4-H Camp Vail

Camp Vail photo exhibit in the Page Farm and Home MuseumThe photos of 4-H Camp Vail included in our exhibit are of Maine 4-H’ers participating in the 1928 4-H Camp Vail. The photos were part of a collection given to the Page Farm and Home Museum by Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf. For background on Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf, see the 4-H Fix blog post called “The Original 4-H Brownie” and visit the “Brownie’s Kitchen” exhibit in this museum.

In the large Camp Vail group photo, “Brownie” is seated in the front row, fourth from the left. At the time this photo was taken, she had not yet married William E. Schrumpf (they were married in 1932) and was serving as Maine’s fifth Assistant State 4-H Leader. Sitting next to her, fifth from the left, is Lester H. Shibles, Maine’s 3rd State 4-H Leader.

The following is an article about 4-H Camp Vail that appeared in the National 4-H History Preservation Newsletter (V8, #4, May/June 2017) (PDF).

Camp Vail

Jim Kahler, National 4-H Leader, 4-HNHQ, NIFA, USDA and Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional and Associate Director 4-H Resource Development, University of Maine

In the early years of the 4-H movement, a New England activity called “Camp Vail” played a prominent and useful role in showcasing club work to the public. The original concept was a response to the problems that arose in agricultural communities as large numbers of young men left their farms to become doughboys during WWI.

Theodore N. Vail was president of American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1907-19191. In 1910, he donated his Vermont property, “Speedwell Farm” at Lyndon Center, to be used to train boys and girls in agriculture, home making and industry. This became the Theodore N. Vail School of Agriculture (now the Lyndon Institute).

During WWI, concern over the farm labor shortage in Vermont was greatly felt. State government and agriculture leaders conceived the idea of utilizing the Vail School to train non-farm boys to do farm work and then send them to live and work on farms in the state at a wage rate. Therefore, the 1917 and 1918 programs were used to serve this purpose and were called Camp Vail. 2,3

In 1914, “The Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition” (later to be known as “Eastern States Exposition”) was incorporated in West Springfield, Massachusetts. In an effort to expand this new fair, Exposition representatives travelled to Chicago in 1916 to promote moving the National Dairy Show to the Exposition grounds. Gaining agreement, they quickly constructed new buildings over the summer to house the dairy show.

At the same time, O. H. Benson, USDA Leader of Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work in the North and West, proposed a “Northern Atlantic Boys’ and Girls’ Club Exposition” be developed and implemented on the new Exposition grounds. Thus, one of the new buildings was dedicated for that use. Club youth first participated at Eastern States in the fall of 1916.

Theodore Vail was a major supporter of this effort as well. As the first chairman of the ESE Executive Committee of the Achievement Bureau, he helped to raise funds and organize the projects. Due to this support, the youth program and building became known as Camp Vail.

Camp Vail was described on page 490 of the November 13, 1919 edition of the Journal of Education as an eight day camp for state fair first and second place winners from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware with the purpose being “a means to show the public the value of club work.” According to the American Hereford Journal (Vol 11, #1, May 15, 1920, p 463) it was attended by more than 500 club members from the ten North Atlantic states. Industrial Arts Magazine of 1921 (Vol 10, p488) reported that ESE’s Camp Vail was an “opportunity to see some of the world’s finest cattle and products, the chance to hear lectures and demonstrations by expert men and women in various lines of industrial life.”

Joseph Long, a Junior Club Work member from Caroline County, Maryland, described his 1924 experience for the American Union Newspaper from when he left his home in eastern Maryland to the “hilarious” trip home, during which they sang “until our throats forbade any more strenuous usage.” Although he reports that “the 150 boys slept in one house on cots, which were too high and close together” (“the girls barracks were similar to the boys”, he says), he concludes his report imploring, “Boys and girls of Maryland, this is a trip worth trying for, so work harder next year.” (Read his account on page 8 of the October 2, 1924 edition.

Maine 4-H’ers described their 1937 Camp Vail experiences in the October edition of that state’s Club Echoes newsletter (vol 20, # 4). Robert Anderson of Hollis, Maine announced, “Have I been to Camp Vail? Well I’ll say I have and it’s a great trip, too!” According to Willa Dudley of Mapleton, “Each 4-H club had a booth which was tended by the members. They had turns at booth duty and demonstrations pertaining to their work.” Louise Plunkett of Bridgton said, “The head booth was entitled ‘4-H Club Work Enriches the Home.’ Booths branched off showing the different departments of the home consisting of members demonstrating their work. The Maine booth in which we took part, represented a rural school room where we were carrying on a school lunch program.” Maurice Moody of Monroe explained further, “The boys gave demonstrations on potato grading in Maine and the girls on school lunches.”

By 1927, Camp Vail was inviting youth from 18 states, having expanded its reach into the mid-western states. 4 Camp Vail activities continued at the ESE into the 1950’s. 5 In an unpublished report6 on Maine Extension history, written by Maine Extension Editor Clarence Day in 1957, Day described the ESE Camp Vail this way, “The Springfield trip has always been a reward of merit with all expenses paid. For most of these young people it has been their first journey out of the state, their first glimpse of a great agricultural and industrial exposition, and their first contact with club members from the other Northeastern States. Many of them have then had their first ride on a train, their first visit to a big hotel, and their first full week away from home. For all of them it has been a memorable experience.”

1 http://www.pbs.org/transistor/album1/addlbios/vail.html

2 http://vermonthistory.org/research/research-resources-online/green-mountain-chronicles/world-war-i-camp-vail-1916.

3 Farm Boys and Girls Leader, June 1920, pp 3-4.

4 The Daily Illini, July 15, 1927, vol. LVI, # 259

5 Bull, Nancy H, Alexander “Bud” Gavitt, Lane J. Lang, Nancy L. Wilhelm. 4-H Youth Development in Connecticut: 1952-2002. University of Connecticut, 2002

6 Day, Clarence Albert. Forty Years of Extension Work in Maine, 1910-1950. Unpublished. 1957.