4-H Emblem

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.

Kentucky 4-H Timeline


  • As early county agents encouraged farm families to adopt new farming practices, they found that the adults were not always receptive.  Not to be deterred, they came up with the idea of letting the children try the new practices on a small portion of the family’s farm.  When parents saw the results, they were often willing to adopt the new practices.  That was the beginning of the organization which we know today as 4-H.
  • The first corn club was organized in Kentucky by Prof. George Roberts.  It was located in Fayette County. The members were all male.
  • As in other states, members began to use a clover with three leaflets as a symbol of the club. 
  • The term “Junior Agricultural Club Work” was used to refer to the university’s youth program.  Actually, this term was used in Kentucky until 1928.


  • The four-leaf clover symbol was adopted for use across the country.


  • The first agent was hired to supervise corn clubs.
  • Boys were invited to bring produce and compete for prizes at the state fairgrounds. They camped out on the fairgrounds, thus 1912 is considered the first camp experience. 
  • The first Kentucky publication was written on club work.
  • Record keeping became a part of project work. 


  • The first female agent was hired as State Agent to start Home Economics programs and girls canning clubs were soon started.


  • Poultry and pig clubs were started for boys.  It didn’t take long for girls to get interested in poultry and pigs.  Before the end of the year, some clubs began to be referred to as “Boys’ & Girls’ Club Work.”  Statewide enrollment totaled 1,250 that year.
  • Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act that established the Cooperative Extension Service to reach farmers and families with the latest scientific information on agriculture and homemaking.


  • Otis Kerscher was named “State Leader” for boys clubs.


  • War efforts (World War I) caused clubs to expand.  The common slogan of the time was “Food will win the war”.
  • Clubs spread to 42 counties.  Almost 4000 boys and girls were involved.


  • Efforts were made to have identical programs for boys and girls, with some urging that the groups be unified. 


  • The first four clubs were started to involve Black youth.  These clubs were called “Farm Makers Clubs.”
  • Up to 1920, agents worked directly with individual youth.  In 1920, volunteers began working with youth in community clubs.  The goal became the development of the total young person.
  • Literature became available for a variety of projects.


  • The first “Junior Week” was held at the University of Kentucky, shifting the focus from the State Fair Encampment. 130 attended.


  • In 1919 young people from several states began making an annual trek to the International Livestock Exposition at the Union Stockyards in Chicago.  This experience soon became known as National 4-H Congress.   The first Kentucky youth attended in 1923 or 1924. 


  • The four-leaf clover became the official symbol for the clubs.  Congress requested that responsibility for the 4-H name and emblem be carried out by the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture.  Federal protection higher than that of a trademark or copyright was granted.
  • Enrollment in Kentucky was 18,548, with 50% completing projects.
  • The first livestock show and sale was held at Bourbon Stockyard in Louisville on June 15.


  • By the mid-1920s, parents became involved in helping children with projects.  Manuals on organizing and managing clubs were written.


  • The 4-H Pledge became part of the organization in 1927.  Some think that J. M. Feltner of Kentucky influenced a portion of the wording.
  • “To Make the Best Better” became the motto.


  • The first four Kentucky delegates attended National 4-H Club Camp in Washington, D.C.   They pitched tents on the area known as the Washington mall.
  • Up until 1928, Kentucky’s youth program was referred to as “Junior Agricultural Club Work.”  In 1928, the name was changed to “Junior 4-H Club Work.” It was shortened to 4-H Club Work in 1932. 


  • The depression hit the United States.  That year, 12 district camps were held, involving youth from 90 counties--977 boys and 1,123 girls, 252 volunteers and 7,785 visitors participated.  Camps were held on creek banks, parks, or any other place found suitable.  The organization did not own camping facilities until later. 


  • The first Utopia Clubs were started for those over 4-H age who wanted to continue in a 4-H type experience.
  • County Junior Councils, the forerunner to Teen Councils, were organized.


  • During the 1930’s, for the first time, youth who did not live on a farm joined 4-H.
  • Special efforts were made to increase numbers of black youth.  The first 4-H Rural Youth Conference was held at Kentucky State College.  Sixty youth attended.


  • J. M. Feltner Camp was built in Johnson County, near Paintsville.


  • Almost 25,000 youth were enrolled in 4-H and 81% completed projects.


  • On the national scene 4-H enrollment exceeded 1 million.


  • For the first time, 4-H Clubs were established in all 120 counties.  Membership topped 42,180.
  • 744 youth attended 4-H Junior Week from 111 counties


  • Consolidation of schools increased the potential involvement of youth who did not live on a farm but made it more difficult for volunteers to meet with clubs during school time.  The number of clubs meeting after school increased.


  • 1940 marked the end of the Depression but the United States was gearing up for World War II; Kentucky also experienced drought and flood.


  • Barry Bingham gave UK $10,000 to obtain old Tatum Springs summer resort property in Washington County as a 4-H camp—it was called Camp Bingham.


  • Kentucky’s grand champion lamb was sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Patriotism was high. Salvage Drives and Victory Gardens were part of 4-H.  “Feed a Fighter in ‘43” became a popular theme.  4-H enrollment jumped to almost 106,000.
  • 4-H camp was called “Wartime Conference.”
  • Junior Week was cancelled.


  • When Junior Week resumed in 1947, it was named “4-H Week.”  Most state-level contests were held during the week--fashion revue, state demonstration, speech and judging contests were held.


  • County 4-H leader associations were started to train project leaders.


  • Gas shortages limited travel.  District events replaced state events.
  • As the war ended, the first three IFYE (International Farm Youth Exchange) delegates from Kentucky were sent to European countries.  This was an effort to heal international relationships following the war.


  • Dawson Springs State Park was acquired & renamed West KY 4-H Camp.


  • All 13 districts sent one man and one woman to Lexington to form the State Committee of 4-H Club Leaders.  The committee became known later as the State 4-H Leaders Council.


  • A 99-year lease procured 182 acres at Levi Jackson State Park in London, KY for a camp.  It was named after J. M. Feltner, a much loved county agent and father of Conrad Felter who was named state 4-H leader several years later.  The camp by the same name in Johnson was closed as part of a flood control effort in 1975.


  • Great concern over training for volunteers and updated project literature led to a serious evaluation of needs. 
  • New minimum foundation laws limited the amount of time students could spend on activities such as 4-H.  This shifted 4-H participation from during the school day to more participation in community clubs and other out of school settings.  In the process, there was further transition from agent-led to volunteer-led programs.
  • The first Kentucky members participated in Camp Miniwanca at Stony Lake in Michigan. 


  • The National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, MD opened.


    • Specialists in subject matter departments at UK were assigned to help 4-H update project literature.  Conrad Feltner convinced departments to assign full time staffers to 4-H.


    • Principals and superintendents led an effort to change the minimum foundation laws in order to allow 4-H back into schools and enacted a statute allowing 4-H’ers to be counted as present at school when participating in 4-H.


    • Land was purchased near Carlisle for North Central 4-H camp and construction started soon thereafter.


    • With the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Kentucky began making changes in its program.  The practice of separate activities for Black and White youth was discontinued. Kentucky became the first state to send a black delegate to National 4-H Congress.
    • Land was acquired from the Corps of Engineers for Lake Cumberland 4-H Camp at Jabez, KY.
    • Because Kentucky opted to attend during spring break rather than the summer, Kentucky was the first state to attend Citizenship Short Course in Washington, DC.  This experience was later known as American Heritage Conference.
    • First “Leadermete” was sponsored by National 4-H Council.  Kentucky sent 50 volunteers to the new 4-H Center in Washington DC for volunteer training.  Leaders returned to Kentucky and began sharing what they learned with other leaders during special workshops at 4-H Week.


    • Extension switched from a “county” based system to an “area” based system.  Agents worked in more than one county.  After less than 4 years as Area Extension Agents, administrators changed the official position title to “County Extension Agent for 4-H” and agents were assigned to one county once again in 1970.
    • American Private Enterprise Program started.
    • Prior to 1966, Extension employees who worked with 4-H were referred to as “Assistant County Agricultural Agent” or “Assistant Home Demonstration Agent.”  At a meeting at Barren River State Park, agents made the decision to ask Extension administrators to change the position title.  That pivotal decision transformed 4-H work from a stepping stone in the career path of becoming an Ag or Home Economics Agent to a career in 4-H in and of itself. 


    • The Kentucky Association of Extension 4-H Agents was officially established on March 15, 1968.
    • Southern Region 4-H Leadership Conference was held at Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Georgia.
    • 4-H expanded the food/nutrition education program and urban 4-H programming through ear-marked funds from USDA.


      • The 1970’s were years of expansion, particularly into urban areas; the goal was to involve 250,000 youth and 45,000 volunteers.   The theme for billboards, radio/TV spots and print media was “4-H: It’s Where You’re At.”
      •  4-H Community Pride became very popular.


      • Mulligan Stew television series was launched.


      • The 4-H Pledge was changed to include “… and my world.”


      • Friends of Kentucky 4-H, Inc. was established, primarily to increase private financial support to 4-H.
      • The 4-H exhibit area at the Kentucky State Fair was redesigned as storefronts and known as “Cloverville”.


      • 4-H launched energy projects materials designed to impact the growing energy crisis.
      • State 4-H Teen Council was started.


      • Volunteers in the Northeast Extension Area purchased Irish Acres Girls Riding Camp from the Diederich family.  The camp became known as the Diederich 4-H Camp.


      • Urban gardening projects were funded at the federal level.


      • Career exploration projects were emphasized.


      • 4-H enrollment reached 254,000 youth.


      • We celebrated the 75th Birthday of Kentucky 4-H.
      • Kentucky 4-H received several grants to start building the leadership center at Lake Cumberland. Counties were also involved in local fund raising efforts.


      • The Kentucky Leadership Center opened at Jabez, KY.


      • The first “Issues” conference was held in 1989 at the Kentucky Leadership Center.


        • The position title “County Extension Agent for 4-H” was changed to “County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development.”  This reflected the agent’s role in youth development.


        • About 150 volunteers and staff were involved in the design of a strategic plan for Kentucky 4-H.


        • Kentucky 4-H shifted away from 4-H record books to 4-H Honors.  Selection of youth to attend National 4-H Congress was based on Honors achievement and interview rather than record book achievement.
        • Schools were able to use the 4-H Workforce Preparation educational materials in classrooms because it was designed to meet the criteria of the School-to-Work Act and Welfare to Work legislation.
        • 4-H Shooting Sports with a strong emphasis on safety was introduced and became exceedingly popular.  It became the first program in which volunteers were required to be certified.  


        • Kentucky become involved with a national effort to make 4-H available on every United States Army base around the world.  4-H clubs were established at Ft. Knox and Ft. Campbell.


        • The first Reality Store associated with Kentucky 4-H was introduced in Mercer County.


          • The 100th Anniversary of 4-H in the United States.
          • Kentucky Agriculture Development Board awarded $2 million to Kentucky 4-H to establish an endowment to fund Venture Grants—creative projects which move 4-H forward.


          • Dr. Joe Kurth came to Kentucky from Iowa.
          • Kentucky 4-H Core Curriculum was adopted.


          • The Kentucky 4-H website underwent a major redesign.   


          • Kentucky 4-H camps were accredited by the American Camp Association.
          • To ensure high quality learning, a system was established to certify livestock volunteers.
          • 4-H members met with state legislators for the first Capital Experience in Frankfort.
          • Kentucky Youth Summit, an experience similar to Teen Conference, was launched for younger teens.


          • Efforts were increased to involve youth in 4-H between the hours of 3pm and 6pm—the time when many end up in unsupervised situations between the end of the school day and when parents arrive home from work.  


          • A Science, Engineering & Technology Initiative was implemented in Kentucky.


          • The Kentucky legislature approved a $2 million request for improvements to 4-H camp facilities. 
          • Name of Friends of Kentucky 4-H, Inc. changed to “Kentucky 4-H Foundation.”


          • Kentucky celebrates the 100th Anniversary of 4-H.