Skip to main content

Iowa State University. 4-H Youth Development records

 Record Group — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RS 16/3/4

Scope and Content

The collection (1915-2010) contains a wide variety of records including annual reports, historian books, scrapbooks, conference programs, manuals, publications, and photographs and other media. These records thoroughly document the Iowa 4-H program and related programs such as the Rural Young People’s Program throughout the first four to five decades of the program’s existence. Thorough documentation for more recent years is currently lacking. Though there are some materials related to local and county 4-H clubs in the collection, the records primarily document the state organization.

The annual reports and historian books provide a detailed study of the first forty years of Iowa 4-H. The annual reports and historian books can contain project reports, photographs, officer information, news clippings, and a wide assortment of published materials. These reports mostly document activities of statewide significance, such as the state fair, state conferences, and other activities organized at the state level. Additional records related to Iowa 4-H can be found in Series 4 and include correspondence, manuals, news clippings, postcards, project books, publications, reports, and scripts.

The collection also includes programs and some records related to statewide conferences organized for youth. Records of the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference include programs dating back to 1916 when Iowa State held Junior Short Courses for boys and girls. The short courses turned into state conferences and conventions. Similar conferences offered by the Rural Young People’s program would also be offered at Iowa State. These conferences, the Leadership Training Conference for Young People and the Rural Young People’s State Assembly, were organized for young adults.

Photographs, slides, audio recordings, and videotapes related to the Iowa 4-H program are also housed in the collection. Photographs can be found in scrapbooks, historian’s books, annual reports, or organized in file folders. These materials document 4-H club activities, state fair exhibits, National 4-H Club Congress delegates, camps, and conferences. The collection also contains slide sets used during presentations at club meetings and state conferences.


  • Creation: 1915-2010


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


The origins of 4-H clubs in Iowa can be traced back decades before the formation of the Extension Service and the formal organization of what we now know as 4-H Clubs. Interest in agricultural training for youth started as early as 1857 when the Iowa State Agricultural Society conducted a statewide corn growing contest for boys. This contest established some of the principles that were later used in the formation of 4-H: a contest was organized, a record of the project work was kept, the work was supervised, and a report was made. Subsequent contests were commonly held by institutes and fairs to provide educational and competitive opportunities for rural youth. Contests were also conducted by newspapers and agricultural magazines such as Wallace’s Farmer and Successful Farming.

In 1902, A. B. Graham in Ohio began formalizing clubs for boys and girls to promote vocational agriculture as an extracurricular activity. His clubs, considered to be the founding clubs of 4-H, incorporated meetings, officers, and projects. In Iowa, Cap E. Miller, superintendent of schools in Keokuk County, was an early adopter of boys and girls club work. He began organizing Boys Agricultural Clubs and Girls Home Culture Clubs as early as 1903. O. H. Benson of Wright County and Jessie Field Shambaugh of Page County quickly adopted the club idea as well. Both would make major contributions to 4-H; Shambaugh wrote the “Country Girls Creed” and Benson is credited with creating the 3-H and later 4-H clover emblem which became the official emblem of 4-H.

Throughout the first decade of the 20th Century, Iowa State Extension staff played a valuable role assisting rural youth clubs. During this decade, public school leaders and local farm organizations were the primary coordinators for youth clubs. However, County Extension Agents often provided expertise and educational resources for the clubs. In January 1910 Iowa State College (University) offered its first junior short course and corn show for club members. During this event a state club organization was formed. The following year Iowa’s first State Club Leader, E. C. Bishop, was hired with the task of organizing boys and girls clubs in Iowa.

With the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, Congress established the Cooperative Extension Service which provided support from the federal government for boys and girls club work in agriculture and home economics. By this time nearly every state had started boys and girls clubs, yet there was no one name by which the clubs were known. It wasn’t until 1924 that the clubs became known as 4-H. In Iowa, the clubs were originally organized as separate boys and girls clubs and it wasn’t until 1962 that the clubs were combined.

The early 4-H programs emphasized farm life and homemaking, but the focus quickly broadened in scope and content. Leadership, music, art appreciation, and recreation also became essential aspects of 4-H, especially in Iowa. Eventually, 4-H expanded beyond rural communities and now also offers programs for youth living in towns and cities across the country.


79.96 Linear Feet (111 document boxes, 14 flat boxes, 7 oversize boxes, 15 photograph boxes, 2 lantern slide boxes, and 4 record carton boxes)


The collection is organized into seven series:

Series 1, 4-H Annual Reports, 1920-1972

Series 2, 4-H Club Historian Books and Scrapbooks, circa 1920-1966

Series 3, 4-H Club Records, 1915-2010

Series 4, Iowa 4-H Youth Conference, 1916-1996

Series 5, Rural Young People’s Program, 1935-1969

Series 6, Publications and Writings, 1933-2005

Series 7, Photographs, Slides, and Audio-Visual Media, 1928-2005

Appendix — University Extension Publications for 4-H and Youth

Items in related collections

RS 16/3/4/2. Iowa State University. International Farm Youth Exchange program files, 1963-1975 RS 16/3/4/3. Story County 4-H Clubs (Iowa) records, 1950-2001 RS 16/3/4/4. Iowa 4-H Scrapbook Collection, 1924-1973 RS 16/3/4/52. Marie Thelma Mann 4-H record book, 1923-1934 RS 16/3/4/53. Lucille Peterson 4-H record book, 1927-1935 RS 16/3/4/54. Evelyn M. Peterson 4-H record book, 1927-1934, undated RS 16/3/4/55. Elva J. Brown 4-H scrapbooks, 1925-1942 RS 16/3/4/60. Luella Naylor 4-H record book, 1938-1941 RS 16/3/4/61. Mary H. Morton 4-H records, 1925-1931

Related collection materials

There are a number of collections organized under the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics Records (cataloged under RS 16/3). A sample of these collections include:

•Paul C. Taff Papers, RS 16/3/56

•Jessie Field Shambaugh Collection, RS 16/3/60

•Iowa 4-H Foundation Records, RS 16/3/7

•Campus 4-H (Iowa State University), RS 22/10/0/1

An appendix at the end of this finding aid lists a number of sources related to Iowa 4-H that are available in the University Archives. These include collections of newsletters, Extension publications, news releases, and other historical documents. These and other published materials and video recordings related to Iowa 4-H can be found by searching the library catalog.

There are also a number of valuable sources available on the internet, including the websites for Iowa 4-H and the National 4-H organizations:

•Iowa 4-H:

•National 4-H:

Finally, the department also houses a number of 4-H artifacts in the University Artifact Collection. These items have been donated from a variety of sources and include ribbons, coffee mugs, pins, and other memorabilia.

Processing Information

Released on 2019-04-09.

RS 16/3/4. Iowa State University. 4-H Youth Development records, 1915-2010
April 9, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672