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, respectively. 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 though a committee is working to implement the program in 2016), usually on a college campus, within that state. In general, male and female programs are held separately, but at least seven states—Georgia, Nebraska, Oregon, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island—host Boys and Girls State on the same campus on the same week.
Each State's program varies, 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. The Oregon program has moved away from using any mock systems to a completely simulated "State of Christensen" with its own law and order system that grows yearly and is passed on to the consecutive year.
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. Attendance at Boys State carries the same weight as earning the distinction of Eagle Scout, especially when applying to US military schools and academies.
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, lieutenant 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. For example, New York Boys' State involves exposure to regimented military experiences, such as early-morning physical training and marching instruction provided by members of the US Marines.
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
Attendance data from 1935 - 1995 is unavailable.
1996: 24,987 1997: 24,846 1998: 24,523 1999: 24,070 2016: 19,570 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 2012: 19,909 2013: 20,112 2014: 19,317 2015: 19,449
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 lieutenant 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 Samuel Alito, Neil Armstrong, Scott Bakula, Barry Barnes, Beau Biden, Jim Bohannon, Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Brokaw, Garth Brooks, Dick Cheney, Aneesh Chopra, Chris Christie, Wesley Clark, Bill Clinton, Tim Cook, Tom Cotton, Tom Daschle, Lawrence DiCara, Lou Dobbs, Steve Doocy, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ebert, John Ensign, James Gandolfini, Ron Givens, Alex Gorsky, Jonathan Greenert, Eric Greitens, Robert Griffin III, E. Lynn Harris, Ken Howard, Mike Huckabee, Phil Jackson, Fishel Jacobs, Al Jarreau, Michelle D. Johnson, Russell Jones, Michael Jordan, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Lugar, Alan Keyes, Brian Lamb, Rush Limbaugh, Trent Lott, Greil Marcus, Craig Melvin, Henson Moore, Sam Nunn, George Pataki, Jane Pauley, Nancy Redd, Harry Reid, Ann Richards, Nick Saban, Tim Scott, G. Murrell Smith, Jr., Bruce Springsteen, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Scott Walker, Ron Walters, Jerry West and Ryan Zinke.
Individual State Programs
Kentucky Established in 1940, participants at Kentucky's Boys State program become a part of the operation of his local, county and state government. Participants spend an entire week learning about Kentucky State government, history, communications, government, leadership and various other topics. The six-day program was originally held at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, KY but will be held at Campbellsville University in 2016.
- Palmetto Boys State
- Badger Boys State
- Missouri Boys State
- Model United Nations
- MSC Student Conference on National Affairs at Texas A&M University
- YMCA Youth & Government
Individual State Websites
- Arizona Boys State
- California Boys State
- Hawaii Aloha Girls State
- Kentucky Boys State
- Kentucky Girls State
- Missouri Boys State
- Missouri Girls State
- Minnesota Boys State
- Nevada Boys State
- North Dakota Boys State
- North Dakota Girls State
- Ohio Boys State
- Oregon Boys State
- Pennsylvania Keystone Boys State
- Pennsylvania Keystone Girls State
- South Carolina Palmetto Boys State
- Texas American Legion Boys State
- West Virginia Boys State
- Wisconsin Badger Boys State
- Wisconsin Badger Girls State