Boys' State

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 junior history teachers for the summer of their junior year. At which point they can then be nominated by their camp counselors to become counselors themselves. 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.

Program participants are first divided up into subgroups referred to as cities. The citizens of each of these cities elect mock municipal officials and representatives to the mock state legislature. If enough citizens are present, then a county level is added to the program between city and state. The participants also elect state officials, such as governor, lieutenant governor, and other state-level officials that their real state has. The legislature meets to organize, elect leaders, and to pass bills, in a way that is similar to how their actual 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 and community leaders who volunteer their time and effort. Administrative costs are defrayed by their the state Legion organizations. 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. Through these programs, it is estimated that each summer the American Legion Auxiliary alone is adding 19,000 girls trained in the processes of government to a group that by the end of 2006 will total about 1,103,000.

Today's largest Boys State occurs annually in Ohio with over 1,300 boys congregating at Bowling Green State University. A group from Israel recently visited the Buckeye Boys State in Ohio to use it as a template for their own version.


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. Selection is merit-based and includes consideration of grades and leadership potential. High school principals and guidance counselors usually help select the delegates in consultation with the school's local American Legion leadership.


Because the hundreds of students at any given Boys/Girls State represent the top talent of that age year, winning 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. The Samsung Scholarship is an endowed a 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.[1]

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

Famous alumni of the Boys and Girls State programs include Neil Armstrong, Tom Brokaw, Garth Brooks, Robert Griffin III, James Campbell, Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Phil Jackson, Beau Biden, Henson Moore, Lawrence DiCara, Michelle D. Johnson, Samuel Alito, Russell Jones, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, George Pataki, Jane Pauley, 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, Trent Lott.

See also


External links

  • Arizona Boys State website
  • American Legion Minnesota Boys State website
  • Boys and Girls State website
  • Boys State website
  • Boys State Directory
  • Texas American Legion Boys State website
  • Famous Boys' State Alumni
  • Missouri Boys State
  • Mountaineer Boys State website for West Virginia
  • Missouri Girls State
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