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4-H records

Identifier: ua00017

Scope and Content

The 4-H records consist of reports and minutes, correspondence, program planning materials, publications, photographs, audio-visual materials, scrapbooks, individual staff, club, and participant records, and histories of the organization in Minnesota. The collection also includes records that document Minnesota staff and member participation in national and international 4-H programs.


  • Creation: 1913-2010s


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


90 Cubic Feet (71 boxes (64 record carton; 7 oversize flat))

Language of Materials

Multiple languages


Collection contains the records of Minnesota 4-H, administered by the Center for Youth Development, University of Minnesota Extension.

Source of acquisition

The collection was iniated through a transfer of materials to University Archives on June 24, 1980. Subsequent donations have been made to the collection by former Extension staff and program participants in 2003, 2007, 2013, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Related Materials in University of Minnesota Archives

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Processing Information

The list of folders/items and corresponding box numbers are an accurate reflection of the contents of the collection (as of Summer 2023). A revised historical note and additional descriptive notes for sub-series and other record groupings are under revision and will be updated in the fall of 2023.

4-H Records, 1912-2003
Under Revision
Karen Spilman; Rebecca Toov
2005; Revised 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • March 2011: Collection processed by Susan Hoffman and Valerie MacDonald with funds provided by the State of Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.. EAD updated by Valerie MacDonald and Karen Spilman
  • 2022: Multiple accessions from 2013-2022 incorporated into the existing collection.

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area