-H gathering held in Washington in nearly ten years was a tremendous success in terms of attendance, with 275 4-H club members and leaders representing 41 states attending and camping on the lawn in front of the West Wing of the Department of Agriculture in pyramidal tents.[5] The original plan for the National 4-H Camp called for four delegates from each state, two boys and two girls, although each state was responsible for the selection of their own delegations. Many states used application processes or state contests to determine which members would serve as national representatives. The only criteria established by national organizers for the selection of delegates was that each delegate must be at least 15 years old and have a minimum of three years of club experience before attending the National Camp. Although the states were offered the opportunity to provide four delegates to the event, each state was responsible for financing its own trips, which proved more or less costly depending on the state's location in relation to Washington.[6]

Figure 1: The campground for the first National 4-H Camp located on the USDA grounds.[7]

Camping outdoors beneath the shadow of the Washington Monument became one of the signature aspects of the Camp during its early years. Furthermore, the program of the first annual Camp in 1927 became the prototype for subsequent national 4-H events held in Washington DC. The week-long program featured national leaders and included speeches and lectures by prominent government officials such as W.M. Jardine, the Secretary of Agriculture, C.B. Smith from the federal office of Extension Work, Commissioner of Education J. J. Tigert and Congressional representatives such as J. B. Aswell of Louisiana.[8] In his remarks to Camp participants, Jardine noted his pride for being Secretary of Agriculture at the time of the first Camp as well as his excitement that the event would "grow in importance" each year.[9] The optimism expressed by Jardine was a common theme throughout the first annual event, and was articulated throughout the organization following the Camp's conclusion. The National Boys and Girls Club News described the Camp's participants as "young, earnest boys and girls from the rural districts of the nation, together with their leaders planning for the future and preparing to go back home to leaven their commonwealths and communities and to impart to their fellow members the fundamental principles of the American nation, of progress, true success and right living."[10] Through the Camp, organizers and national 4-H program leaders had hoped to inculcate values necessary for the preservation of the republic among the nation's brightest young people and 4-H club members.

Figure 2: Campers on the USDA grounds at the first annual National 4-H Camp.[11]

In addition to lectures and speeches, delegates had the opportunity to take unforgettable tours of interest in and around the nation's capital including Mount Vernon, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Although much of the program was made up of organized events, the Camp was well known for the spontaneous chances it provided young people to meet peers from other states and share ideas as well as build camaraderie as a group in support of the national 4-H movement. Evening camp fires on the USDA grounds became a memorable aspect of the experience for many campers and served as a catalyst for lifelong friendships fostered through 4-H.[12]

Figure 3: Tennessee delegates at the first National 4-H Camp.[13]

While the first National 4-H Camp provided a tremendous experience for delegates, it also allowed 4-H leaders from around the nation to conference and share ideas about the future directions of the national 4-H program. Because of the regional diversity of the program, it was difficult to productively express programmatic priorities to individual states and leaders without a formal annual meeting. Franklin Reck observes that the first National 4-H Club Camp in 1927 was the first time that state leaders from both the North and South had worked together to jointly plan for the future of the 4-H program.[14] Such planning was becoming more and more necessary as the program grew in size across the country and the organization's objectives were becoming more and more regionalized.

During this first national meeting, many steps were taken to create a program with universal goals and objectives across the country. Among the most significant resolutions by the leaders during their meetings was a motion to the Land Grant College Association to "permit this national Camp to become an annual event for an indefinite period."[15]The resolution was an important step in the transformation of 4-H from a loose network of individual boys' and girls' clubs into a truly credible national organization. Another significant accomplishment of the inaugural National 4-H Club Camp was the adoption of a 4-H pledge and club motto. The 4-H pledge was first presented by Otis Hall, state leader of Kansas, and the wording was very similar to the 4-H pledge as it is known nearly a century later:

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service, and
my health to better living,
for my club, my community and my country.

The 4-H motto proposed by Miss Carrie Harrison, botanist in the Bureau of Plant Industry, and adopted at the 1927 Camp, "To make the best better" remains the creed of 4-H program participants and leaders alike.[16] As a result of these decisions the 1927 National 4-H Camp not only established a national tradition, it also provided a foundation for 4-H to grow as a national institution.

With the National 4-H Camp having been instituted as an annual event at the inaugural Camp in 1927, the organizers of the 1928 Camp sought to build on the successes of 1927. At the second annual Camp in June 1928, 150 member delegates in addition to numerous leaders represented 39 states in the nation's capital for a week of 4-H related activities. The National Boys and Girls Club News related "the usual Camp procedure" that took place at the 1928 Camp:

The usual camp procedure was carried out with flag-raising, swimming, breakfast, general assembly and recreation and camp fire activities. Somewhat different from the average 4-H club camp were tours which took the delegates to the experimental farms of the United States Department of Agriculture, to Mt. Vernon, Arlington (National Cemetery) and other points of interest. The camp fires under the somber shadow of the Washington Monument were memorable occasions to look forward to and to look back upon. Here the 4-H youth from many states had opportunity to express themselves in song, story, experience and action. Significant, too, were the daily conferences where members had opportunity to discuss their clubs and community problems and to absorb new ideas which will strengthen their work as individuals and as possible, 4-H leaders.[17]

Many delegates kept scrapbooks of their once in a lifetime experience of being selected as a delegate and participating in the National 4-H Camp. Wayne Short, a 1928 delegate from St. Charles, Missouri, used a scrapbook to reflect on his experiences in Washington. Short's scrapbook includes news clippings, photographs and letters, as well as a camp program. In photographs of delegates from the early National 4-H Camps, it is revealed that participants were required to meet specific dress requirements when participating in National Camp activities. Many states and clubs had local uniform requirements, but the dress code at the National 4-H Camp was intended to differentiate 4-H members from other youth present in the nation's capital. Accounts of the camps alluded to "the girls in their green and white uniforms and the boys in white suits and green chevrons."[18] A consistent dress code not only helped with identification, it also instilled pride among delegates and camp officials who sought to showcase the best and brightest student leaders in America's 4-H program.

Figure 4: Uniform advertisement from 1933 edition
of The National Boys and Girls Club News.[19]

In 1928, sessions were designed for leaders to generate discussion of effective pedagogical practices in order to ensure 4-H clubs were meeting the needs of the current membership while also appealing to new members in rural communities around the nation. Dr. Paul J. Kruse of Cornell University observed that "the 4-H club movement ranks exceedingly high in the fundamentals of education as judged by experienced pedagogues and that it has in it the elements which bring out the best that is in the membership."[20] Kruse and other speakers brought their pedagogical expertise to leaders, while the opportunity to share personal experiences helped leaders build common ground regardless of what region of the country they served. During the discussion of 4-H pedagogy, it was determined that attending county club camps, attending out of county and state events, participating in trips, participating in recreational activities and participating in field days were the most successful ways for educating 4-H youth across the country.[21] These discussions served as an underpinning for the future of 4-H club work across the country at the same time it emphasized the importance of a formative, life changing experience for delegates.

Within three years of the Camp becoming an annual event, the impact that the nationalization of the 4-H program was having on youth across the country was palpable. Following the third annual Camp in 1929, the editor of The National Boys and Girls Club News noted the progress being made by events such as National 4-H Camp and local club work, "to bring vision, prosperity and sociability" into the rural life of the countryside. One hundred and fifty three delegates attended the 1929 National 4-H Camp, representing 41 states and for the first time, the then-territory of Hawaii.[22] Among these delegates was Paul Sauerbry of Iowa. In his scrapbook, he recollected the thrill of experiencing the nation's capital as well as the fine friendships created through the National 4-H Camp. Among the highlights of Sauerbry's trip was meeting Mrs. Hoover at the White House for drinks and cookies as well as a tour of the President's home. The President or First Lady often personally greeted the delegates when they visited Washington and it is likely that Mrs. Hoover was the first to do so in 1929. This personal greeting by the President's wife indicates the prominence associated with being selected as a National 4-H Camp delegate as well as the growing prestige of the 4-H program across the nation.

Despite the growing economic uncertainty that resulted from the beginning of the Great Depression at the end of 1929, the National 4-H Club Camp continued to meet throughout the 1930s, maintaining a traditional program and growing the number of participants. Due to the economic hardships facing most rural communities at this time, a trip to Washington was an extra expense for states, but it was also imperative for young people to congregate and share ways in which 4-H club work could help to ease the rapidly growing crisis across the nation. On the eve of the fifth annual National 4-H Camp in 1931, the purpose of the Camp was affirmed as a means to "give these representative rural youths an opportunity to become better acquainted with the work and facilities of the United States Department of Agriculture, to study their government at first hand and to meet with fellow club members and leaders from other states."[23] One of the delegates attending the fifth annual National 4-H Camp was Ken Anderson of South Dakota. Following Anderson's 4-H membership, he would join the Executive Staff of the National 4-H Service Committee in 1938, and become the Associate Director in 1949. In a scrapbook which records his experiences as a 4-H member, Anderson saved letters, news clippings and photographs that demonstrate the noteworthy nature of his accomplishment. Included among these clippings is a photograph of the Camp delegates with President Hoover during their annual White House visit.

Figure 5: National 4-H Camp delegates with President Herbert Hoover at the White House in 1931.

Perhaps the most revealing item in Anderson's scrapbook, however, is the delegate selection criteria. The extensive portion of Anderson's scrapbook which pre-dates the 1931 National 4-H Camp functioned as Anderson's application to be a Camp delegate from South Dakota. In addition to the minimum age requirement (15) and years of club work required by applicants (three), there were other factors for the selection of delegates to the National 4-H Camp. According to the selection criteria scorecard, delegates were selected based on "ability in leadership and community service," "health and physical fitness" as well as the "delegate's record of club achievement" and "participation in club group or community activities, such as exhibits, team demonstrations, judging contests, meetings, community affairs." Such criteria illustrate the way in which the Camp functioned as a reward for the top 4-H members in each state. In addition to serving as a reward, The National Boys and Girls Club News noted that Camp delegates "come to know something of the services rendered by government and of each individual citizen's responsibility and privilege in helping to shape the affairs of our government."[24] Through its first five years, the National 4-H Camp retained its character as a means of developing responsible citizens and leaders.

Despite the success the Camp experienced through its first five years, its existence became threatened in 1933. According to Franklin Reck, 1933 was the only time in which the Camp itself was seriously threatened by the government as a club institution:

In view of the change in administration from Hoover to Roosevelt, Director (of Federal Extension, C. W.) Warburton felt that it would be unwise to assume responsibility for holding the Camp. An Act of Congress would be necessary. In this emergency, (Federal Extension staff member) George Farrell went to the Department of Agriculture solicitor and had him draft a two-line amendment to the current deficiency bill. Farrell submitted this amendment to (Representative) Marvin Jones, chairman of the agricultural committee in the House and to (Senator) "Cotton" Ed Smith, chairman of the Senate committee. These men put the amendment through both houses, and thus a 1933 camp was assured.[25]

Fortunately the Camp would survive and continue to have a positive impact on the lives of those youth throughout the country who had the opportunity to participate. Kathleen Flom, a delegate from Minnesota to the 1934 National 4-H Camp, kept a photo album of her experiences. Her photos reveal that even though sightseeing and tours were a major part of the Camp experience, fellowship and the creation of life-long friendships between delegates was perhaps more meaningful. Following her 4-H membership, Flom would go on to hold several staff positions in her more that forty year career at the National 4-H Center.

As the National 4-H Camp began its second decade, it continued to maintain the objectives that served as the foundation for the first Camp in 1927. The eleventh annual Camp in 1937 saw 160 delegates camping in the shadow of the Washington Monument, engaged in an assembly with the theme "Our Rural Heritage."[26] About this time, program themes became an important aspect of the camps, providing a focus for speeches and delegate discussions. Undersecretary of Agriculture M. L. Wilson outlined the theme in his opening address when he "stressed the richness of our natural resources, how they had been wasted, and suggested ways of saving and improving this inheritance."[27] Throughout the week of the Camp in 1937, sessions related to conservation were present throughout the program.

Traditional visits to sites such as the National Agricultural Research Farm in Beltsville, Maryland, as well as Mount Vernon and the Smithsonian remained highlights for the delegates who attended Camp. Don Mosher (pictured below), a delegate from Illinois who attended the National 4-H Camp in 1938, recounted that "taking pictures of famous buildings, historic spots and of state 4-H delegations" was "one of the greatest thrills of delegates" at the Camp, but also noted that "one of the happy things was the freedom of everyone in speaking to other delegates, who could always be identified by the 4-H uniform."[28]

Figure 6: Donald Mosher (far left) and the rest of the Illinois delegation at the 1938 National 4-H Camp.[29]

In the late 1930s, the National 4-H Camp persisted as a valuable opportunity for national program leaders to meet and outline objectives for 4-H and the Camp itself. According to the National 4-H Club News, there were clear expectations for both delegates and leaders attending the 1939 National 4-H Camp:

The objectives of camp? For delegates- to meet other 4-H'ers from distant states; to glimpse the workings of government; to visit our capital's shrines; to meet State and national leaders; to stir gray cells and ambitions- goals which every 4-H member can try to reach. For leaders- to take a long look forward; to re-map 4-H territory; to sharpen up extension tools; to discover how associates are meeting problems; to gain fresh inspiration to face the gigantic challenge of serving the rural youth of the nation.[30]

Just as important as looking towards improving club activities in the future was the opportunity to recognize those who had dedicated themselves to the service of 4-H youth in past years and consequentially ensured the program's continued success. At each annual National 4-H Camp, state leaders were recognized for their extensive service and the impact they had made on the lives of youth. Recognition of the longevity of the nation's 4-H leaders became a tradition each year and another advantage of having a national event for 4-H delegates and state leaders.

Figure 7: State leaders recognized for service in extension at the 1939 National 4-H Camp.[31]

As the United States entered the uncertain years of the 1940s, organizers of the National 4-H Camp were forced to confront the same challenges as those faced by the rest of the nation. Program leaders worked to provide the same memorable experience for delegates to the 14th annual Camp in 1940, while reinforcing the values of American democracy which had become the cornerstone of the Camp's events. Despite the turmoil occurring around the world at the time of the 1940 Camp, President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, made a surprise visit to the event to meet with delegates and discuss the world's challenges. According to The National 4-H News, "leaders were equally delighted with his words of praise for the fine work of 4-H clubs in training youth to be self-reliant and good citizens."[32] The President's visit with delegates demonstrates how important the 4-H movement was becoming in the United States and also how 4-H members were coming to be recognized as among the nation's most important young leaders.

Figure 8: Delegates meet with President Franklin Roosevelt at the 1940 National 4-H Camp.[33]

One of the important topics discussed that the 1940 Camp was the effects of increasingly alarming world discord and the preservation of democracy in the United States and around the world. One way in which democracy was a focal point of the event was through the citizenship ceremony, designed to recognize 4-H members who had reached voting age. On a ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delegates gathered to recognize 51 new citizens from 37 different states who took part in the presentation. The occasion was presided over by Dr. M. L. Wilson, USDA Director of Extension. In his remarks Wilson said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy…the blessings it bestows come not without obligation. Active and intelligent participation rather than blind allegiance is demanded of us." To this call, delegates responded, "This shall be our creed of citizenship: To see clearly, to cherish and defend that which is good; to improve or discard that which is bad; to render at all times loyalty and devotion to God in service to our country and all mankind." At the end of the ceremony, delegates took a citizenship pledge and vowed allegiance to the flag.[34] The ceremony was a memorable event during the week's activities and underscored the importance of individual participation in democracy. In a larger context, recognizing the newest holders of American citizenship affirmed the value of the nation's young leaders and the prominent role of 4-H in the development of these young people.

Figure 9: Delegates participate in the citizenship ceremony at the 1940 National 4-H Camp.[35]

By the time of the fifteenth annual National 4-H Camp in 1941, the dire circumstances occurring along with the rise of world powers Germany, Japan and Italy were at the forefront of America's consciousness. Despite the anxieties being stoked by actions abroad, the 1941 Camp was the largest in the history of the event to that point, with 173 delegates representing 43 states. Former Camp delegate Kenneth H. Anderson, by this time a national 4-H official, noted that "no National 4-H Camp ever met at a more critical time. As might be expected of rural boys and girls who are close to the soil, there was a real consciousness of the seriousness of the present crisis, but sans the mob hysteria and propagandistic flag waving which has prevailed in youth organizations abroad."[36] By placing importance on the role of citizenship within a democracy and the expectations of citizens, 4-H produced an organization of more than one and a half million members without relying on the militant motives of groups such as the Hitler Youth. As one Senator noted, "I get a renewal of faith in people and in the future of my country every time these 4-H boys and girls come to Washington."[37] Although delegates and leaders had different outlooks and positions regarding the issues of the day, this diversity of opinion at the Camp encouraged thought provoking discussion as well as informal conversations around the traditional campfire. It is unlikely there has ever been a period marked by such negativity and skepticism towards world relations, yet simultaneous optimism with regard to the nation's future. 4-H members played a significant role in the optimism that abounded through the nation towards its youth.

The uncertainty of the summer of 1941 would give way to the certainty of war less than six months later, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 4-H members played a key role in the war effort, helping with tasks such as collecting scrap metal or growing victory gardens as well as supporting troops defending American freedom abroad. Even though 4-H clubs continued to meet and conduct activities around the country and make contributions to the war effort, national circumstances necessitated that the National 4-H Camp be placed on indefinite hiatus. With the focus in the nation's capital on the war effort, expending the resources for youth delegates and their leaders to visit Washington in support of the 4-H movement had become a secondary priority. The Camp remained dormant through 1945, resuming annual operation in 1946. Once the Camp returned to Washington for the sixteenth annual event in 1946, it was forced to relocate. According to Franklin Reck, the construction of bridges during World War II near the Tidal Basin eliminated the previous campsites and therefore the tented camps. In 1946, the National 4-H Camp was held at American University, in 1947 at Arlington Farms[38], and in 1948 through 1950 at the Raleigh Hotel[39]. National 4-H events would be held at various sites throughout the capital until the National 4-H Center was completed in 1959 in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

While the Camp's location had changed when it resumed in June 1946 following the war, its core mission remained the same. Delegates from 45 states attended the first National 4-H Camp since World War II which focused on the theme "4-H in a Changing World." With the nation having survived a taxing war, there was still much work to be done. Anderson and McDonald remarked that "these 4-Hers are not idly watching the world go by" and were "seriously thinking about American agriculture's place in a world economy."[40] The importance of farming and rural living to the nation was highlighted throughout the Camp with an emphasis placed on the significant role 4-H played in ensuring success in these endeavors. In his address to the delegates, Dr. C. B. Smith, Chief of the USDA Office of Extension, remarked that "satisfaction comes to a man or woman when they have superior knowledge, and superior knowledge comes from experience had in contact with things and operations."[41] In addition to sessions meant to discuss this topic, field trips to sites such as the US Capitol resumed and 12 adult leaders were honored for their service to 4-H clubs. In spite of not holding a national Camp in five years, the National 4-H Camp in 1946 reestablished and reinvigorated the message that 4-H and its youth members played a central role in the future of the nation.

The 1947 National 4-H Camp held at Arlington Farms hosted nearly 200 4-H member delegates from 45 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 87 staff and adult leaders. In addition to the yearly workshops, tours and leader recognition, foreign students visiting from China, Sweden, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, Uruguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica attended the Camp, giving it an international flavor similar to that of the annual National 4-H Club Congress held in Chicago.[42] Based on the theme, "Serving as Citizens in our Representative Government," program activities for the 1947 Camp were led and organized by individuals who would go on to become 4-H legends including Gertrude L. Warren (USDA National Leader for Girls Club Work), E. W. Aiton (Director of USDA Division of 4-H and Young Men's and Women's Programs), W. G. Lehmann, H. C. Seymour (Oregon State 4-H Leader), E. H. Shinn (USDA Extension staff) and R. A. Turner (USDA Extension staff).[43]

Figure 10: State leaders are led in a discussion of the national 4-H program in 1947 by Gertrude Warren.[44]

Jim Svedman, a delegate from Fort Collins, Colorado, did not create a scrapbook but instead preserved the Camp program as well as photographs, letters and itineraries of the occasion. His documents provide insights into what the structure of a typical National 4-H Camp would have been like during the post-World War II era and the types of discussions delegates experienced.

Figure 11: Delegates attend a committee hearing during a visit to the United States Capitol.[45]

Among the documents Svedman maintained is the official Camp program from 1947, a letter of congratulations from a 4-H Field Agent, the announcement of the 1947 Camp including delegate expectations and a preliminary list of activities, outlines for daily discussion meetings and the program for the annual Citizenship Ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial. The 1947 National 4-H Camp also generated more extensive radio coverage than any previous Camp during the program's history. Anderson observes that "some 30 transmissions were made in Washington and sent back to the states for local use."[46]As the mass media became more prevalent, so did the broadcasts which were maintained as a noteworthy aspect of the Camps each year and a way of communicating the work and discussions of delegates and their state leaders throughout the country.

Figure 12: Radio broadcasters at a National 4-H Camp (undated).[47]

The National 4-H Camp held in 1948 was the largest held to that point, with 200 club members from 47 states and Puerto Rico attending and discussing their ideas and getting an understanding for the ways and problems of members from other regions of the country.[48] In addition to its attendance, however, 1948 also marked an historic occasion for 4-H camping activities. By 1947, countless 4-H members from each state across the country had been invited to attend the National 4-H Camp in Washington for twenty years. Despite the number of the nation's youth who had experienced this unique opportunity, no African American 4-H member had yet to participate. Consequently, in 1947 southern Directors of Extension met and approved "a national 4-H Club encampment for colored 4-H boys and girls…to be held in 1948 at a colored college in the South."[49] This decision was prompted by concerns articulated by some southern Extension personnel that camping was among the most unequal aspects of 4-H between blacks and whites.[50] Even though 4-H had provided considerable opportunities for white members, including the National 4-H Camp, it was not immune to the racial prejudices and pressures of the pre-Civil Rights era.

According to Carmen Harris[51], since the early days of 4-H, segregation had been present and served to exclude African Americans from the full participation in the program of which whites were accustomed. Although the national 4-H program did not have specific guidelines that permitted segregation, there existed "a de facto policy of racial exclusion at the National 4-H Camp, as both southern (and non-southern) extension directors excluded African Americans from their delegations.[52] In an effort to provide greater 4-H camping opportunities for African American youth, a regional Negro camp was established, to be held in the south. Many were opposed to the creation of segregated camps, including African Americans, but others recognized that because of the rigid segregation present in Washington, DC, a camp held in the south was necessary to provide "the opportunities for the Negro youths being commensurate with those given the white group."[53] Though many Directors of Extension argued that "there should be a national 4-H round-up for African American children in Washington, DC" this argument was made in vain and the event was held elsewhere once it was established.[54]

The first Regional Negro 4-H Camp was held in late August 1948 at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with 82 African American youth delegates from southern states attending.[55] The program was very similar to the National 4-H Camp held in Washington, and included addresses, discussions and sightseeing trips throughout southern Louisiana with a focus on agricultural practices in the rural South. The National 4-H Club News writes that the purpose of the camp "was to give the colored 4-H boys and girls who have achieved outstanding records with their projects a chance to meet together and exchange experiences and learn more about the value of 4-H work."[56]

Figure 13: Delegates discuss nutrition and rural health at the first Regional Negro 4-H Camp in 1948.[57]

Regardless of the efforts made to provide African American 4-H members with the opportunity to participate in camping activities, this proved insufficient for supporting equality throughout the program. Although the national 4-H program did not have a specific policy of segregation, its national leaders were cautious in their approach to integration. A separate Camp for black youth was first held in 1948, but it was not until 1960 that black 4-H members attended the same national event as white members.

As Carmen Harris notes, "although segregation of children in public schools was clearly under assault by the 1950s, the USDA's Federal Extension Service remained an active partner in promoting racial segregation by sanctioning separate and unequal opportunities in 4-H camping."[58] It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the operation of the Federal Extension Service was changed and the de facto segregation of national 4-H events ended. Up to that point, only two African Americans had breached the racial barrier with one African American girl from Alaska attending the 1960 National 4-H Congress in Chicago and another African American delegate from Maryland attended the 1962 National 4-H Conference (which would replace the National 4-H Camp as an annual event).

Along with the establishment of Negro Regional Camps beginning in the late 1940s, the National 4-H Camp continued to be held in Washington through the 1950s. Each year, the program retained its focus on citizenship, civics and government, as well as improving family and community living. The annual event continued to be recognized as the "highest delegate honor in 4-H Club work" for youth across the country and the program incorporated new features to illustrate its growing internationalization, including the 1949 Camp, which included a ceremony for "grass roots diplomats" leaving from the US to Europe through the International Farm Youth Exchange Project.[59] This tradition continued throughout the 1950s, including the 1953 Camp, which included visits by guests from other countries in addition to speeches made by Vice President Richard Nixon and an appearance by President Eisenhower, who would become a regular visitor to delegates at the Camp.[60] President Eisenhower was actively supportive of 4-H and personally cut the ribbon to officially open the National 4-H Center in 1959.

Figure 14: Delegates pictured with President Eisenhower during his 1954 visit to National 4-H Camp.[61]

Work on the part of program leaders to improve 4-H did not cease in the 1950s, either. In 1954, committees focusing on food and nutrition, livestock, spiritual emphasis, uniform and supplies, soil and water conservation, forestry, project criteria and study of national 4-H events met at the National Camp in order to make recommendations about the future of 4-H. Delegates were also given the opportunity to provide input into these plans.[62] It was through discussions such as these that improvements and modifications to project procedures, the national program and national events were made. The value of such conversations could not be overstated for the ability of 4-H to maximize its impact and reach its intended objectives.

In 1955, the National 4-H Camp celebrated its 25th anniversary. With the exception of four years during World War II, the Camp had been held in Washington every year since 1927. The 1955 Camp was attended by 192 current delegates, 100 leaders, and 255 former Camp delegates.[63] The 25th anniversary Camp included the traditional program with an additional focus on the history of the event and the success of previous attendees. Among those honored was former camper Earl L. Butz, then Assistant Secretary of Agriculture (and later Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford) and Gertrude L. Warren, a Federal Extension official who helped set up the early camps during the 1920s. In addition, displays and exhibits, including an early tent erected on the USDA lawn from the first National 4-H Camp, provided delegates and visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the history of the Camp and 4-H.[64]

Figure 15: Early leaders pictured with a tent from the 1927 National
4-H Camp at the twenty-fifth anniversary.[65]

Despite its successes, after the 26th National 4-H Camp was held in 1956, the event was re-named National 4-H Conference beginning in 1957. It continued to be held in various sites around Washington, eventually moving to Chevy Chase, Maryland, when the long awaited National 4-H Center opened in 1959. The revolutionary facility provided 4-H with a permanent location for hosting large national events in the nation's capital. Although the National 4-H Camp existed for only twenty six years, the impact it had on the 4-H movement nationwide is not to be understated. As Franklin Reck observes, "as the National 4-H Camp grew into a permanent institution, leaders agreed that the Camp had more than realized its objectives of training leaders, acquainting rural boys and girls with their government, and providing a meeting place at which state leaders could make decisions on matters of national interest."[66] Through these efforts, the National 4-H Camp established standards and expectations for national 4-H events; for the nation's premier youth development program, National 4-H Camp created a visionary yet stable foundation for future national activities, and developed a tradition of offering memorable and rewarding opportunities for the nation's most promising young leaders.


Note:For those unfamiliar with the term Ibid, it means "the work most recently referenced".

[1] 4-H National Headquarters, 4-H History Timeline,
[2] Franklin M. Reck, The 4-H Story (Ames, Iowa: The Iowa State College Press, 1951), 214.
[3] Ibid. 214.
[4] "4-H Camp at Capital is National Rally," The National Boys and Girls Club News 5, no. 7 (June 15, 1927): 1.
[5] Reck, The 4-H Story, 215.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] "4-H Camp at Capital is National Rally," 2.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 1.
[12] Ibid.
[13] The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, "100 Years of UT Extension," UT Extension,
[14] Reck, The 4-H Story, 218.
[15] "4-H Camp at Capital is National Rally," 2.
[16] Reck, The 4-H Story, 217.
[17] "Second National Camp Brings Real Progress," The National Boys and Girls Club News 6, no. 7 (June 16, 1928): 1.
[18] Ibid.
[19] The National Boys and Girls Club News 11, no. 3 (March, 1933): 6.
[20] "Second National Camp Brings Real Progress," 2.
[21] Ibid.
[22] "National Club Camp an Aid to the Vision," The National Boys and Girls Club News 7, no. 7 (June 20, 1929): 2.
[23] "Plans Under Way for National 4-H Camp," The National Boys and Girls Club News 9, no. 5 (May 20, 1931)):1-2.
[24] "Editorially Speaking," The National Boys and Girls Club News 9, no. 6-7 (June-July 1931): 3.
[25] Reck, The 4-H Story, 219-220.
[26] "4-H'ers Camp in Shadow of National Shrines," National 4-H Club News 15, no. 4 (July 1937): 8.
[27] Ibid.
[28] "Thrills for Camera Fans," National 4-H Club News 16, no. 4 (July-August 1938): 8.
[29] Ibid.
[30] "Honor 4-H Leaders at National Camp," National 4-H Club News 17, no. 4 (July-August 1939): 6.
[31] Ibid.
[32] "Youth's Challenge," National 4-H Club News 18, no. 7 (July 1940): 6.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid., 7.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Kenneth H. Anderson, "National 4-H Campers Impressed with Citizenship Duties," National 4-H Club News 19, no. 7 (July 1941): 9.
[37] Ibid., 19.
[38] Arlington Farms, Arlington, Virginia, is the site on which US Department of Defense Pentagon headquarters was built between 1941 and 1943.
[39] The Raleigh Hotel, Washington, DC, was first built in 1893, rebuilt in 1911, and finally razed in 1964.
[40] Kenneth H. Anderson and Guy A. McDonald, "National Camp Resumes," National 4-H Club News 24, no. 7 (July 1946): 14.
[41] Smith, C.B. "Great Living the Goal," National 4-H Club News 24, no. 7 (July 1946): 14.
[42] Anderson, Kenneth H. "4-H'ers at White House," National 4-H Club News 25, no. 7 (July 1947): 16.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Ibid., 17.
[45] Ibid.
[46] Ibid., 16.
[47] Photo courtesy of National 4-H Headquarters, Washington DC
[48] Irwin B. Johnson, "National Camp Gives 4-H Youth a Memorable Week," National 4-H Club News 26, no.7 (July 1948): 18.
[49] "County, State and National News," National 4-H Club News 25, no. 7 (July 1947): 10.
[50] Carmen V. Harris, "States' Rights, Federal Bureaucrats, and Segregated 4-H Camps in the United States, 1927-1969," Journal of African American History 93, no. 3 (2008): 367.
[51] History Department, University of South Carolina; received the Agricultural History Society Award in 2008 for an article entitled "The Extension Service is not an Integration Agency; The Idea of Race in the Cooperative Extension Service."
[52] Ibid., 365.
[53] Ibid., 373.
[54] Ibid.
[55] "Negro Youth Make Fine Showing at Regional Camp," National 4-H Club News 26, no. 10 (October 1948): 28.
[56] Ibid.
[57] Ibid.
[58] Harris, "States' Rights, Federal Bureaucrats, and Segregated 4-H Camps in the United States, 1927-1969," 367.
[59] "National 4-H Club Camp Aims to Develop Better Rural Citizens, Leaders," National 4-H Club News 27, no. 6 (June 1949): 17.
[60] Dene C. Ratermann, "The Continuing Heritage of 4-H," National 4-H Club News, (August 1953): 16-17.
[61] "National Camp Delegates Discover New Worlds," National 4-H Club News, (August 1954): 11.
[62] "National Camp Features You, 4-H and Government" National 4-H Club News (June 1954): 16.
[63] "Past and Future Join to Observe the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of National 4-H Camp" National 4-H Club News (August 1955): 16.
[64] Ibid.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Reck, The 4-H Story, 220.

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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