A CENTURY OF 4-H
Local club members better themselves, as well as their families and communities.
WRITTEN BY ALICIA BARBER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO LIBRARIES
Putting up jars of fresh fruits and vegetables for the winter, selecting a quality dairy cow, and growing the hardiest crop of potatoes — in 19th-century rural Nevada, these were lessons that traditionally were passed along informally, from generation to generation.
By the 1920s, however, children across the state could claim a new source of such practical knowledge: 4-H.
Although widely associated with agriculture, 4-H clubs firmly were a product of the modern era. In the first decades of the 20th century, great strides were being made in the fields of nutrition, sanitary practices, and agricultural science. And yet many isolated rural communities lacked awareness of these often-revolutionary advances.
In response, the U.S. Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established Cooperative Extension offices at the nation's land-grant universities, including the University of Nevada, Reno. Its goal: to provide the public with practical instruction in agriculture, home economics, and rural energy. Traveling instructors visited schools and farming communities throughout the state to demonstrate proper methods and techniques.
Involving young people was critical, not only to make them more effective farmers and homemakers, but also to help transmit that knowledge to their elders. The youth component of the program came to be known as 4-H, represented by a four-leaf clover with a capital H on each leaf, for the four components of the group's official pledge.
By 1915, 830 boys and girls ages 10 to 14 were gaining hands-on training through Nevada's youth programs. In keeping with the era's traditional gender roles, instruction for girls included canning, sewing, basketry, and poultry raising, while boys learned about crop production and management of sheep, dairy cattle, and hogs. All were taught proper health, nutrition, and citizenship.
In recognition of their success, winners of regular county, state, and national competitions could earn prizes, including trips to their state's 4-H club camp. Nevada began the tradition in 1923 at the university's livestock farm, which was located among the ranches and farms of south Reno. In 1938, university officials acquired 30 acres on the south shore of Lake Tahoe to serve as a permanent 4-H camp, which still operates today.
From wartime food conservation and victory gardens to computer technologies and animal science, the 4-H club program has changed and expanded with the times. But its primary goal remains the same: preparing young people to make a positive impact in their communities and the world.
Alicia Barber, Ph.D., is the author of Reno's Big Gamble and editor of http://www.Renohistorical.org And she blogs about history and place at Aliciambarber.com.
The 4-H pledge
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, my country, and my world.