In 1901 a young school teacher, Jessie Field, was teaching in the rural Goldenrod School located in Fremont Township in Page County, Iowa. In order to create additional interest, especially in older boys and girls, she supplemented the basic 3R’s with lessons in basic farming and homemaking, which she had learned while attending Farm Institute programs with her father. She felt this extended education would help build self confidence and esteem in her rural students as well as keeping them interested in attending school. She met with them before and after school for these additional experimental studies.
Jessie Field returned to finish her college degree and after graduation took a teaching position in South Dakota. Her brother, Henry, who was starting in the nursery and seed business, urged her to return home to fill a county education position. In response to his insistence, in 1903 Jessie was elected to the position of Page County Superintendent of Schools.
As superintendent of the 130 rural schools in the county, Miss Field organized her teachers into a group she called the “Page County Progressives” to implement her extended curriculum idea in all the schools. Soon Boys Corn Clubs and Girls Home Clubs were meeting after classes in all the schools. They worked on many of their projects during school lunch and recess times or at home with the help of parents. The students chose the three leaf clover as their emblem. Ribbons and pins showing their new emblem–each of the three leaves of the clover contained an “H” representing Head, Heart, and Hand, centered with a yellow kernel of corn bearing the name “Page”, and on the stem of the clover, the name “Iowa”–were given to all students who participated. Miss Field’s philosophy was that “everyone who tries is a winner!” Soon “friendly competition” between the schools expanded to competition in corn growing and judging in Omaha and at the Iowa state contests. The students gained self confidence and pride in their learning accomplishments.
After Page County was acclaimed as “The Best Rural Schools in America” by the National Educational Bulletin in 1908, the ideas of learning by doing spread far and wide. County superintendents from the south and east visited the county schools to learn about this novel new twist in teaching young people and took the ideas back to be implemented in their own schools. In Page County, summer camps were held in the Clarinda City Park with demonstrations, classes and contests to further the learning and enthusiasm of accomplishments–and for fun! By 1910 the ideas fostered in this rural school environment had spread throughout the state and even the country, and an additional fourth “H” leaf, representing Health, was added to the clover emblem. The organization formed to enhance the lives of rural students had indeed brought new extensions to learning and cooperation of parents in the process of preparing young people to meet the future.
Today “The Very Beginnings of 3H and 4H” are displayed and interpreted at the Goldenrod School and Nodaway Valley Historical Museum in Clarinda. Goldenrod, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “The Birthplace of 4H” is a working school, hosting area school classes in a country school setting. Visitors of all ages enjoy seeing the changes that have taken place in Page County 4H clubs through the years. Exhibits, displays and audiovisual presentations are available. For more information contact: NVHS, Box 393, Clarinda, Iowa, 51632 or telephone, #712-542-3073.