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Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H


The Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H spans almost nine decades from 1908 through 1994. Elsie Carper compiled and preserved the history of home demonstration and 4-H during her four decades as an administrative assistant for the national 4-H program and nearly two decades as an historian during her retirement. Carper saved various items given to her by Extension specialists and program leaders, and donated the materials to the National Agricultural Library. The collection includes materials pertaining to the work of three important people in the history of the Extension Service, specifically Seaman Knapp, Oscar Herman Benson, and Gertrude Warren.

The collection spans 8.75 linear feet and occupies 14 archival boxes. Materials are in good condition. There are no restrictions on use of the collection. In 2003, Jan Scholl, 4-H Curriculum Specialist, The Pennsylvania State University, and Kate Hayes, Technical Information Specialist, National Agricultural Library, initiated processing of the collection. Barbara Stommel, Special Collections Librarian, National Agricultural Library, completed the processing in 2005. Additional materials contributed by Jan Scholl, including a history of the National Association of Extension Home Economists through 1975 and 4-H Club song records, were added to the collection in June 2006.

Finding Aid File


Biographical Sketch

This collection, which documents some of the history of 4-H and Extension Service programs and includes the papers of many individuals, was assembled by Elsie Josephson Carper. Educators Seaman Knapp, Oscar Herman Benson, and Gertrude Warren figure prominently in the development of the Extension Service, 4-H, and the Home Economics movement. These individuals and Elsie Carper were inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2002 as a tribute to their lasting contributions. All are briefly described here.

Elsie Josephson Carper (1920-2003)

Elsie Josephson Carper was employed by the USDA Extension Service in 4-H from 1944 through 1983. She started her Extension work with the Home Demonstration and 4-H Youth Development Unit. Upon retirement, she volunteered at National 4-H Council as an historian in the 4-H Reference and Resource Center. She was actively involved in the purchase and development of the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, as the permanent site for National 4-H Conference.

Over the years, Carper collected and organized materials saved by program leaders and Extension specialists. From the state 4-H statistical data, she devised a national enrollment report beginning in the early 1960s. She worked with the 4-H Subcommittee of the Extension Committee on Policy (ECOP) tracking 4-H policy developments. Carper conducted the majority of the background research for the 1980 history of the 4-H program, the 4-H piece of the Cooperative Extension System's 75 year history and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents' (NAE4-HA's) 50th anniversary.

In 2002, Carper was presented with 4-H's most prestigious honor, the National Partner in 4-H Award. She was chosen as the National 4-H Hall of Fame winner in 2002 for her positive, lasting influence on the 4-H program.

Oscar Herman Benson (1875-1951)

A significant part of the 4-H Series in this collection is comprised of Oscar Herman (O.H.) Benson's collection of photographs, correspondence, news articles and publications covering botulism outbreaks and home canning safety. Originally a schoolteacher and later Wright County, Iowa, school superintendent, Benson started in the Farmers' Cooperative Extension Work office in 1911 and one year later became the first federal agent in the Office of Farm Management responsible for developing boys' and girls' club work in the North and West. Along with promoting the use of the four-leaf clover symbol for 4-H, he is credited with state youth cooperative program agreements that integrated youth work into the 1914 legislation creating the Cooperative Extension Service.

The Four-Leaf Clover as the Symbol of 4-H

The idea of using the four-leaf clover as an emblem for the 4-H program is credited to Benson. When Wright County school superintendent Benson dropped by to visit a one-room school house near Clarion, Iowa, the students outside for recess presented him with a good will gift of seven just-picked four-leaf clovers. This simple gesture inspired Benson to select the four-leaf clover for the 4-H emblem. Benson and Jessie Field awarded three-leaf and four-leaf clover pennants and pins for students' agricultural and domestic science exhibits at school fairs that Benson promoted.

When Benson reported to the Farmers' Cooperative Extension Work office in Washington, D.C., he was instrumental in making the 4-leaf clover with an "H" on each leaf synonymous with 4-H work. Benson chose the original four "H's" to represent head, heart, hands, and hustle. He wrote "A leader with head trained to think, plan, and reason; with heart trained to be true, kind, and sympathetic; and with hands trained to be useful, helpful, and skillful; and the hustle to render ready service, to develop health and vitality..." Oscar B. Martin, charged with developing club work, convinced Benson to change the word hustle to health. Encouraged to use their Head, Heart, Hands and Health equally in serving their families, clubs, and communities, 4-H boys' and girls' club leaders adopted the four-leaf clover emblem in the spring of 1911.

Seaman Knapp - Father of Cooperative Extension

Seaman Knapp envisioned what is now known as the Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Stations. Knapp authored the bill that became the Hatch Act of 1887 establishing agriculture experiment stations at agricultural colleges. The 1914 Smith-Lever Act establishing the Cooperative Extension Service is the posthumous legacy of Seaman Knapp. He originated the concept of county agents. His early clubs for boys and girls evolved into today's 4-H Clubs.

Gertrude Warren - Mother of 4-H

Gertrude Warren was the first to use the term 4-H Clubs for Extension youth clubs in a 1918 federal document, "Organization and Results of Boys' and Girls' Club Work." Warren, a former Columbia University Teachers' College home economics teacher, was appointed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1917 to lead the development of USDA canning programs for girls. She promoted sewing, cooking, and school hot lunch programs as well as devised the 4-H club project prototype. Warren helped establish the National 4-H Foundation and National 4-H Center. Following extensive overseas travel, she developed the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program promoting 4-H in foreign countries.

Historical Sketch

The following is a brief history of the USDA Extension Service and two of its component programs: Home Economics and 4-H. Because the collection contains no materials on the Extension Service agricultural programs, they are not described here.

Extension Service

The Cooperative Extension Service is an educational agency of state land-grant colleges and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created in the early 1900s to address rural agricultural issues. The agency, which started at a time when more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming, provided information on agricultural and home economics subjects and taught people how to use this information.

The basic philosophy of the program was to "help people help themselves." A home demonstration agent worked with farm families, community leaders, and urban families to help them analyze family living situations, to recognize major problems, and to develop programs that aided them in making desired changes. One of the agent's major responsibilities was to convey the results of research in home economics to families in a form which they could understand and apply. Home demonstration agents conducted their work through group meetings, clinics, office and home visits, and by using exhibits, radio, television, and the press.

Cooperative extension work in the USDA resulted from the farm management work directed by William J. Spillman and the demonstration work of Seaman A. Knapp. Under Spillman's supervision, studies and surveys of farming conditions and practices in various sections of the country, especially among the most successful farms, were begun in 1901-02. On the basis of these studies, plans were drawn up to put into operation more efficient systems of farm management and to increase yields of standard crops. Information was made available to producers through summarizing publications.

Cooperative extension work was begun in the South under the supervision of Knapp in connection with the control of the Mexican boll weevil. In 1904, following a year of heavy damage to the cotton crop, Knapp was assigned special agents and given federal funds to conduct control activities. Knapp's method of seeking the cooperation of the state and local organizations, working with and through farmers, and utilizing demonstration fields to illustrate selection and better production methods proved most successful.

Extension work in the USDA was part of the Bureau of Plant Industry, 1904-15, principally in the Office of Cooperative Demonstration Work, established 1904, and the Office of Farm Management, established 1906. The Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension Work Act, 1914, expanded USDA's cooperative role and created the Cooperative Extension Service in Agriculture and Home Economics. USDA and state land-grant colleges cooperatively established and maintained an out-of-school educational program to aid men, women, and youth in applying research results and other accepted practices in improving their farms, homes, and communities. Funds were provided by federal, state, and county governments and were administered by the cooperative extension services of the land-grant colleges. County home demonstration and agricultural agents were employed by their state colleges and were responsible both to the college and to the people of the county for the development and conduct of the extension educational program.

The Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension Work Act led to the consolidation of all extension work in the State Relations Service, established in 1915, under provisions of the 1915 Agricultural Appropriation Act. State Relations Service operated through the Office of Extension Work in the South and the Office of Extension Work in the North and West, 1915-21. These units were consolidated with the Office of Exhibits of the Secretary's Office and the Office of Motion Pictures of the Division of Publications in 1921 to form the Office of Cooperative Extension Work, State Relations Service, 1921, which became the Extension Service, 1923.

The Extension Service was grouped with the Food Production Administration, Food Distribution Administration, and Commodity Credit Corporation to form the Administration of Food Production and Demonstration, renamed War Food Administration, 1943. Upon termination of the War Food Administration in 1943, Extension Service resumed bureau status. It was renamed Federal Extension Service in 1970. In 1978, the Federal Extension Service was abolished and its functions were assigned to Science and Education Administration. In 1981, the Extension Service was reconstituted. Its functions were to: coordinate extension activities of the USDA with those of state agricultural colleges, provide counties with agricultural and home demonstration agents, publish and disseminate results of agricultural research, provide emergency services through local agents, and present displays and exhibits at fairs and expositions.

Extension work is currently part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) which had been in existence since 1994.

Extension Service: Home Economics

Extension Service work consisted of three general areas--agriculture, home economics, and 4-H. The homemaking phase of extension work brought families the latest research and information to help them achieve better living. Agents encouraged women to use the time, energy, money, and abilities of the family to achieve the goals the family considered important. Extension workers offered advice on how to prepare good, nutritious low cost meals; select and buy clothes for the family; make the home more convenient, attractive, and comfortable; and make housekeeping easier.

Extension Service: 4-H

The 4-H component of the Extension Service helped American youth prepare for successful living in a changing world and emphasized leadership, responsibility, cooperation, self-confidence, and quality workmanship. Around 1907, Seaman A. Knapp organized boys' corn clubs, from which developed calf clubs, pig clubs, and potato clubs. Federal sponsorship of a girl's tomato growing and canning program was conceived by Knapp in 1909 and first practiced in South Carolina in 1910. Later, 4-H clubs developed.

In 1912, the Bureau of Plant Industry's Office of Farm Management was given an appropriation by Congress to authorize them to do farm demonstration work. In anticipation of this appropriation, the Bureau of Plant Industry had approached the land-grant colleges to cooperatively start 4-H club work. The Farm Management office began actively promoting 4-H club work and adult demonstration work in cooperation with the agricultural colleges in Northern and Western states. In 1912, Oscar H. Benson served as the first federal agent in the Office of Farm Management to expand boys' and girls' club work in the North and West. The state youth cooperative agreements he established made youth work a permanent part of the 1914 Cooperative Extension Service legislation. What started on a small-scale with farm youth clubs expanded to the national and international 4-H youth movement. During World War II, 4-H club members, along with the Extension Service, worked with farmers and their families to secure the production increases essential to the war effort. Today 4-H is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Scope and Content Note

The Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H comprises 8.75 linear feet of publications, correspondence, newspaper articles, time management studies, reports, questionnaires, meeting programs, awards and exhibit booklets, photographs, intern reports, music, radio spots, kits, and posters gathered by Elsie Carper during her career and volunteer work with the USDA Extension Service.

The collection includes materials from 1908 through 1994. It contains first-hand recollections of the origin and philosophy of the Extension Service; lectures commemorating its centennial; the history of home demonstration work, earliest agents and clubs; Extension Homemaker's Organization; and the first 50 years of the National Association of Extension Home Economists (1933-1984).

In Series I, "Recollections of Extension History" presents the founding ideas envisioned and service philosophy espoused by Seaman A. Knapp as recounted in three lectures in 1938 by J.A. Evans, one of the original four field representatives appointed in 1904 by Knapp when he introduced Farm Demonstration Work. The lectures in The Development of the Land-Grant Colleges and Universities and Their Influence on the Economic and Social Life of the People commemorate the centennial of the First Morrill Act which authorized the establishment of the land-grant colleges and universities. Important legislation supporting the growth of the Extension Service is also highlighted.

In Series II, numerous publications and news articles, time management studies, reports, and questionnaires divulge the history of the Extension home economics movement and improvements it made for the well-being of homemakers and their families. Mary Nell Greenwood's paper "Extension home economics - a history and future of excellence" presented at the National Association of Extension Home Economists National Meeting in 1984 pays tribute to the importance of the home demonstration workers, later called home economists. Subseries II.D. includes the 50 year chronological history of the National Association of Extension Home Economists (NAEHE).

In Series III, Oscar Herman Benson's personal file includes photographs of George Farrell, his assistant, and Gertrude Warren. It contains correspondence, newspaper articles and publications which emphasize proper home canning techniques to prevent botulism and other illnesses. It includes canning recipes, instructions, tips, and demonstration guidelines for home canning. Some of these papers, created in the 1910s, are signed by prominent national program leaders.

Series III consists of graduate, staff, adult volunteer, and teen leader intern reports for the Youth Staff Development and Training Program, 1972-1981, and national 4-H posters from 1946 through 1982 that illustrate the annual themes and encourage joining 4-H.

Series Description

Series I. Extension Service. 1938-1987. .25 boxes.

Series I consists of three subseries. Series I includes a circular, reprinted news article, bulletin, publications, and programs. All materials are arranged chronologically.

  • Subseries I.A. Origin and Philosophy. 1938.
  • Subseries I.A. contains "Recollections of Extension History," a series of three lectures by J.A. Evans on the origin and philosophy of the Extension Service.

  • Subseries I.B. Partnerships and Purpose. 1950-1951.
  • Subseries I.B. contains "Land-Grant Colleges & Universities: What They Are and the Relations of the Federal Government to Them" and an article on the purpose of the Extension Service.

  • Subseries I.C. Centennial Commemorations. 1963, 1986-1987.
  • Subseries I.C. includes ten seminars commemorating the centennial of the First Morrill Act authorizing the establishment of the Land-Grant Colleges and Universities and four National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) centennial programs.

Series II. Extension Home Economics. 1919-1985. 2.75 boxes.

Series II is divided into four subseries. It consists of home demonstration publications, correspondence, news articles, time management studies, progress reports, national meeting reports, marketing programs, questionnaires, and national studies. Series II also includes 40 and 50 year chronological histories of the National Association of Extension Home Economists (NAEHE), their annual meeting agendas, awards and exhibits programs, and a non-members survey. These materials are arranged chronologically.

  • Subseries II.A. Home Demonstration Work. 1920-1979.
  • This subseries includes publications on the origins and importance of home demonstration work and home demonstration program objectives and future directions. To facilitate access, the materials have been subdivided by Organization and Impact and Home Demonstration Objectives.

  • Subseries II.B. Home Demonstration Agents and Clubs. 1919-1978.
  • Subseries II. B. includes correspondence, news articles, and publications on the earliest home demonstration agents, time management studies, progress reports from approximately 1910 to the 1950s, national meeting reports of Extension home economics state leaders, marketing programs, and homemaker survey questionnaires. Six further subdivisions of these materials lead the user to Correspondence, News Articles, and Publications; Time Management Studies; Progression Reports; State Leaders' National Meetings Reports; Marketing Programs; and Questionnaires Surveying Homemakers.

  • Subseries II.C. Extension Homemaker's Organization. 1957-1979.
  • Subseries II.C. contains state and national studies of home demonstration members that comprise the Extension Homemaker's Organization.

  • Subseries II.D. National Association of Extension Home Economists (NAEHE). 1933-1985.
  • Subseries II.D. contains 40 year (1933 to 1975) and 50 year (1933 to 1984) summaries of historical information on the National Association of Extension Home Economists (NAEHE) covering 1933 to 1984, historian Cleo Bryan's handwritten correspondence with attached 1987 state histories, historian report, and historian duties as well as annual meeting programs, awards and exhibits booklets, a list of national meeting themes, and a 1984-1985 non-members survey. The three subdivisions Chronological History; Annual Meeting Programs, Awards and Exhibits Booklets; and Survey of Non-members facilitate access.

Series III. 4-H. 1908-1994. 11 boxes.

Series III is comprised of diversely formatted 4-H materials. It includes photographs, publications, correspondence and articles on boys' and girls' club work from 1915 through 1917, Extension Subcommittee on 4-H Club Work reports, impact studies and bibliographies, and Youth Staff Development and Training intern reports. It contains 4-H sheet music, 33.3 RPM records of radio spots, 4-H club songs on 78 RPM records, and National 4-H Week kits and posters. The sheet music is arranged chronologically. However, songs published the same date are arranged alphabetically by the composer or lyricist's name. Songs published by the same composer or lyricist the same year are arranged alphabetically by title of the song. The National 4-H Leader O.H. Benson's personal file in which the items are not sorted by date or subject was divided into 27 folders in order to maintain the original arrangement. All other dated materials are arranged chronologically. Many of the photographs are not dated and so are arranged by decades based on best estimates. The one poster that is not dated has been placed at the end of the poster collection.

  • Subseries III.A. 4-H Photographs. 1908-1994.
  • Subseries III.A. photographs capture 4-H activities including canning; baking; gardening; sewing; animal judging; tractor driving, safety, and maintenance; youth grooming and exhibiting their cows, sheep, and pigs at fairs; and camp flag raising. Additional photographs include National 4-H Congress participants, award recipients home demonstration agents, significant war efforts donating ambulances, and assembled clubs. The photographs are chronologically arranged by 1908-1920s; 1930s; 1940s; 1950s; 1960s; and 1970s-1990s.

  • Subseries III.B. Boys' and Girls' Club Work. 1915-1917.
  • Subseries III.B. contains a bound compilation of early correspondence and publications related to Boys' and Girls' Club Work produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's States Relations Service (SRS), Office of Extension Work (North, South) (Farmer's Cooperative Demonstration Work). It is titled Cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics. Call number is aTX173.C37.

  • Subseries III.C. O.H. Benson's Canning Papers. 1913-1926.
  • Subseries III.C. consists of the National 4-H Leader Oscar H. Benson's file divided into Photographs and Correspondence, News Articles, and Publications. There are seven photographs of George Farrell, his assistant in the North and West, demonstrating proper canning techniques and tools. The Benson file contains a wealth of information on home canning in girls' and boys' clubs, correspondence bearing prominent national program leaders' signatures, and news articles reporting botulism deaths and botulism in canned olives.

  • Subseries III.D. Summary Reports, Extension Subcommittee on 4-H Club Policy (ECOP). 1957-1989.
  • Subseries III.D. contains reports of the Extension Subcommittee on 4-H Club Policy (ECOP) for 1957-1960, 1966-1970, 1971-1975, 1976-1980, 1981-1985, 1986-1989.

  • Subseries III.E. Impact studies and bibliographies. 1923-1994.
  • Subseries III.E. includes a 1923 bread club work study, 1984-1987 completed impact studies directory, 1990 nutrition information study as well as 1993 and 1994 correspondence with accompanying bibliographies on 4-H impact on youth and life skills.

  • Subseries III.F. Nationwide 4-H - Youth Staff Development & Training Program. 1972-1981.
  • Series III.F. details the development of the 4-H study internship program for graduate students, Extension staff, adult volunteer leaders, and teen leaders, and contains the resulting intern reports. Interns study and gain hands-on experience in 4-H Staff Development and Training teaching and planning activities at the National 4-H Center in Washington, D.C. The following subdivisions facilitate access to the program development and reports: Internship Program and Opportunities; Graduate Intern Reports; Staff Intern Reports; Volunteer Adult Intern Reports; Teen Leader Intern Reports; FY 1977 and 1978 Reports; and Approved or In Process August 2, 1978 Reports.

  • Subseries III.G. National 4-H Doctoral Fellowship Report. 1987.

  • Subseries III.G. contains the 1987 national 4-H fellowship report exploring how to assist and fund Extension agents pursuing doctoral research benefiting 4-H.

  • Subseries III.H. 4-H Public Service Radio Spots (33.3 RPM Records). 1965, 1968, 1969.
  • Subseries III.H. contains three National 4-H Service Committee 33.3 RPM records from the late 1960s with radio spots promoting 4-H service by well-known personalities including Ted Williams, Ann Landers, Anita Bryant, and Bob Hope.

  • Subseries III.I. National 4-H Week Kits. 1964, 1966, 1967, and 1968.
  • Subseries III.I. includes four National 4-H Week kits from the 1964 through 1968.

  • Subseries III.J. 4-H Music. 1929-1970.
  • Subseries III.J. consists of 4-H sheet music dating from 1929 through 1970 and 78 RPM records of 4-H club songs and camp bugle calls. The sheet music includes a Fannie Buchanan and Rena Parish song, the 4-H pledge and motto, a pep song, and marches. It also contains a 1954 National 4-H Club Song Book. An additional score "Father of the Land We Love" written by George M. Cohan to commemorate George Washington's 200th birthday on February 22, 1932, is housed in a separate folder. The recordings include Fannie Buchanan and Rena Parish 4-H club songs, marches, and bugle calls for the camp day.

  • Subseries III.K. National 4-H Posters. 1946-1982, excluding 1951 and 1953.
  • Subseries III.K. contains 37 posters, 36 national 4-H posters dated 1946 through1982 (including two copies of the 1965, 1967, and 1968 posters) and one undated poster, promoting the opportunities in 4-H and each year's motto.

This bibliography only includes sources used to prepare this finding aid. Information for the Biographical Sketch, Historical Sketch, and the Scope and Content Note was taken from the following sources.

"Elsie J. Carper, 82 Helped Run 4-H Over Four Decades." Washington Post. July 9, 2003.

4-H. "4-H NEWS #1 - 4-H Mourns the Passing of Elsie Carper." Accessed November 9, 2004.

Evans, J.A. "Recollections of Extension History." Extension Circular Number 224. 1938. From Box 1, Folder 1, Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H.

Iowa State University, University Extension. "The History of 4-H." Accessed November 9, 2004 from

Miller, Fredric. Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1990.

Reck, Franklin Mehring. The 4-H Story: a History of 4-H Club Work. Chicago, IL: National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, [c1951] NAL Call Number 275.2 R242.

This is the source for the original and revised meanings of the four "H's".

Scholl, Jan. Conversation with Sara Lee, Beltsville, MD., 27 August 2004.

United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (formerly Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service from 1994-2008). "CSREES/Families, 4-H & Nutrition." Accessed November 9, 2004 from

This is the source document for the quoted titles "Father of Cooperative Extension" and "Mother of 4-H" in the Biographical Sketch.

United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. "Extension." Accessed August 19, 2005 from

United States. Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State land-grant colleges. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print Office, 1952.

United States National Archives and Records Administration. "Records of the Extension Service." Accessed August 19, 2005 from

United States National Archives and Records Administration. "Records of Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics." Accessed August 19, 2005 from

Wessel, Thomas R. and Marilyn Wessel. 4-H, an American Idea, 1900-1980: a History of 4-H. Chevy Chase, MD: National 4-H Council, 1982.

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