4-H Fix: Firsts: Part 1!

Firsts: Part 1!

By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development

Happy New Year!

That’s what we yell on the first day of the year. Anyway, I yelled it, myself, again, this year. Did you?

So, January FIRST! It’s good to be first. Everyone wants to be first. Nobody wants to be last. Or even second! I think those are the two placements that most folks find to be the least favorable: second and last. It’s a bit of a toss-up, I think, which of those two is seen to be the worst, unless second IS last. Then, I guess, it is a tie. But truth be known, I actually, personally, like second, or even last, more than first, since you learn more from them than you do from first, unless it is a job interview. In that case, first is better. Just saying.

But this post will be about firsts! But first, a thank you is in order. I was at a loss over how to find some of the information I needed for this post and a few other stories that I wanted to tell. Almost as a last resort, I stopped by the Special Collections Department in Fogler Library and asked them if they had any ideas of how I might learn some of the information I needed. Archivist Desiree Butterfield-Nagy thought she might have a few ideas, asked me to have a seat, and disappeared through a door marked “STAFF ONLY”! In no time flat she was back with more books and documents for me to review than I could have imagined existed, much of it written in the hand of the persons I had been looking for! Desiree was a HUGE help! In fact, she has been a huge help EVERY TIME I’ve visited the Special Collections Department of Fogler Library! So many thanks, Desiree!

Now second, here are those promised firsts!

The University of Maine first established its Department of Extension in 1907, 110 years ago. Maine Extension work had actually begun earlier, beginning almost as soon as the university was established in 1865 with publishing of papers and giving lectures. By 1903 demonstration farms were helping farmers see how newly discovered methods could be useful on their farms and Arthur W. Gilbert, in 1905, had begun to provide some direct Extension Outreach to individual farmers. However, the whole business quickly needed to be organized and coordinated, so a Department was created in 1907.

The first County Extension Agents in Maine were appointed in 1912. The honor for being the VERY first, however, goes to Ernest M. Straight, Cumberland County! He started work on November 1, 1912. George A. Yeaton, Oxford County, followed close behind being appointed on December 1, 1912. Arthur L. Deering was appointed December 16, 1912 in Kennebec. Washington County welcomed Clarence A. Day on February 15, 1913. Maurice D Jones began work in Penobscot County on August 16, 1913. And George N. Worden’s first day in Hancock County was March 1, 1914. By then Maine had some of the new Smith-Lever Federal funds! But Hancock wasn’t the first county to get some of those funds; Franklin was! They used it to bring on Wilson M. Morse on July 1, 1914.

Dr. Leon S. Merrill
Dr. Leon S. Merrill

Those new, first agents knew they had their work cut out for them. Deering, who later became Maine’s 2nd Extension Director, summed up the problem for everyone when he said in his first report, “The Kennebec farmer needs to have more confidence in farming as a business.” By the way, they weren’t called Extension Agents then. They were “Directors of Farm Demonstrations.” As 1st Extension Director Dr. Leon S. Merrill often pointed out, it was Extension’s job to get the knowledge gained through university research, Demonstration Farms, and Experiment Stations and “take these truths out to the farms and set them at work!” By the way, not that it makes that much difference, but Dr. Merrill really was a doctor. His degree was a medical degree!

Also by the way, and this time it does matter, these county agents didn’t only do county agricultural outreach work, they also organized the Boys and Girls Club Work! Which meant they needed some guidance from the top.

So Dr. Merrill appointed a State Club Work Leader, what we’d now call the State 4-H Leader. Franklin Harold Bickford — F. Harold Bickford in official documents, Harold to his friends — was appointed on August 18, 1913 as the first “State Leader of Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs in Agriculture and Home Economics.” He stayed at it for one year. Under his leadership, Maine established thirty-two 4‑H Clubs (24 Potato Clubs, 5 poultry Clubs, and 3 Canning Clubs), enrolling 80 boys and 16 girls. In 1914 FHB left Extension to help establish the Pentecostal Church in Maine, primarily in Aroostook County. You can read more about FHB by visiting the National 4-H History Map. Zoom in on Maine until the Maine icons appear. Click on the human figure just below Bangor. There you will find a few links to additional information about F. Harold Bickford.

F.H.B. Heald
F.H.B. Heald of Scarborough, organized the first active 4-H club in Maine in 1913.

The first active Maine 4-H Volunteer was also attached to the initials, FHB! F.H.B. Heald of Scarborough organized the first active Maine 4-H Club there in December of 1913. It was a club for boys interested in growing potatoes. This “FHB” is also on the History map and you can visit him there as well. This time click on the green pushpin closest to the coast. There you will find a few links to additional information about F. H. B. Heald and the Scarborough Boys Potato Club.

What the heck, while in the map, why not click on all of the icons in Maine? You’ll find the first Girls Club (1914 in Macwahoc) and their leader, Ava Chadbourne, there, too, if you look in Aroostook County! If you know of someplace or someone you think ought to be on the map, you can nominate it! Here is the form. If you need help, let me know.

Contrary to what one might think, this Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work idea was not all that popular with community members, even parents, in the beginning! As a way of building knowledge of the benefits of club work, counties held contests, sort of like fairs, sometimes called exhibitions, to which all the county’s club members would bring their projects and compete with each other to see who would be named champion! The first County Contest was held in Waldo County, Belfast, November 5-6, 1915.

This picture shows the boys who attended that contest. I don’t know where the girls were. Maybe girls didn’t attend! Odd.

Boys who attended the first County Contest was held in Waldo County, Belfast, November 5-6, 1915.

If you look close, you may be able to see the five boys on the left-hand side in the back row leaning on each other’s shoulders. I guess boys will be boys.

The 1916 contest in southern Aroostook County was certainly a success! The Macwahoc 4-H Leader, Mrs. Harriet Pratt, who took over from Chadbourne, described the situation saying, “From the first we worked up hill all the way.” Apparently, there was a little resistance from the parents. “I found the…parents strongly opposed. So much ridicule and objections from all sides discouraged the children.” Really?! But then she adds, “The local exhibit held here in November…stirred up considerable interest. One man who was heartily opposed…has since remarked: ‘these clubs were the finest thing that ever happened in my community. I want to see the children try again so that I can encourage them.’” By golly, it worked!

The first year EVERY county “unit” held at least one county contest was 1918. The Twin Counties unit held one, but Knox and Lincoln each held their own. Northern and southern Aroostook County each held one as did northern and southern Oxford! The rest held one each.

The first State Contest was held December 21-23, 1914 on the UMaine Orono campus. Emily Morse of Cherryfield was named the first state champion. Well, she was named the 1914 state winner in the garden and canning project. They actually didn’t call them “champions” until 1915. But I say she earned the title anyway. Then she did it again in 1916 and 1917, which in my book proves it!

In this photo we see the 4‑H’ers who attended that first State 4-H Contest. They are standing on the front steps of the Carnegie Library. The man pointed out by the green arrow is F. Harold Bickford, first State 4-H Leader.

4‑H’ers who attended that first State 4-H Contest

Cherryfield’s Emily Morse is the short girl in the front row, third from the right, wearing the light colored coat with the two big, black buttons.

For having just gotten started, there was a lot happening 4-H-wise prior to 1920! The year 1916 saw the first group of Maine 4-H’ers head off to the FIRST Eastern States Exposition held in West Springfield, Massachusetts! It was more than New England back then. The state Extension Newsletter reported that “on October 13, Club Members from ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA and DE will present exhibits to compete for prizes at the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition.” The author, Ralph P. Mitchell, State 4-H Leader, then added, “It rests with you boys and girls to show these other states what we can do!” And they did! Maine sent five judging teams (canning, corn, dairy, potatoes, and poultry). The potato team came in FIRST and got $30 in gold.

Hmm. Maybe first IS a good thing after all.

Which brings us to the end of the first part of FIRSTS, or FIRSTS: Part 1, as they say! There were so many firsts for Maine 4-H, I sort of got myself into a 4-H FIX! The story was getting to be too long! I had to break it into two parts! Come back to the 4-H Fix on January 27, 2017 to read Part 2 of Maine’s 4-H Firsts.” You’ll discover the name of the first Mainer to attend National 4-H Congress, which 4-H club was the first to take a ride in an airplane, and much more!

In the meantime, what were your 4-H Firsts? Tell me about them, and, if granted permission, I might just include your firsts 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.