Photo of the Week: Jan. 20
With more than 237,000 young people between the ages of 5 and 19 participating, North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth development program is N.C.’s largest organization for children. It got its start in 1909, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture joined with N.C. State to offer corn clubs and other demonstration programs.
That year, I.O. Schaub was named the first boys’ and girls’ club agent, and the first club for boys was formed in Ahoskie. The idea was that young people might be more willing to experiment with college-recommended farm practices than their parents, but that the parents would eventually try the methods if they saw their children succeed with them.
Within a year, by working with county school superintendents, Schaub had an enrollment of 4,000 boys and even a few girls in what then was called Corn Club work.
It was either that year or the next, Schaub recalled in his 1953 publication “Agricultural Extension Work: A Brief History,” that four or five boys visited N.C. State, their trips being paid for by local people.
“The boys stayed in the college infirmary. They not only visited the college but also met the Governor (and) the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and saw other places of interest. For most of them it was an outstanding experience,” Schaub wrote.
“I remember one of the boys who came from the rural area and this was his first trip away from home — further than Oxford, the county seat. The other boys teased him quite a bit. He did not know how to turn off an electric light, and one of them asked him what it was called. His answer was ‘lightnumtricity, ain’t it?'”
Soon thereafter, such new experiences would be available to others. In 1914 and 1915, the Corn Clubs began to expand to serve children of all races. John D. Wray of North Carolina A&T State University served as state club leader, and G.W. Herring organized an African-American club in Sampson County. 4-H remained racially segregated until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 spurred integration. Still, community clubs were slower to achieve racial diversity.
In reflecting on the early years of 4-H, Schaub expressed great pride in the impact the organization had made across the country. “All would agree thtat 4-H Club work, as we now call it, has made a cultural and economic contribution to the well being of this country that marks it as one of the most outstanding achievements, particularly in the field of agriculture education.”
Today’s 4-H leaders would surely agree, but they would also note that the organization’s impact extends well beyond rural areas into urban cities and towns. Through 4-H, young people gain science-based knowledge, get to experience new things and develop skills such as teamwork, organization and community service that serve them for life.