4-H Fix: Happy National 4-H Week!
By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development
Happy National 4-H Week!
This year the celebration will be October 2-8. So are you planning anything special? This year’s theme is “#4hgrown”! During National 4-H Week, use social media to tell the world how you are #4hgrown!!
As a Pennsylvania 4-H member, I always looked forward to National 4-H Week. Always the first full week of October, right smack dab in the middle of the fall foliage season, and usually the week in which my birthday falls (just saying), how could things get any better? The 4-H Clubs in my hometown would plan a parade, put exhibits into store windows, and plaster posters all over the place (celebrating 4-H, that is, not my birthday, just to be clear). I even led a 4-H Radio Club that took over the County Agent’s five-minute “Extension Moment” a few National 4-H Weeks in the ’70s.
Being relatively (re)new to Maine 4-H, I wondered how Maine 4-H celebrated National 4-H Week in the early years. Here on the UMaine campus, through Fogler Library, I have access to an online newspaper collection. So I asked the machine to search for “national 4-H week” between 1910 and 1940 in Maine (4-H began in Maine in 1913. It was called “Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work” at that time, “4‑H” becoming the popular name in the early ’20s).
Nothing. “No results can be found,” the machine said. Well, that wasn’t too surprising since National 4-H Week wasn’t started until 1945. I searched, all the same, one never knows, as was proved by what I found when I searched nationally. Up pops a 1934 Ludington Daily News article (that’s Ludington, MI) that says, “Letters and cards from Miss Elna Hansen, one of Michigan’s four representatives at National 4-H Week at Washington, D. C., bring to her family vivid descriptions of her experiences.” Then another, this one from the Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania, that is) of July 6, 1936. It included an account of a meeting of the Purchase Line 4-H Club, whose program included a presentation from a “Mr. J. F. Keim from State College,” who “gave a very interesting talk on club work and the National 4-H Club Week at Washington, D. C.”
Turns out the name was used before the event was created! In 1927, a week-long national 4‑H Camp was started, which brought 4-H members from across the country to Washington, D.C. That is the “National 4-H Week” Elna attended and Mr. Keim referred to. By the way, this camp evolved into what we know today as National 4-H Conference, so designated since 1957.
But I digress. We were talking about National 4-H Week in Maine.
In 1942, as World War II raged around the world, here on the home front we were doing all we could to support the troops. What the country needed was a way for folks to be more self-supportive, grow their own food, make their own clothes, so the products made commercially could be used in support of our troops.
Can you think of anyone who might grow their own food and/or make their own clothes?
Thus began the idea of the National 4-H Club Victory Program, which seems to have been spread over a month or more with one week specially designated as “National 4-H Mobilization Week”! The Federal Extension Service, USDA, announced that 4-H’ers would help win the war by buying less and becoming more self-sufficient! All the states jumped on board. The program name and special week’s dates weren’t always the same, however, state by state (4-H Mobilization Week in North Carolina, for example, was April 5 – 12 in 1942, while here in Maine it was in March).
In Maine, the program was called the Maine State 4-H Food and Victory Campaign. It was so big a deal that Maine’s Governor, Sumner Sewall, signed a proclamation making March 1942 “4-H Enrollment Month.” His proclamation urged “all boys and girls of club age to enroll in the 4-H Food for Victory projects.” I guess they did! An article in the February 2, 1943 edition of Augusta’s Daily Kennebec Journal, reported that “15,000 Maine 4-H boys and girls produced over $340,000 worth of food in 1942.” Not only is that a lot of dollars, but that’s also a lot of 4-H’ers!
According to the same article, the 1943 program “opened on February first and will continue through April fifteenth. February sixth to fourteenth has been set aside as National 4-H Mobilization Week.” The article goes on to say that Campaign officials explained, “Uncle Sam isn’t asking the boys and girls to give away to the armed forces the food they have raised — just eat it at home, and buy less. The more we have to buy, the more we are taking away from the boys in the armed forces who can’t raise gardens, pigs, chicks, etc.”
It seems the kids in Maine listened to their Governor, not only in 1942 but 1943 and 1944, too. Maine 4‑H enrollment reached almost 20,000 by 1944, a number not surpassed until the 1990s! As for their role in winning the war, it must have been pretty great! After all, we won the war!
Which brings us to 1945. No more need for a “4-H Food and Victory Campaign” or a “National 4-H Mobilization Week.” However, the attention that special week garnered 4-H was deemed so effective, that they kept the week, just dropped the “Mobilization” part or, in some places, changed it to “Club.” The idea of a National 4-H Week was quick to catch on, nationally and here in Maine.
A March 6, 1954 clipping found in a scrapbook made by Oxford County’s Virginia Cyr (the paper was not identified, but probably was the Lewiston Daily Sun), was headlined “More than Seven Thousand Maine 4H Club Members to Celebrate National Club Week.” The sub-headline was “National 4-H Club Week to be observed March 6 to 14.” The article says Maine would celebrate the 1954 National 4-H Week with special television and radio shows, meetings, project presentations, window displays, exhibits, a 4-H auction, and special pages in weekly newspapers.
TV shows were planned, so I assume were aired, by 4-H members in York County on March 8 over WCSH-TV; several counties planned to participate in a Saturday afternoon show, March 13, over WABI-TV and a 7:00 p.m. show at WLAM-TV was scheduled. The planned auction was for northern Aroostook county on March 13 and special 4-H Jamborees were scheduled in both northern and southern Kennebec county. There was even a special display to be seen in the window of Draper’s Store in Waterville, which included 4‑H’ers giving presentations in the window after school each day of the week.
We know Biddeford 4-H’ers celebrated the special 4-H week! The March 12, 1954 Biddeford Journal reported that the girls from the Arundel Go-Getters 4-H Club of North Kennebunkport, led by Mrs. Richard Talbot, had set up a display of 4-H sewing and 4-H home-cooking projects in the window of Kent Cleaners in Biddeford. The same paper in the following year, on March 9, 1955, reported that “Maine’s 6,775 young 4-H club members” observed the week “with meetings and demonstrations” (I assume they mean the educational kind of demonstrations, not the protest kind).
Check this out! On March 2, 1957, Maine to Observe National 4-H Week (a full page spread which appeared on Page 7 of the Lewiston Daily Sun) announcing the start of that year’s National 4-H Week.
It’s ALL 4-H! And what’s interesting as well is that on page 6 there are two more articles about 4-H!
The 1958 National 4-H Week theme was “4-H Salute to Parents”! A press release from the UMaine State 4-H Office in Orono stated, “Maine 4-H club members and leaders are joining in a salute to their parents this week during National 4-H Club week, March 1 to 8. Parents of 4-H club members seldom get the recognition and thanks they deserve for their guidance and promotion of 4-H activities, says Kenneth C. Lovejoy, state 4‑H club leader, Extension Service, University of Maine. Maine’s more than 5,000 4-H club members in some 400 clubs are uniting their heads, hearts, hands, and health in saluting their parents.”
For the record, the enrollment pattern seen in Maine in the ‘40s and ‘50s was not unique to Maine; it was repeated across the country. The big buildup during the war years, probably due to civic pride and the desire to be a part of something big, was followed by what could almost be called a “let down” once the war was over, so enrollments dropped off. Things didn’t really begin to turn around again until about 1958 or 1959 when the earliest of the Baby Boom generation began to reach 4-H age.
Oddly, I didn’t find any National 4-H Week newspaper coverage after 1959 for Maine in this collection. Perhaps there just wasn’t any coverage by the newspapers included in the collection! There was a State 4-H leadership change in the early ’60s. Perhaps the State 4-H Office was sending out fewer Press Releases in the 1960s and’70s!
There was also a change in National 4-H Week in the early 1960s. In 1964 the good folks in the national 4-H office at USDA decided the fall would be a better time of year for this celebration so the 1964 National 4-H Week was held September 26-October 3. Then, in 1968, another change came about, moving the date to “the first full week in October,” October 6-12 in 1968, and so it has been ever since.
So it sounds like the manner of celebrating National 4-H Week was set early and changed little over the years. The description for Maine’s 1954 celebrations matches nicely with my 1974 recollections of National 4-H Week as a Pennsylvania 4-H’er, 1984 celebrations in Massachusetts as a 4-H Agent, and 1994 celebrations here in Maine while a member of the state 4-H staff.
What are your memories of National 4-H Week?
Send me a message or letter and tell me about them. Add a sentence saying I have permission to use your information and, who knows, you may find yourself in a future “4-H Fix”!
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University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.