4-H is a youth educational program conducted by the federal Cooperative Extension Service, in conjunction with state and local partners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, state land-grant universities, and county governments cooperatively fund 4-H, and federal, state, and local extension staff and volunteer leaders develop and carry out its programs. In West Virginia, 4-H is conducted under the direction of the West Virginia University Extension Service and West Virginia State University Extension Service.
The 4-H movement in West Virginia began in Monroe County in 1908 with the organization of clubs for farm boys and girls to teach them better farming and homemaking methods. These corn clubs and canning clubs were patterned on educational youth groups that had been developed in 1902 in Ohio and Illinois. The Monroe County clubs proved to be successful and were soon introduced into other counties.
In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which made federal funding available for each state to develop its agricultural extension program. The youth extension movement was promoted and overseen by extension agents who recruited and trained local adult volunteer leaders to work with the boys and girls clubs. The first agriculture extension clubs for black youth in West Virginia were established in Seebert, Pocahontas County, in 1915 under the direction of educator J. E. Banks.
The 4-H name and four-leaf clover logo were being used to represent boys and girls clubs in West Virginia by 1918. The design, a four-leaf clover with an H on each leaf, had been introduced in other states by 1909, and the term ‘‘4-H club’’ first appeared in a federal document in 1918. The four H’s represented fourfold development of the Head, Heart, Health, and Hands.
West Virginia was an early leader in the development and promotion of summer camps for rural boys and girls. The first organized camp for rural youth in the United States was held in Randolph County in 1915. The camp, sponsored by the West Virginia University Extension Service, was under the direction of J. Versus Shipman with the assistance of his wife, Bess, and William H. ‘‘Teepi’’ Kendrick. Kendrick would go on to establish and direct the first state 4-H camp in the United States at Jackson’s Mill in 1921. Camp Washington-Carver, the country’s first African-American state 4-H camp, was established in Fayette County in 1942. Today Jackson’s Mill is a nationally recognized camp and conference center, and many of West Virginia’s counties have permanent 4-H camps that host year-round learning and recreational experiences.
Originally targeted for rural boys and girls between the ages of nine and 19, 4-H has expanded over time to provide educational programs for urban and underprivileged youth. The original agricultural education programs have expanded to cover a wide variety of topics, to meet the varied and changing educational needs of the state’s young people, while continuing to promote the 4-H motto to ‘‘Make the best better.’’
This Article was written by Michael M. Meador
Last Revised on July 20, 2012
Stewart, Guy H. A Touch of Charisma: A History of the 4-H Club Program in West Virginia. Morgantown: 1969.
Wessel, Thomas & Marilyn Wessel. 4-H: An American Idea 1900-1980. Chevy Chase: National 4-H Council, 1982.
Meador, Michael M. 'Part P. T. Barnum and Part Billy Sunday': Jim Morris Remembers 'Teepi' Kendrick. Goldenseal, (Summer 1984).