History of 4-H in Pennsylvania

Abbreviated version of history from "4-H in Pennsylvania" by Jerry H. Reyburn

O. H. Benson started the foundation for present day 4-H club work in rural schools in 1900. Benson later moved to Gettysburg, PA, where his daughter still lives. He was the county school superintendent in Wright County, Iowa, and sought ways to revitalize the rural school program after surveying the students and learning 90 percent intended to leave the farm. He wanted a program emphasizing the advantages of rural life.

Rural Life Day (4-H Round-up)

In several places across the country, garden seeds, seed corn, and flower seeds were distributed to school students. The students planted their seeds and tended their crops and gardens. In the fall, at rural life day programs the products grown by the students were exhibited and prizes for the best specimens were awarded.

Smith-Lever Act

As these school clubs progressed assistance was given by various state agricultural colleges and experiment stations. This gradually led to the association of agricultural colleges. The Smith-Lever Act was passed by Congress in 1914, providing for federal and state funds to be used jointly for agricultural and home economics Extension work, including work with boys and girls in rural areas. This made national 4-H club work become an activity of the land grant colleges.

Early records indicate 4-H originated in Pennsylvania in Mercer County. The first 4-H club met in the Courthouse at Mercer under the leadership of Charles G. McBride, Extension Agent.

4-H Symbol

The national 4-H symbol is a 4-leaf clover signifying good luck and success. The 4-H club symbol was designated by O.H. Benson when given a bouquet of 4-leaf clovers by a group of rural school students. He later added an H on each leaf of the clover representing the objectives: of Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. It is for boys and girls 8 thru 19 years of age.

Program Focus

Today one of the emphases 4-H puts into local clubs work is nutrition to improve individual health. Community development/citizenship programs teach young people how to work with adults to become useful citizens, Consumer Education Programs, opportunities for career exploration and providing for leisure education are components of the 4-H club experience. Other project involvement help young people develop various manual skills and aid in the development of essential life skills.

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University 4-H Youth Division of Cooperative Extension is responsible for planning, organizing and supervising the work throughout the state. County extension agents supervise 4-H in the individual counties.


An adult leader is chosen to supervise the 4-H activity. The local leaders guide the members and are the contact with the county Extension agent.

Recent Developments

Urban 4-H was experimented with in the 1960's to meet the needs of youth especially low income. A program was established in 1972 by the U.S. Congress which provided special funds to intensify the work with low-income and minority youth.

Adapted from 4-H in Pennsylvania
by Jerry H. Reyburn

Download Publication

Article Details


History of 4-H in Pennsylvania

This publication is available in alternative media on request.