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Excerpt from This is 4-H, 1967. Courtesy of the University of Virginia via HathiTrust.


For many rural children in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, life could be lonely. A neighboring farm might be hours away, and play time was limited anyway because of work and chores. Many youths answered the call of newly industrialized cities, where they moved to work once they came of age. Recognizing a need among rural children for social organizations that also instilled an appreciation for rural life, agricultural clubs were born. Established as a national organization known as 4-H in 1914, these clubs operated in several states, and sought to create a youth movement in agriculture. In particular, 4-H hoped to harness young people's willingness to experiment with new technology, which adult farmers had been hesitant to do. Camping was a major feature of the organization—a social benefit to farm children who may have otherwise been isolated from other children, especially in the summertime.

The organization satisfied the concerns of Progressives because it fostered a relationship with nature within an organized and instructional setting—a feature of play advocated by the playground reformers. Furthermore, a child who joined 4-H was signing up to participate in activities that were strictly for fun: a luxury that many farm children, busy with chores, lacked. By the mid-twentieth century, 4-H clubs had sprung up in high schools around the country.