Celebrating KY 4-H History in the 1950s
The Fifth Decade
In retrospect, it is not surprising that 4-H enrollment dropped off after the war years as the urgency to contribute to winning the war was no longer a motivation for participation. To Kentucky’s credit, membership remained high as compared to other states. In 1948 only seven other states had higher membership.
Membership hovered around 66,000 from 1950 to 1955 when it took an upward trend and was at 80,208 by 1959.
Leadership, on the other hand, was at its postwar low of around 7,000 in 1950 and took an upward trend, reaching around 12,500 in 1959. It was this growth in leadership, no doubt, that increased enrollment in the latter part of the decade. It is clear that J.W. Whitehouse firmly believed in the value of volunteer leadership and encouraged the recruitment and training of three categories of leaders: community club leaders, project leaders and 4-H council members. The pre-war week-long leader conferences were replaced in the fifties with district week-end camps. In addition, field agents provided training at the county level.
West Kentucky 4-H Camp—The year 1950 saw another big boost to the camping program with the procurement of the Dawson Springs State Park as another 4-H camp. Discussion regarding the leasing of this 400-acre parcel of land began in 1947 and was completed three years later after much negotiation over a 1935 deed which stipulated that if the site ceased to be used as a state park, it would revert back to the United States government who had conveyed it to the state.
Now called West Kentucky 4-H Camp, the original facilities included a 14-acre lake with a beach and bathing facilities, bath houses and other structures. The funds needed to build a kitchen, dining hall and staff quarters were donated, by and large by W.C. Sparks in honor of his father, William Ballard Sparks. The central camp building bears the name Sparks Hall.
J. M. Feltner 4-H Camp—Despite the new West Kentucky Camp, there was a need for additional camping facilities in other parts of the state. In 1955 a group of lay leaders formed Feltner 4-H Camp, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the construction of a new 4-H camp. The group obtained a 99-year lease on 182 acres of land that was part of the Levi Jackson State Park at London.
Fund-raising for the camp was slow with the major contributions coming in the early sixties from Mrs. J.D. Crooks, Laurel County, who gave $25,000 for the J.D. Crooks Arts and Crafts Building, and from Kentucky Utilities Company (Mountain Division) and Jackson County RECC, each giving $3,500.
In the early sixties, Governor Bert Combs responded to the need for additional help with money to prepare the dam and build a road into the camp site. More...
State Committee of 4-H Club Leaders
The year 1953 saw the formation of a new committee that has proven to be a strong and vital component of Kentucky’s 4-H program. Each of the then 13 districts in the state sent one man and one woman to a meeting at the Experiment Station in Lexington to form the State Committee of 4-H Club Leaders. At this first meeting the group elected officers and a board of nine directors; they also adopted a constitution and by-laws. The committee’s purpose was to assist district committees with activities and problems. The first meeting after the group’s organization was February 2, 1954.
In the second meeting, held on June 19-20, 1954, a motion was made to ask the Extension director to leave assistant agents in place until the end of the year because it was too disruptive to the youth when they were moved in mid-year. They also asked that the title “assistant agent” be changed to 4-H agent.
By 1955 the name of the committee was changed to Kentucky 4-H Leaders Council and in 1958 it was referred to as the State 4-H Council. Its purpose was to study the total state 4-H program and make recommendations to the state 4-H staff, sub-district and county councils to improve 4-H work at all levels. More...
Animal Shows—District dairy, lamb and beef shows remained popular and well supported by members and apparently by local stockyards. In 1950, 848 cows and heifers, 397 lambs and 2,179 beef animals were exhibited and sold. A record was found of district swine shows in 1952. By the end of the decade there were 17 district animal shows.
Records also show that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture began furnishing premiums between the years 1950 and 1953.
Tobacco Shows----District Tobacco Shows, started in 1949, remained popular. In 1950 there were 15 district shows held on December 16. In 1953, there were 803,312 pounds sold at $57.12 per hundred.
4-H Week—This popular event brought 4-H’ers to Lexington for dress revue, home economics and agricultural demonstrations and programs built around different themes each year. In 1953, the theme was “4-H Citizenship in Our County, State and Nation,” with programs and discussions presented by a member of the National 4-H Club Foundation, assisted by university staff.
Demonstrations—Demonstrations have been an important part of 4-H from its beginning. Through district elimination, individuals were chosen to participate in 4-H Week. County and district rally days provided opportunities for members to participate in dress revue (now called fashion revue) and to have their exhibits and demonstrations judged. Winners of the district rally days became eligible to come to 4-H Week. Rally days also provided opportunities for recreational events – and a good time for 4-H’ers to socialize.
Camp Miniwanca—It was in the 1956 annual report that the first mention is made of Camp Miniwanca. Delegates to this leadership training camp, located in Stoney Lake, Michigan were sponsored by the Danforth Foundation of the Ralston Purina Company. Read Doris Pruitt's "My Camp Miniwanca Experience"...
Black Youth Activities
The decade of the fifties continued the tradition of separate activities for black 4-H members. In 1955, there were nine black agents (six women and three men) working in 16 counties with 2,663 black youth enrolled in 4-H.
In this same year, black 4-H’ers participated in 4-H Week for Negro Clubs at Kentucky State College in Frankfort and in two camps, one at Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville and one in Washington, D. C. The camp at Simpsonville, called Conservation Camp, was sponsored by Federal Cartridge Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. To attend this one-week camp, 4-H’ers had to write a letter to the camp’s sponsor.
In 1956 there was a 4-H district baby beef show for black members in Hopkinsville at which 19 members sold 19 calves for $2,950 or an average of $78.91 per l00 lbs.
Utopia Clubs and Young Adult Work
Utopia Clubs continued under the leadership of Carl Jones. He was responsible for this aspect of Extension from its beginning until he died in 1956. The need of social, recreational and educational activities was met for many young farmers through Utopia Clubs. More…
The Latter Years of the Fifties
The years 1954 to 1959 showed steady increase in the number of 4-H members: 64,032 in 1954; 76,589 in 1958; 80,208 in 1960. The thrust of project subject matter remained oriented toward agriculture (including soil and water conservation) and home economics. By the end of the decade, there were 120 county 4-H councils and 22 junior (teen) councils.
The year 1956 saw serious evaluation of two components of the 4-H program: leadership and project literature. Neither of these were new concerns, nor of the type that are resolved once and for all, but this point in 4-H history saw a concerted effort to deal with specific needs.
Leadership—Leaders were identified as three groups: community club leaders, project leaders and the 4-H council. These were both adult and junior leaders. In 1959, there were 11,900 adult and 1,550 junior leaders. Training for these groups had generally been accomplished by the state 4-H staff in district training schools. The home economics staff also held subject matter training meetings. Other organizations trained leaders for special programs: Standard Oil Company provided training in tractor maintenance, Singer Sewing Machine in clothing, and electric companies provided training in electrical project literature.
Literature—The need to update project literature was a concern. There was a need for evaluating programs, for providing a graduated series of projects for boys (at that time certain subject matter was presumed more appropriate for boys, other subject matter more so for girls), for updating subject matter and for providing project material for urban youth.
The sixties saw implementation of programs designed to address these two concerns.
Closing Out the Whitehouse Era
The latter years of leadership provided by J.W. Whitehouse who had been state leader since 1924 were years of gradual growth and relative stability. Programs which had proven successful continued to enjoy success.
Mr. Whitehouse retired July 1, 1956, and Boyd Wheeler, a 4-H field agent, became acting state leader. Wheeler served in this position until he went to Indonesia as an Extension exchange worker. M.S. Garside, also a 4-H field agent, served as acting state leader until George Corder was appointed state leader in 1958. Corder came to the position having served as a county agent and soils specialist. He served as state leader until July 1962.
4-H Week Attendance
From the lists of results found in the State 4-H Department, it appears that several state level competitive events took place during 4-H Week on UK’s campus. The contests included demonstrations, public speaking, water management, and several awards presented to 4-H members by campus organizations—Farm House, Alpha Zeta, Alpha Gamma Rho, University 4-H Club, Hamilton House, and Phi U. The registration fee for 4-H Week in 1953 was $7.50.
News Release March 1, 1959: 4-H Week Story for the Herald Leader by Orinne Johnson
This release was typed on a traditional typewriter, so all additions and corrections were penciled in instead of retyping the entire document.