University Preserves 4-H Memorabilia

AMES, Iowa – In the early 1920s, Iowa 4-H was in its youth; today Iowa 4-H is thriving and in its prime, reaching one in every five Iowa school-age youth. Iowa State University has always played a central role with 4-H Youth Development in Iowa, and the university preserves early 4-H memorabilia through the Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections Department.

Two museums in Iowa house 4-H memorabilia, the Nodaway Valley Museum in Clarinda and the 4-H Historical Schoolhouse Museum in Clarion. Clarinda is the birthplace of Jessie Field Shambaugh, who is considered the mother of 4-H. The schoolhouse in Clarion is known as the birthplace of the 4-H emblem. These museums mostly hold artifacts from their local communities.

The Special Collections Department at Iowa State is dedicated to documenting Iowa State University and agricultural and rural life in Iowa, and Iowa 4-H fits in greatly with its mission. In addition to the records of 4-H Youth Development, the department houses the papers of several 4-H members and prominent 4-H leaders, including Paul Taff and Gerald Parsons.

“The history of 4-H in Iowa can provide a glimpse into the life stories of thousands of youths growing up in rural Iowa,” said Michele Christian, collections archivist and records analyst with University Archives. “We see 4-H as an important part of Iowa and Iowa State University and we strive to preserve 4-H’s rich historical legacy.”

4-H Provides Rich Legacy

In 1929, Junior “J.E.” Eugene Ellis joined Union’s Pride 4-H Club in Dallas County when he was 12 years old. According to an excerpt from his story, he participated in most of the club’s functions and held all the offices from committee member to local leader. During the 11 years he was in 4-H, Ellis received several major and minor awards.

The family of Junior Ellis recently donated several of his 4-H awards to the Special Collections Department. Among the items were his books of personal 4-H records, pictures and news clippings, items from his trips to the 1935, 1936 and 1937 National 4-H Congresses, autograph books, hats and more.

For more information on preserving 4-H memories, or the Special Collections Department, visit According to Christian, the department is interested in receiving record books, scrapbooks, photographs, audio and video recordings, ribbons, pins and any other items related to 4-H in Iowa experiences. For a list of 4-H materials the department is  holding, visit The department is open to the public and will provide access to the materials it holds.

“4-H has played a pivotal role in advancing the state of Iowa,” said Shelly Greving, marketing director for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development. “If we preserve the 4-H legacy, we can help pave the way for the future.”