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4-H records

Identifier: ua00017

Scope and Content

The 4-H records consist of reports and minutes, correspondence, curricular materials, conference materials, biographical information, photographs, audio-visual materials, scrapbooks and histories of the organization in Minnesota. The collection is particularly strong in materials showcasing 4-H member participation in county and the Minnesota State Fair, particularly talent competitions and animal judging, youth conference participation, and reports document youth participation in international exchange programs. There is also a substantial amount of county and state fair photographs from the 1950s and 1960s. Collection date range is 1912-2003.

The collection is arranged in seven series. Each series is further divided into four subseries: International; National; States; and County. Series 6, Publications, does not contain a subseries for international publications.
  1. Series 1, Contests and Awards, contains descriptions of contests and competitions and 4-H members receiving awards at these events, as well as members receiving honors for special or lifetime services. The State subseries contains copious and detailed information about 4-H members at country fairs and the Minnesota State Fair, particularly related to livestock and vegetable judging and talent competitions.
  2. Series 2, Events, includes publicity for and reports from camps, congresses, forums and conventions on a range of subjects. Subject matter includes farm safety, urbanization, leadership, health and nutrition, conservation and natural resources, animal judging, domestic arts, mechanics and extension, most of these events emphasizing youth development and leadership.
  3. Series 3, Minutes and Reports, contains reports about international 4-H exchanges and annual reports from the national organization that includes Minnesota information in context. State materials are primarily committee meeting minutes, including Advisory, Curriculum, Communications, Conference, Long-Range Planning and Program committees, as well as the 4-H state secretary’s record books from 1938-1954, state staffing and staff development reports, and youth enrollment reports complied by county extension agents from the 1980s.
  4. Series 4, Photographs and Multi Media, contains photographs of 4-H youth on country exchange programs in Japan, Russia and Korea, as well as Minnesota delegations attending national conferences in Washington DC and national workshops in various locations, dating from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s. The Minnesota subseries is very strong in documenting Minnesota events that showcase the breadth of 4-H activities, including animal judging, food, home and plant shows, talent shows and academic skills. The State subseries also contains all of the visual materials from 4-H at the Minnesota State Fair from 1930 to 1972. This series also contains a small amount of AV- audio slide shows and cassette tapes, with general information about 4-H used for public relations and recruitment.
  5. Series 5, Programs and Projects, is particularly strong documenting 4-H international exchanges, including International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) and the Professional Rural Youth Leadership Exchange (PRYLE) between 1948 and 1979 through reports, correspondence and student personal writings and reflections. There are also a substantial number of reports on planning and administering these programs at the international level through statistical summaries, news reports and general information bulletins. At the Minnesota state level there is an abundance of historical material on Minnesota programs. Projects from the 19-teens through the 1960s are documented here. Subject matter includes career development, camping and conservation, child-rearing, bee-keeping, clothing, dairy and animal husbandry, farm accounting, farm family life, home improvement and money management, soils conservation, tractor maintenance, and first aid are among the topics represented in this series.
  6. Series 6, Publications, does not include materials published at the county level. There is a small amount of material, primarily newsletters, outlining international program news. The bulk of this series is divided between the national organization newsletters from the 1980s and 1990s and state materials. There are lengthy runs of Beginner’s Foods(1936-1965), 4-H Extension Bulletins (1926-1956,1969-1978), 4-H Federation Newsletter (1969-1976), 4-H “M” Series(1977-1986), Junior Leadership Conference Newsletters (1977-1986), 4-H Leader Letter(1935-1960) and the Awards and Scholarship Handbooks for 4-H Leaders and Extension Personnel(1967-1990). This series also contains citizenship handbooks from 1973-1992 for new immigrants involved in farming.
  7. Series7, Subject Files, includes 4-H histories, biographies of 4-H leaders, information about institutional collaborations with the National Endowments of the Humanities and the National Center For Improving Education, staff development materials, reports on alumni activities, recruitment and retention of members, careers of former 4-H members, and leadership training and support.


  • 1913-2003
  • (bulk 1940-1990)


Language of Materials

Collection materials in English and Finnish

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

4-H was established as a response to changing rural demographics at the turn of the 19th century. Young people in rural communities were leaving farming for work prospects in cities: 4-H was an attempt to counter this trend and keep young people on the farm by providing education, community service and social opportunities. The precursor to 4-H was founded 1901 in Ohio by A.B. Graham, a school principal who promoted vocational agricultural education through out-of-school clubs. The model spread throughout the Midwest and South, and activities in sewing, canning and cooking were developed for girls. Between 1905 and 1914 hundreds of agricultural clubs were organized throughout the country.

4-H was strengthened when the United States Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, creating the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service (CAES). The CAES used funds from counties, state land-grant universities and colleges, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create and sustain education opportunities in agriculture and home economics. Youth education and development has been a fundamental component of Extension since its founding, and 4-H became the vehicle for delivering experiential learning to young people.

In Minnesota, 4-H grew out of the boys and girls clubs movement. Theodore (Dad) Erickson, introduced the first agricultural club in 1904, focusing on teaching boys about corn-growing and culminating in growing competitions. In 1912, Erickson was appointed as the first 4-H club leader in Minnesota, a position he held until 1940. The program grew quickly. One of the early successes was the junior livestock shows. Beginning in 1918, they were held in the St. Paul Stockyards and supported by the Minnesota Livestock Breeders Association and the St. Paul meatpacking firms, with rules set up by the boys and girls club staff at University Farm. The junior show caught on and became a major 4-H event. The program kick-started membership by “giving agents a way to build trust with parents by teaching their children how to manage their livestock.”

Conservation education was added to programming in the 1920s, with the center of activity at the Leadership Camp at Itasca State park. Two generations of students learned about the practice and science of soil conservation and forestry in Itasca, and returned to their communities to help with local conservation projects. Programs in farm safety, fire prevention, animal and poultry husbandry, crop judging and domestic arts were the main program components of club programming through the war years: in the post war period, in addition to traditional programs, new activities emerged. Human relations, including family relations and dating, were the focus of programming, as well as local and state talent competitions, which grew in popularity during the 1950s through the 1970s. Members were also encouraged to develop leadership skills by participating in state, national and international youth congresses and international exchange programs. The public face of 4-H historically is the county and state fair. Members working on 4-H projects can display their work/skills at these events and compete for prizes.

4-H remains a part of University of Minnesota Extension. In 2000, 4-H became part of the Center for Youth Development within Extension, which also houses the 4-H Foundation and the Center for Youth Work.

4-H Leadership
  1. Theodore Erickson, 1912-1940
  2. Arthur J. Kittleson, 1940-1949
  3. Leonard Harkness, 1949-1980
  4. Byron Schneider, 1981-1989
  5. Richard Byrne, 1990-1995
  6. Carol Shields, 1995-1999
  7. Dale Blyth, 2000-present


63.75 Cubic Feet (51 boxes)


Collection contains the records of 4-H, administered by the General Extension Division of the University of Minnesota.

Source of acquisition

The collection was transferred to University Archives on June 24, 1980. Subsequent donations have been made to the collection, the last being in 2003.

Related Materials in University of Minnesota Archives

Theodore August Erickson papers

Processing Information

This collection was processed with funds provided by the State of Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

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4-H Records, 1912-2003
Karen Spilman
September 2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area