In April 2012, the Kentucky Junior Historical Society (KJHS) will convene its 50th Annual Convention at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. While we are celebrating KJHS’s 50th anniversary on this occasion, the quest to create a program that would connect Kentucky’s youth with their history began a little more than 50 years ago when the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) published a magazine in 1957 called The Junior Historian. Simultaneously, the governor of Kentucky, A.B. “Happy” Chandler, wrote letters to history and English teachers in order to promote interest in forming Junior Historical Society chapters at their schools. Governor Bert T. Combs continued Chandler’s work by helping to pass legislation that created the Kentucky Young Historians Association (KYHA).
In 1961, the first issue of Kentucky Heritage was published. This magazine published the work of KYHA members featuring the projects they created in their chapters. During the early years, KYHA had 720 members and 28 clubs in the state of Kentucky.
The first state convention occurred in 1963, and was held at Franklin County High school in Frankfort. A bit of trivia about KYHA during this time:
· Membership was open to any student in primary or secondary school in Kentucky.
· Dues were $0.50 for club members and $1.00 for individual members.
· The first president was Bill Zarrett, from Bryan Station High School in Lexington.
During this early period, one of the most important achievements was creating the organization’s first constitution. Officers were to be elected at each convention. At this time the state officers included: President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, Secretary and Historian.
This constitution did not allow Junior High and Elementary district representatives as state officers. The next constitution was later amended to solve this issue. Not everyone could vote: only members in the first 11 grades of school could vote.
Kentucky Young Historians would meet yearly at State conventions. These conventions were to be held annually at a place approved by the Executive Committees of the Kentucky Historical Society and the Young Historians Association. In 1962, a new competition was announced for KYHA members to enter: the essay contest. Ribbons were given out for the winners. Starting in 1964, KYHA members were admitted to state historical sites and museums. By 1966, KYHA membership had grown to 5,016 students and 110 clubs.
During the 1970’s, the organization continued to grow. In 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial, the Kentucky Young Historical Association changed its name to the Kentucky Junior Historical. KJHS began to sponsor summer programs for its members in the mid 1970’s. One of these programs was weekend camps at the Wickliffe Mounds, where students learned how to dig for artifacts at an actual archeological site.
The 70’s also saw KJHS form relationships with other state junior historical societies such as the Indiana Junior Historical Society and the Tar Heel Junior Historical Association from North Carolina. The IJHS and the KJHS met frequently during the 1970’s to exchange ideas and form friendships.
During the 1980’s, the state convention flourished with many new events available to students. These included: art, photography, research, scrapbook, video, exhibits, crafts, speeches, performances, and the ever popular History Bowl. By 1987, KJHS consisted of 3,700 students and 175 clubs. 1987 also saw KJHS celebrate its 25th anniversary and Frankfort was chosen as the site for the state convention.
In the 1990’s, KJHS had several exciting new opportunities. Kentucky celebrated its bicentennial in 1992, and KJHS members participated with local programs and activities. In 1997 KJHS members were introduced to the National History Day program to increase opportunities for competition beyond the state level. At this time KJHS and National History Day were both separate entities. During the 2009-2010 school years KHD and KJHS were combined in order to adhere to National History Day project standards.
KJHS has grown since its creation nearly 50 years ago. While many of the functions of KJHS have changed over the years, its main role hasn’t changed: to provide new ways to help connect K-12 students to Kentucky’s rich history. What’s past is prologue for KJHS. The next 50 years will continue to be very productive and rewarding for KJHS members.
Would you like to help sponsor a KJHS chapter or join? Please contact Tim Talbott at 502-564-1792 ext. 4428, or Tim.Talbott@ky.gov.
Image 1: Kentucky Young Historians Association chapter certificate.
Image2: Campaign card for the office of second vice president of 1965 KYHA convention.
Image 3: Picture of KJHS chapter, unknown location, ca. 1990.
Image 4: KJHS members at the Wickliffe mounds ca. 1970.