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Jan F. Scholl, PhD, CFCS
Associate Professor
4-H Specialist, FCS Programs
The Pennsylvania State University
Department of Ag and Extension Education
323 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802
 
jscholl@psu.edu
(814) 863-7444

 
Amy Paster
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Life Sciences Library
408 Paterno
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802-1811
 
alp4@psu.edu
(814) 865-3708

4-H Story Told by Early Black and White Hollywood Films

 

Compiled by Jan F. Scholl, 4-H Curriculum Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences, Penn State University 
An article reprinted with permission from the February 2005 News and Views

  • The Extension Film Collection


Much of 4-H's 100 year past is contained in documents, memorabilia and photographs. While one picture is worth a thousand words, motion pictures are worth millions more!

Few people know that over 400 films, produced by the Federal Extension Service between 1913 and 1947, still exist in the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch of Archives II in College Park, Maryland. This is a revelation, when one considers that Buster Keaton and Clara Bow made movies about this same time. A triumph, considering that these Extension "moving pictures" were filmed on location, with the help of land grant universities and local communities! Hollywood also made a number of films about Cooperative Extension, some with actual 4-H members in them.

As many people are interested in historical events and the historical background of the 4-H program, this article describes what may be found in archives and private collections.

  • Content Analysis of Extension/4-H Films


This article is a compilation and historical analysis of concepts found similar among the reviewers. The findings must also be understood relative to the times in which each film was developed. Creating films on location was unique to the film industry, but "critical and valuable to learning" (Ellis, 1911). Each film shows the accomplishments of young people, how their activity affected family and community, and lives were changed through Extension efforts.  

Much of the existing Extension Service footage found in the National Archives is agricultural--forests, crops and road construction. Twenty-five of these films, however, provide an interesting picture of 4-H club work in its early years and are described in this article. The films are mostly silent, black and white motion pictures. Some have sound and only a few are in color.  

This 4-H cinema, largely photographed outdoors, shows presidents and other dignitaries shaking hands with 4-H members and scenes of famous places. The films also contain educational activities and recreation (scenes of with round dancing, calisthenics and skits). At least one land-grant institution hired a full-time recreation specialist at the end of the 1910s. Mignon Quaw, from Montana, created several of these films and her progress reports describe dozens of other activities she initiated in those early days.  

The films document what may be done with few resources. Erosion and lack of information meant many rural people were poor or traveled from place to place. They show how individual 4-H members used their project not only to learn skills and help others, but also to pay for college tuition. Besides information and "know how," the films also show gender role reversals (males rock babies while females wield hammers), translation of lessons for foreign language audiences, early use of surveys and displays and the inclusion of people of different races in program work. The youth are identified by the wearing any number of 4-H uniforms, beanies and bands with clovers covering the forehead.  

The short Secretary Butz on 4-H speech (1976) and three minute Payne Fund Students Complete Course (1932) films are notable exceptions. In the latter film, former 4-H members are interviewed about the completion of a masters degree at USDA and the opportunities they received with year-long support. We often refer to these types of films today as "talking heads".

  • Promotional Films About State and Local Events


The vintage 4-H films are also about encampments that later became week-long leadership conferences, congresses and short courses at university settings. In Club, College, Farm and Home (1927), 4-H members attend club camps at the two closest land grant institutions in the U.S.--Washington State College (later Washington State University) and the University of Idaho. In the opening scenes, members arrive on the campuses by train, bus and in Model A and T cars.  

Youth are engaged in vigorous calisthenics and a variety of activities. In one scene, two members furnish a bedroom. (This may be a competitive event as the members do this quickly.) In another scene, 4-H members team up and recycle an adult garment into a child's coat. Girls, in similar dresses (uniforms?) with sailor collars, hand-stitch dresses on the sunny steps of a campus building. Youth also tour landscaped homes and watch livestock demonstrations. The main message of this film seems to be: Come to the state club camp to improve your project work!

  • Educational and Competitive Activities at Local and Regional Events


The encampment films tend to have both educational and competitive activities. 4-H Club Camp for Boys and Girls (1921) show a day's camp activities. Boys and girls answer reveille, participate in calisthenics, eat breakfast, make their beds, and construct a stage. The youth rehearse a pageant symbolizing the ideals of the 4-H program. Bill Jones Champion (1922) includes calisthenics, attendance at lectures, horse races, and livestock shows on the outskirts of Sioux City, Iowa.  

Club Champions at Camp Vail (1920) features youth from 10 Mid-Atlantic/ Eastern states who give canning and poultry demonstrations and judge sewing and livestock. They answer reveille, eat breakfast and wash dishes. In the mess hall, they chant:  

Youth are engaged in vigorous calisthenics and a variety of activities. In one scene, two members furnish a bedroom. (This may be a competitive event as the members do this quickly.) In another scene, 4-H members team up and recycle an adult garment into a child's coat. Girls, in similar dresses (uniforms?) with sailor collars, hand-stitch dresses on the sunny steps of a campus building. Youth also tour landscaped homes and watch livestock demonstrations. The main message of this film seems to be: Come to the state club camp to improve your project work!  

"Soupie, soupie, soupie, without a string bean
Coffee, coffee, coffee, the worst I've ever seen,
Meatie, meatie, meatie, without a streak of lean."  

Livestock and corn judging, bee keeping, poultry husbandry, butter making, and sewing classes are taught in Louisiana State University's The Short Course (1925). In A Crop Worth Saving (1925), the Louisiana members show livestock and garden produce and attend corn and livestock exhibitions. The main theme of this film is saving the crop of young people who will become the nation's farmers and homemakers.

  • Promotional Films of National 4-H Events


The films that show national events reinforce the notion: Do a good job and you will see famous places! The 4-H'ers in Seeing Washington (1924), visit the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Red Cross building, and the Smithsonian as some of the main attractions. In Carry On (1930), participants ride a flatbed buggy (not unlike a hay wagon as the youth are perched in an open air vehicle) toward the Capital building. The film also takes us to the top of the Washington Monument to see aerial views of  Washington, then down again to view the Library of Congress, Mount Vernon, Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. President Hoover delivers a short address to the members  

Similar scenes are found in Helping the Farmer of Tomorrow (1913) as state agricultural club prize winners visit  Washington and receive diplomas from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson. Union Station, Continental Hall, the Pan American Union, the White House and animals at the National Zoo are shown in this film. It is interesting to note that youth were sent on award trips even before the Smith-Lever Act created the Cooperative Extension Service in 1914.  

In Personages: Corbett, Hoover, Hyde and Pinchot, 1913-1929, Secretary of Agriculture Hyde and Mrs. Herbert Hoover "inspect" an early encampment that later became the national "Citizenship Short Course" in the 1950s.

  • Educational Films


While many of the films focused on local, state and national programs, some had more educational goals. In Good Posture Wins (1931), a young girl improves her posture by exercise and self-awareness, and participates in a state contest in Staunton, VA. In Teen Togs (sound, color 1944), the benefits of wardrobe planning and learning to sew are shared so teens "won't be staying home on a shelf". (The script actually rhymes.) A treadle sewing machine--in full operation--is a highlight of this film. In Home Demonstration Work in the Western U.S. (1934) an early fashion revue is well supported by community attendance and applause.  

Safe methods of food preservation are taught to mothers and daughters in Glenwood, Kansas through the formation of Extension canning clubs in Cured by Canning. This film also emphasized the economy and nutritional value of home canned fruits, vegetables, and meat. Canning was of particular importance to 4-H after the creation of the early tomato and corn clubs. Evidence of this and the problems of botulism may be found in the 1910s letters of the national 4-H program leader, O.H. Benson, of Iowa.  

Corporate business and the University of Georgia created several films that were loaned through the National 4-H News magazine in the 1940-1970s. One shows how to grow prize winning pastures (4-H Pastures, circa 1950s). In this film, youth are interviewed and seen in various terrains, including: mountain, piedmont and coastal plain. The Georgia films also show projects in cotton (Cotton Pickin' Money), entomology (4-H and the Insect World and Good-bye, Mrs. Ant) and beef production (Big Steaks).  

Scenes of early 4-H club meetings can be found in: Bill Jones Champion (1922), Secretary of Agriculture Wallace (1924), Good Posture Wins (1931), and Avery Community (1948).

  • 4-H in Fiction


A few films portray 4-H members from fiction. Under the 4-H Flag (1929) was based on a children's book written by John Case. In the story, a tenant family tries to refurbish a dilapidated farm and 4-H members help the family overcome many obstacles. Treasure Island (1950s) is the story of a farm boy that joins a 4-H club, and proves himself to family and friends by raising a calf and by participating in neighborhood activities. (Besides those found on film, over 35 other children's novels were published about 4-H work throughout the twentieth century.)

  • Reflections about the Film and Film Making


Bernice Echols Grant, a Georgia 4-H pioneer described the value of the early 4-H films in this way:

"Another beyond-description delight was a movie--silent, black and white, poor screen, and the dim light. The characters jumped and jerked across the stage-but how glorious! It is doubtful if any magnificent film in color and bedecked with academy awards has brought more joy to country youth of this generation than that experienced by these students of over half a century ago (p. 23)."  

In 1919, Don Carlos Ellis, coordinator of the film unit, wrote a series of articles about the motion picture activities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The unit was quite progressive, experimenting with film use before World War I. It recognized the educational value of films in response to a strong demand from its extension forces." More than a few filmmakers felt at the time that motion pictures would become effective education tools for civilian as well as military audiences (Blanchard, 1919).  

In a series of trials by Ellis and his staff, it was decided that the films were especially effective in "awakening interest and encouraging the reading of publications and further investigations of the subjects." Though certain types of films were found to be effective in teaching process and methods, it was felt that films were "merely to supplement and illustrate other methods of instruction." For this reason, an array of bulletins was often shown at the end of the films.  

But, Pierce Fleming (1911) noted that films were more than just support pieces:  

"They (motion pictures) are the representations of living things rather than dead, of moving things rather than static things; they are the successive phases of some common phenomenon of nature rather than the bare picture of some one particular phase of it; they are the actual representations of many of the things we read and hear about which by their novelty will attract the attention and, with that desire so common to all of us and especially the young to see the conclusion of a series of events, will hold the attention (for) a considerable length of time" (p. 338). 

Ellis listed a number of Extension Service films available, which he noted were either instructional or inspirational. In 1930, the 250 available titles were sent out 11,000 times (Eisenhower & Chew, 1930). (No specific acknowledgement was made of the popularity of the 4-H films.) 

In one of the Extension films, a farm family receives a flyer in the mail and the family chooses to attend a film in order to have the children experience this new technology (the topic didn't matter) at a community location.

  • Hollywood Films
4-H was not only a main theme of the Extension films. A few Hollywood movies were created featuring movie stars that became famous.

Young America (1942) is a film about a spoiled city girl, Jane Campbell (played by Jane Withers) who visits her aunt and uncle on the farm and ends upraising a champion steer. Through many difficult circumstances, she learns that friendship--not winning--is what is important. (The film was credited to Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard and his associate, M. L. Wilson and dedicated to the "thousands of 4-H club leaders throughout the country...

County Fair (1948) follows a "typical" farm family as the children attend 4-H meetings and prepare for the local county fair. Boys learn dairy farming and raise their own calves, while the daughter learns to sew and helps mother can produce. At the fair, awards are received from the completed projects.

Green Promise (1949) is a Hollywood film based on a story written by Monty F.Collins. Depicted is the plight of farm families who move from place-to-place unaware or unable to employ proper crop management procedures to save the soil. In the opening scene, a family moves to a new farm after their previous land "blew away." The farmer father (played by Walter Brennan) is exceedingly ignorant of wise farming and forest practices. He also refuses the aid of the county agent (touted by other community members as the "doctor of agricultural and community problems") and is just as stubborn about his leash on family affairs, forcing his will through a pretense of the democratic process.
The main story is of a girl, Susan Walters (played by Natalie Wood), who desperately wants to be a 4-H member so she can finally have some thing of her own. Susan becomes upset seeing how other children carry on successful projects because she was not allowed to participate. She tries to face the disappointment of her father's decision yet becomes so frustrated, she tears up her project book. When her father is bedridden in a farm accident, her older sister and the extension agent help Susan join the Millwood 4-H Club. Not to be missed is Susan's excitement at reciting the pledge at the club meeting and convincing the banker to provide a loan for her lamb project. She learns that members "make their own luck" not only to win awards, but to support their projects and pay for college tuition. (The romantic interest and hijinks of the extension agent in winning over the older sister keep this film interesting, too.)

Tomboy and the Champ is a film about a 13-year old Texas ranch girl, Tommy Jo, who wins a calf at a country fair and calls him "Champy". While training the animal, she gets caught in a storm and contracts polio. With the help of her aunt, uncle and parson, Tommy Jo learns to walk and discovers the secret of training Champy is to sooth him with music. Through various twists in the story, Tommy Jo learns that champions are made with hard work and determination. Candy Moore and Ben Johnson star in this 1961 film.


  • Film Credits
Only a handful of photographers and directors created the first Extension films and only one or two films credit the actors, though many of them could have been actual 4-H members, volunteer leaders and extension staff.
It is interesting that Hollywood chose an actual 4-H member (from 11,000applicants), Jeanne LaDuke from Indiana, to play a supporting role in Green Promise.As Jessie Wexford, she liked to make biscuits (though her brother constantly teased her about them). She was also involved in several scenes at the church, the fishing hole, and with "Caesar" her brother'sprize bull. She wore a harem dress at the club's Halloween party and chided her brother with statements like, "now you've done it" and "only a woman would understand."
In lieu of being a 4-H member, several Hollywood stars prepared for their part by attending 4-H events. A news item in 1941, for example, noted that Jane Withers would attend the 1941 "club convention" in Washington.

  • Reflections on Film Preservation and Availability
With media attention currently focused on the restoration of deteriorating motion pictures,it is amazing that so many of the 4-H films still exist. Seeing actual homes, cars, dress styles, 4-H meetings, and extension offices is exciting.
Sadly, some films are difficult to locate. Even well known Extension films, such as Mulligan Stew(popular in the 1970s and 1980s) are now available at only three locations in the United States and do not circulate.
A few distributors still sell copies of County Fair, Green Promise and Tomboy and the Champ. Sometimes they are found for sale on Ebay. Young America(note that several different Hollywood films have been given this title), may only be viewed at a film archives in California or through private collectors of Jane Withers memorabilia.
Since few Extension films at the National Archives were later than the 1950s, Extension films, videos and DVDs created in our time should be also be saved and preserved. Gather and document information about these motion pictures, and contact the film archivist at your university library. The film center of the national Archives II, located at 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD (20740-6001) will also accept productions in a variety of formats. The Extension films are currently listed on-line in record group number 33. The "NAIL" (National Archives Information Locator) is: http://www.nara.gov/nara/nail.html.The Extension films are best viewed and dubbed on-site. Films may also be ordered, but the process is time-consuming and expensive.

  • Conclusion

All of the films that have been reviewed show how the 4-H program consistently encouraged youth to complete their project work, keep good records, seek opportunities for improvement, help others and show how personal goals were achieved.They are inspirational for those who know nothing about the 4-H program as well as for youth who have been enrolled for many years. With quality preservation, vigilance and care, these treasures may be preserved for years to come. As Bill Jones Champion (1922) would say, "Keep on in Club Work!"

  • Alphabetical Reference List of Extension Service Films with Archives II Call Numbers and Run Times
    • Avery Community (1948), Item 33, Series UG, 10 minutes.
    • A Crop Worth Saving (1925). Item 245, 61 minutes.
    • Big Steaks (1954-60). Item 18, Series UG, 14 minutes.
    • Bill Jones Champion (1922). Item 205, 10 minutes.
    • Carry On (1930). Item 325, 24 minutes.
    • Club Champions at Camp Vail (1920). Item 44, 12 minutes.
    • Club, College, Farm and Home (1927). Item 298, 4 minutes.
    • Cotton Pickin' Money (1956-8), Item 12, Series UG, undetermined length.
    • Cured by Canning (1920). Item 50, 13 minutes.
    • 4-H and the Insect World (circa 1950s). Item 33, Series UG, 26 minutes.
    • The 4-H Camp for Boys and Girls (1921). Item 19, 16 minutes.
    • 4-H Pastures (circa 1950s). Item 7, Series UG, about 12 minutes.
    • Good-bye, Mrs. Ant (circa 1950s). Item 14, Series UG, 13 minutes.
    • Good Posture Wins (1931). Item 399, 30 minutes.
    • Helping the Farmer of Tomorrow (1913). Item 28, 26 minutes.
    • Home Demonstration Work in the Western States (1934), 33 minutes.
    • Payne Fund Students Complete Course (1932). Item 442, 3 minutes.
    • Personages: Corbett, Hoover, Hyde and Pinchot, 1913-1929. Item 2, Series M, 10 minutes.
    • Secretary of Agriculture Wallace (1924). Item 19, no length specified.
    • Secretary Butz on 4-H (1976?). Item 1790, approximately 4 minutes.
    • Seeing Washington (1924). Item 220, 17 minutes.
    • The Short Course (1925). Item 269, 15 minutes.
    • Teen Togs (circa 1940s). Item 19, Series UG, 10 minutes.
    • Treasure Land (circa 1950s). Item 8, Series UG, 25 minutes.
    • Under the 4-H Flag (1929). Item 341, 63 minutes.
  • Other Films Cited in Article
    • Extension Service. (1973). Mulligan Stew, 180 minutes.
    • RKO Pictures, Inc. (1948). County Fair, unknown length.
    • RKO Pictures, Inc. (1949). Green Promise (released as Raging Waters in the United Kingdom and Verdes Horizontes in Mexico), 100 minutes.
    • Twentieth Century-Fox.(1934). Young America, 73 minutes.
    • Universal Pictures (1961). Tomboy and the Champ, 92 minutes.
  • References
    • Benson, O.H. (1911-1917). Personal letters from the Elsie Carper Special Collection. College Park, MD: National Agricultural Library.
    • Blanchard, P. The motion picture as an educational asset. Educational Film Magazine, 24, 284-287.
    • Brundage, A. (2002). Going to the sources: A guide to historical research and writing. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson.
    • Ellis, C. (1919, January). Motion pictures in agricultural education: Part 1: Educational Film Magazine, 1, 19.
    • Ellis, C. (1919, February). Motion pictures in agricultural education: Part 2: Conclusion. Educational Film Magazine, 1, 13.
    • Echols, K. (1971). Bernice Echols Grant´┐Ż4-H pioneer. Athens, GA: University of Georgia.
    • Eisenhower, M., & Chew, A. (1930). The United States Department of Agriculture, Its growth, structure and functions, Department of Agriculture, Miscellaneous Publication 88, p. 3.
    • Fleming, P. (1911). Moving pictures as a factor in education. Educational Film Magazine, 18, 336-352.
    • McCulloch, G. (2000). Historical research in educational settings. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
    • Quaw, M. (1917-1921). Progress reports. Bozeman, MT: Montana Cooperative Extension Service (currently found in the Montana State University archives).