The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Shambaugh, Jessie Field
(June 26, 1881–January 15, 1971)

—educator and founder of 4-H—was born near Shenandoah, Iowa, the daughter of Solomon Elijah Field and Celestia Josephine Eastman. She married Ira Shambaugh on June 9, 1917.

    Jessie Field graduated from Tabor College in 1903, and began teaching at Goldenrod School in Fremont Township, Page County. There she organized the boys' and girls' clubs that became the models for the 4-H Club movement in the United States.

    Jessie Field later became the principal of Jefferson School in Helena, Montana. In 1906 she returned to Page County, first as appointed acting superintendent of schools, and later as elected superintendent. In that position, she administered the 130 rural schools in the county.

    She continued the club work that she had begun at the Goldenrod School, with the Girls' Home Clubs and the Boys' Corn Clubs, expanded to include each rural school in Page County. The first year of the clubs, the students entered the junior exhibit at the farmer' Institute in Clarinda, where they won, and continued successfully until 1909. That year Jessie Field took the Page County exhibit to the International Corn Show in Omaha, which held a competition for the best "County Junior Collective Exhibit."Her students' exhibit won first prize, a one-cylinder automobile. By that time Jessie Field's work had attracted the attention of the National Commissioner of Education. Accompanied by 15 state superintendents, he toured Page County's rural schools. His conclusion was that these were the best rural schools in the United States, and for the next decade Jessie Field and the Page County rural schools served as models of exemplary rural education.

    Jessie Field designed a badge to encourage participation in the clubs. It was a three-leafed clover with a letter H on each leaf. The H 's stood for Head, Heart, and Hands, with the motto "Learning by doing, to make the best better."In 1910 she added a fourth leaf to the badge, which stood for Home. Boys studied farm management, agronomy, and livestock and corn judging and participated in sports and elements of self-government. Girls studied cooking, sewing, interior decoration, gardening, first aid, and child care.

    During Jessie Field's career as superintendent, the clubs in Page County consistently won contests in several categories. The corn judging team won the state contest three years in a row and was awarded permanent possession of the trophy. The team from Page County won the Girls' State Cooking Contest in 1910. The Boys' Farm Camps and the Girls' Camps of the Golden Maids she organized for rural youth beginning in 1910 and 1911 were the foundations for training in self-government. That experience resembled the present-day Boys' State and Girls' State experience, and was held in conjunction with local chautauqua. Jessie Field believed in the possibilities of youths working in tandem with adults for better life on Iowa farms.

    In 1913 Jessie Field left Iowa to become the National Secretary for Rural Work in Small Towns and the Country for the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in New York. During that time in her career, she wrote a civics textbook, as well as The Corn Lady and A Real Country Teacher, all three of which were used to train rural teachers, and were used by rural teachers in their classrooms. After her marriage, she returned to Clarinda and assisted her brother Henry A. Field at radio station KFNF in developing the Radio Homemakers shows. She died at her home in Clarinda in 1971.

    Jessie Field Shambaugh is best remembered for her pioneer work in establishing the clubs that grew into one of the greatest youth movements in the 20th century, making her "the Mother of 4-H."By integrating the prac tical work with which farm boys and girls were already familiar into the school curriculum, she brought about a significant change in rural school teaching. She worked closely with other county superintendents of schools, particularly with Cap E. Miller of Keokuk County and O. H. Benson of Wright County. Benson's later work as a national leader in organizing youth clubs helped to popularize Jessie Field Shambaugh's ideas, and the 4-H emblem was adopted as the national symbol of rural clubs. At that time, the fourth H was changed to stand for Health.

    The Goldenrod School building now stands on the grounds of the Nodaway Valley Historical Museum and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sources include Homer Cray, "The 4-H Clubs Were Started by a Woman," in Corn Country (1947); Jessie Field, The Corn Lady: The Story of a Country Teacher's Work (1911); Jessie Field and Scott Nearing, Community Civics (1916); Janice Nahra Friedel, "Jessie Field Shambaugh: The Mother of 4-H," Palimpsest 62 (1981), 98–115; Franklin M. Reck, The 4-H Story (1951); Faye Whitmore and Manila Cheshire, The Very Beginnings in Southwest Iowa (1963); and Clarinda Herald-Journal, 5/2/2001 and 5/9/2001.
Contributor: Loren N. Horton