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., Kansas, 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.
Governor and other offices
Because the hundreds of students at any given Boys/Girls State represent the top talent of that age year, winning a high office at the event can be an important distinguishing achievement for college admissions. The office of Governor is particularly highly contested. In some states, such as Florida, the process for selecting the Governor lasts nearly the duration of the event, with elections at the party-level, town-level, county-level, and ultimately state-level. Governors often represent their states at Boys/Girls Nation. In the year following the event, Boys/Girls State Governors are often invited to speak at American Legion local, state, and national conventions.
While each state differs, other highly-contested offices may include Lt. Governor and Secretary of State. The Governor also often appoints a cabinet. Students with particular career ambitions may want to be appointed to a cabinet position that reflects their long-term interests. Many students win an office of some type, whether it is on the town-level (such as mayor), county level (such as sheriff), or state-level (such as delegate to the State House of Representatives).
During the Camp
Once there, students typically start their day at 6:00am and end their day around 9:00pm and engage in a number of political activities such as drafting bills, writing legislature, debating, making motions, running for office, and electing officials. There are lectures that go on and workshops for students to fully immerse themselves in government and politics. Students are separated into the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as being classified as either a 'Nat' or a 'Fed.' At the end of the session, students and the counselors take a trip to the state capital and those whos bills were nominated are read out loud in either the House or the Senate depending on what they were originally placed into. They then go on a tour of the capital and meet their representatives if they are present and then after a closing ceremony at the college their session was at, they go home.
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, James Campbell[disambiguation needed], Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Lawrence DiCara, Michelle D. Johnson, Russell Jones[disambiguation needed], Michael Jordan, Rush Limbaugh, George Pataki, Jane Pauley, Nancy Redd, Harry Reid, Nick Saban, Eric Greitens, Scott Bakula, Dick Cheney, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ebert, Jon Bon Jovi, Trent Lott.