Boys State and Girls State are summer leadership and citizenship programs sponsored by the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary for high school juniors. Boys and Girls are usually nominated by their high school during their junior year. Boys and Girls State programs both began in 1937 and are held in each of the U.S. states (excluding Hawaii), usually on a college campus, within that state. In general, male and female programs are held separately, but at least seven states—Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island —host Boys' and Girls' State on the same campus on the same week.
Each State's program vary but in general, program participants are divided into subgroups referred to as cities. The citizens of each of these cities elect mock municipal officials and representatives to the mock state legislature. Many programs also have a county level as well. The participants also elect state officials, such as governor, lieutenant governor, and other state-level officials mirroring their actual State. The legislature meets to organize, elect leaders, and to pass bills, in a way that is similar to how their actual State Legislature operates. Some programs tend to have a more traditional education focus, providing speakers and training throughout the week and then concluding with mock political functions. Other programs take a more hands-on approach by running the mock government activities all week.
All programs generally follow a similar pattern, but vary by state. Some states hold mock trials, the participants volunteering as lawyers, accused, and juries. Some states include a journalism component that represents the Fourth Estate in the political process. North Dakota includes a classroom-based emergency management simulation that requires participants to respond to various large-scale disasters by managing communication, resources and personnel. Other programs include creative and fun activities such as band, choir, and athletic competition. Some of the programs (e.g., New Mexico) host a dance during the week, inviting high school girls/boys from the area to attend.
Boys/Girls State is typically staffed by Legion members, past participants, and/or community leaders who volunteer their time and effort. Administrative costs are defrayed by their the state Legion organizations and local businesses.
In most states, only one or two students are sent to Boys/Girls State from each high school. Therefore selection is highly competitive, and the population of students attending represents the top talent from across the state. Although recruitment procedures vary, Boys/Girls State participants are often selected with the help of high school principals or guidance counselors. Participants are typically between their junior and senior years in high school to qualify.
Because the hundreds of students at any given Boys/Girls State represent the top talent of that age year, being elected to a high office, such as Governor, at the event can be an important distinguishing achievement for college or Military Academies admissions.
While each state's offerings differ, many programs offer College Credit to those attending Boys/Girls State. Additionally many colleges and universities offer scholarships and other awards to those attending a Boys/Girls State program. Also, The American Legion offers The Samsung Scholarship which is an endowed scholarship fund of $5 million to be administered by The American Legion. In 2010, ten $20,000 scholarships and 88 $1,000 scholarships were awarded to those who completed a Boys/Girls State program.
During Boys and Girls State
Once there, students typically engage in a number of political activities such as running for office, electing officials, drafting and debating bills, and making motions. Some programs offer City and County mock courts, and a state Supreme Court, with the participants acting as lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, and jury members. Additionally, there are lectures and workshops for students to fully immerse themselves in government and politics.
A majority of programs divide their participants into two political parties: Nationalists and Federalists. Each political party establishes an official party platform voted on by its members. Participants are elected to a variety of offices including House of Representatives and Senate seats, executive offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, etc.). Participants also run for City and County offices such as Mayor, County Clerk, Municipal Judge, City Councilman, and many more depending on the individual program's setup.
Some programs, given their proximity to their state Capital, make a field trip to visit and have a tour and meet their Representatives, if they are present.
Many programs handle aspects of their individual programs differently from other States.
The creation of the Boys State program in 1935 is credited to Hayes Kennedy, who was an instructor at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Americanism Chairman of the Illinois Department of the American Legion, and Harold Card, the Department Boy Scout Chairman and junior high school instructor. Hayes Kennedy and Harold Card became concerned about the youth attending political indoctrination camps in the late 1930s.
Documentation provided by various Boys State programs across the country refer to these as "Young Pioneer Camps" and alternately describe them as either fascist- or communist-inspired. Since the Young Pioneer Camps was the name of a youth program based in the Soviet Union that made inroads in the U.S. in the early 20th Century, it is likely that these left-wing movements are what Kennedy was responding to, and not the growth of the radical right (i.e., fascism). Kennedy felt that a counter movement must be started among the ranks of the nation's youth to stress the importance and value of a Democratic form of government and maintain an effort to preserve and perpetuate it.
The Illinois Department of The American Legion approved Hayes Kennedy's and Harold Card's project and in June 1935, the very first Boys State in the nation was held on the grounds of the Illinois State Fair.
As this program succeeded and spread throughout the United States, the American Legion Auxiliary began providing similar opportunities for girls of high school age. Thus Girls State was founded. The first Girls State was conducted in 1938 and since 1948 has been a regular part of the Auxiliary's better citizenship programs. In Arkansas, the Girls State program began in 1942 under the leadership of Maud Crawford, the first woman to practice law in Camden, Arkansas. By 1984, Girls State sessions were held in all fifty states.
Boys State Attendance
1935 - 1995 attendance is unavailable
1996: 24,987 1997: 24,846 1998: 24,523 1999: 24,070 2000: 23,733 2001: 23,366 2002: 22,662 2003: 22,677 2004: 21,801 2005: 21,194 2006: 20,113 2007: 19,745 2008: 19,525 2009: 19,756 2010: 19,505 2011: 19,461
Boys Nation and Girls Nation
Since 1947, each of these Boys State and Girls State programs sends two delegates to Boys Nation and Girls Nation in Washington, D.C.. Each state chooses their delegates differently. These delegates are sometimes the participants elected to the Governor and Lt. Governor positions, but other states have separate elections for the honor, while still other states appoint their delegates through interviews with the Legionnaires who run each state program.
The event endeavors to teach delegates about the processes of federal government in the United States of America, through taking part in a mock Senate and mock elections of a Boys/Girls Nation Senate President Pro Tempore and Secretary, Vice President, and President, attending lectures and fora, and visiting governmental institutions and historical sites.
Famous alumni of the Boys and Girls State programs include Neil Armstrong, Tom Brokaw, Garth Brooks, Robert Griffin III, Jonathan Greenert, James Campbell[disambiguation needed], Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, E. Lynn Harris, Phil Jackson, Mark Wahlberg. Beau Biden, Henson Moore, Lawrence DiCara, Ron Walters, Michelle D. Johnson, Samuel Alito, Russell Jones[disambiguation needed], Michael Jordan, Barry Barnes, Jerry West, Rush Limbaugh, Greil Marcus, Roger Ailes, George Pataki, Jane Pauley, Aneesh Chopra, Nancy Redd, Harry Reid, Brian Lamb, Nick Saban, Tim Cook, Eric Greitens, Scott Bakula, Dick Cheney, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ebert, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Christie, Tom Daschle, Trent Lott.
The Boys/Girls State programs have been criticized in some states. Each program is run independently by the American Legion Department in that state, and the program experience and selection process in each state is unique to that state.
Although Boys/Girls State is non-partisan, the Texas program was criticized in 2005 by three Texas high schools students from McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, part of the Austin Fine Arts Academy as reflecting the conservative values of its sponsor, the American Legion. According to them, conservative and military speakers addressed attendees. They described their experience as "militaristic, superpatriotic, and heavily tilted to God and country." The three students critical of the program left early after they claimed to have experienced "hatred and intolerance."
- Boys and Girls State website
- Arizona Boys State website
- Missouri Boys State website
- Missouri Girls State website
- South Carolina's Palmetto Boys State website
- Minnesota Boys State website
- Texas American Legion Boys State website
- West Virginia Boys State website
- Boys State website
- Boys State Directory