The Third Decade

The decade of the thirties was ushered in on the heels of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. As though the now-called “Depression” were not enough hardship on the country, the “drought” also took its toll—particularly on the agricultural community. But 4-H held its own and

. . . Twenty thousand, four hundred and sixty boys and girls were enrolled in Junior 4-H Club Work this year, and notwithstanding the drought and other unfavorable farm conditions, 74.3 percent of them completed their work. 1

In fact, Junior Week attendance had to be limited to 526 boys and girls, 55 volunteer leaders, 25 home demonstration agents and 66 county agents because of accommodations. It is interesting to note the support of sponsors. Two hundred and sixteen club members came on prize trips given by transportation companies and others interested in club work. 2

Creameries in Cincinnati and Louisville donated trips to the National Dairy Show to dairy club members. The 1930 General Assembly appropriated $3,000 as premium money for district dairy shows. Volunteer leaders also remained faithful even in hard times, and the 4-H principle of recognition was applied in the form of pins and certificates presented to volunteer leaders for their service.

Utopia Clubs

Early in this third decade of 4-H development, the need was seen for involvement of young adults who had passed the age of 18–the upper age limit of 4-H–but who were not quite ready to take their place in the ranks of adult farm men and women. Under the leadership of Carl W. Jones, who had recently joined the 4-H Club staff, the Utopia Club was initiated in 1930. The ten clubs of 1930 grew to 22 in 1931 with a membership of 167 young men and 176 young women. The club operated on a project basis in the same manner as 4-H. Leadership was provided by the members themselves. More...


The impact of the difficult economic times would have been a threat to the development of 4-H had it not been for home economics agents and local volunteer leaders who picked up the slack left by agricultural agents. Their time was demanded for the implementation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 and other government programs that were a part of the New Deal legislation of the Roosevelt era.

Enrollment increased from 2,169 in 1931 to 4,344 in 1939, and completion of projects increased from 77.7 percent to 81.2 percent. Male membership was largely from farm background but female membership was from both farm and non-farm rural background.

Meeting the Need

One thread running through the woof and warp of the years of 4-H history is the timeliness of its programming. 4-H was conceived to meet a need of a particular time and from its beginning has, by and large, met its clientele where they were.

The thirties brought hard times. Money was scarce and spirits were low. Looking back at the project literature of this era, it is clear that 4-H leadership was on target to meet its members’ needs. The typical agricultural projects remained a major emphasis. Young women were encouraged to complete practical projects such as room improvement, renovating clothing and using old garments to construct new, different ones.

From Circular No. 269—4-H Room Improvement Project—Unit II:

In determining improvements let the aim be to make the greatest number of worthwhile changes with as little expense as possible. Use furniture already on hand and make it attractive by cleaning, repairing and refinishing. Use inexpensive materials for such room accessories as curtains, pillows and dresser covers. Rooms improved after a great deal of thought and planning, even tho little money is available, are usually more attractive and satisfying than those that have been expensively furnished. Rooms with charm cannot be purchased with money alone. They can be achieved by intelligent planning and work. . . .More

4-H’ers learned to make the most of their resources–a good principle for these hard times as well as better times.

Although the records do not give details regarding the role of 4-H in relief work during the thirties, reports are given of Extension workers and homemakers working with the Red Cross in packing and distributing food, giving demonstrations on food preservation, operating canning centers, sewing for the needy and numerous other relief efforts. The records do show that 4-H members helped hundreds of homemakers and Extension Committee members in the flood relief efforts of 1937 when thousands of people were rendered homeless in that major flood disaster.

The drought brought in the thirties and a major flood devastated much of Kentucky in 1937. Projects teaching conservation soon became a part of the 4-H curriculum and youngsters learned how to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. 4-H – meeting the needs of its members and taking its place in the mainstream of society.

Black Participation

Black participation continued to be an important, though separate, part of 4-H Club work.

Although 4-H membership had been open to Negro boys and girls from the beginning – a special effort was made in 1939 to increase both the volume and the quality of their 4-H club work. In counties having the greatest concentration of black farmers there were two black home demonstration agents and four black farm agents. They were assisted by the state 4-H staff in developing county programs of 4-H work, and in other counties where there was a considerable concentration of black farmers the white agents were encouraged to organize black 4-H clubs. As a result the Negro agents increased their enrollment of club members from 789 in 1938 to 1,133 in 1939, and the while agents organized 24 clubs of black boys and girls, with 546 members making a grand total of 1,679 members. This was more than double the enrollment of 1938. It was also a higher percentage of increase since 1920 (365 percent) than had been enjoyed among the white boys and girls (206 percent). 3

Another effort to render Extension services to the rural black population appeared in the form of a Rural Youth Conference for Negroes held at Kentucky State College. Sixty members attended in 1939. Attendance in 1942 was 94.


A new program effort to meet the needs of a specific 4-H population began toward the end of the decade. This was a recreational program for Lee, Wolfe, Morgan, Breathitt, Bell, Knott, Leslie and Letcher counties–counties offering little in the way of recreation for its youth. A field worker was employed in cooperation with Berea College and the Conference of Southern Mountain Workers. Centers were established, mostly in school, and mountain ballads and folk dances were the most popular activities.

4-H Beef Show, circa 1930sStill a major activity for 4-H, Junior Week involved 744 members from 111 counties in 1939, the largest group ever to attend the event up to that time.4-H Beef Show, circa 1930s

County fair exhibits were high; as an example, the State 4-H Baby Beef Show had 597 members showing 1,086 animals in 1939.

4-H Councils

Although the records are not clear regarding the dates that 4-H councils came on the scene in Kentucky, it was sometime in the decade of the thirties that they became a visible part of the system. At this time, councils were composed largely of business and professional people with a few rural leaders.

Junior 4-H Club councils were organized in the late thirties to work with the adult councils in program planning.

Closing Out the Third Decade

The year 1939 saw, for the first time, 4-H club programs in each of the 120 counties. A total of 42,180 members participated in club activities—an increase of 1,093 in 1938.

1 Circular No. 245, Annual Report for the year Ended December 31, 1930. 15.
2 Circular No. 245, Annual Report for the year Ended December 31, 1930. 15.
3 Smith, J. Allan. 1981. College of Agriculture of the University of Kentucky: Early and Middle Years 1865-1951, 345-6. Lexington, KY: Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.