CLARION — Few things better tell the story of rural America than the 4-H emblem.
However, few people know about the little museum in North Central Iowa that marks the birthplace of that emblem.
Editor’s note: this is one story in a series featuring small rural farm museums, which dot the Iowa countryside.
“It’s a pretty special place,” says Jessica Norman, the county youth coordinator for Wright County Extension.
The place is a small, one-room school house that rests a block off the courthouse square in Clarion, facing Iowa Highway 3.
It is not the birthplace of the 4-H movement. That honor is claimed by several other towns, including one in Clark County, Ohio, and another in Douglas County, Minn.
But, Jessie Field Shambaugh was clearly one of the early leaders and founders of the 4-H movement during her time in Clarinda. The Nodaway Valley Museum there includes information on her.
Wright County claims to be the place where the famous 4-H emblem got its start.
According to local historians, the idea came from Wright County Superintendent of Schools Oscar Herman Benson, who in 1906 was visiting local schools.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a national Country Life Commission to investigate the lack of interest among younger people of remaining on the farm.
Benson became a proponent of that work and when visiting a country school, the students gave him four-leaf clovers for good luck.
In 1907, the story goes, Benson developed a design of what was then a three-leaf clover emblem for membership and a four-leaf clover emblem for achievement in finished projects.
Seaman Knapp, a former head of Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) was working at the USDA at the time, and he promoted the idea, promoting 4-H clubs throughout the nation.
Today, that idea of the 4-H emblem is honored here. A plaque in honor of Benson was mounted on a rock by the courthouse in 1939.
In 1955, the rural school for Lake Township, District No. 6 in Wright County was moved to Clarion, and the plaque was moved to a spot outside the school building.
Inside are bits of country school memorabilia and bits of 4-H memorabilia, such as old uniforms worn by club members in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Of course, 4-H is still very much alive in Wright County, where Norman is busy organizing activities. The 4-H members help run the museum.
For those interested in more local history, the Heartland museum just down the street features a number of exhibits, including a large collection of farm machinery.
For more information about the 4-H schoolhouse museum, contact the Wright County Extension Office at 515-602-6000. For more information about the Heartland Museum, check out www.heartlandmuseum.org.