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Youth Organizations

Boys And Girls States

Boys State and Girls States are educational programs aimed at teaching American high school students the duties, privileges, rights, and responsibilities of American citizenship. Boys State programs are funded and organized by the American Legion; Girls State programs are funded and organized by the American Legion Auxiliary. The program provides teenagers with handson experience in government by enabling them to participate in the practical functioning of fictional "states."


The content and method of Boys State and Girls State programs vary from state to state, but all adhere to the basic goal of teaching about government from the city to the state level. Most state programs last for one week, but some run for as many as fourteen days. Enrollments also vary, with as few as 25 to as many as 1,500 participants in a single "state." Most state programs are held at a college campus or other educational institution.

Participants in Girls State and Boys State programs become citizens of a mythical fifty-first state. As such, they help plan and execute all the main functions of the state, guided by the basic laws and procedures of the actual state where the program is being held. The practical and nonpartisan program is designed to teach students how government actually works in a democratic society.

On arrival, each boy or girl is assigned to a "city," where he or she joins other "citizens" in establishing a city government. They begin by electing a mayor and other city officials, including perhaps a city administrator, city council members, judges and district attorneys, and a sheriff. The newly established city government then enacts and enforces ordinances to govern the city. In larger Boys State and Girls State programs, cities may be organized into counties, which establish county governments. Participants in larger programs may also set up banks, post offices, schools, clinics, and even stores.

At the beginning of the program, each participating student is appointed to an imaginary political party. Most Boys State and Girls State programs include two parties (e.g., Tories and Whigs, Nationalists and Federalists). The two parties are not modeled after the real Republican and Democratic parties, but are meant to teach participants how political parties function and how a two-party system of government works. Party members develop their own party platforms, highlighting issues the participants think are important. Citizens of each party nominate members to be candidates for various city and county offices. They also hold caucuses and political conventions to nominate party members for state office, after which candidates run campaigns and statewide elections are held. Some states even hold inaugural ceremonies after elections, where the new "governor" and other officials take an oath of office.

Elected officials then form state governments and name various appointive officials, including perhaps an attorney general, a secretary of state, and a state treasurer. State officials also establish a supreme court and lower courts, where citizen attorneys defend and prosecute lawbreakers. In addition, citizens elect state representatives and senators and form a functioning legislature.

Each Boys State and Girls State also includes "journalists," who interview candidates and public officials, report on events within the city and state, and write editorials. The state paper is edited, printed, and published by the student participants themselves, with the goal of teaching the importance and function of a free press in a democratic society. In most states, a newspaper will be published each morning with the news of the preceding day. A summary journal may be published at the end of the program.

During the program, participants also engage in seminars where they discuss subjects pertaining to government, law, and politics. Real public officials and professional leaders often present special lectures about government and citizenship. Student participants are further guided by volunteer adult counselors, most of whom are actual attorneys, judges, teachers, law enforcement officials, and civil servants.

Every year, outstanding "citizens" from the Boys State and Girls State programs around the country are chosen to participate in the Boys Nation and Girls Nation programs in Washington, D.C. In these programs, run by the national American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary organizations, students take on the roles of "senators," representing their state within a fictional federal government.


The majority of participants in Boys State and Girls State programs are high school juniors or seniors who have been sponsored by an American Legion post or auxiliary unit. Students interested in taking part in a Boys State or Girls State program must apply to their local legion post. Application procedures and selection criteria vary from state to state, but in most cases, applications are reviewed by a board of legion members who select the best candidates. The board may require applicants to undergo an interview before final appointment. In general, the legion is looking for candidates with above average academic records, demonstrated leadership abilities, and high moral character. Applicants must also show an interest in government, current events, and public service.

Financial support for Boys State and Girls State programs comes from the budgets of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary national organizations, as well as the state and local legion and auxiliary units. Additional funding is provided by local businesses and other civic and nonprofit organizations. Student participants pay no fees.


The American Legion Department of Illinois conducted the first Boys State program in 1935 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. Two Illinois Legionnaires, Hayes Kennedy and Harold Card, initiated the program to counter the influence of the Young Pioneer Camps being promoted by the Communist Party during the 1930s. The Legion Auxiliary of the District of Columbia initiated the first Girls State program in 1938. The first Boys Nation, then called Boys Forum of National Government, was held in 1946. The first Girls Nation was held the following year. By 2000 Boys State and Girls State programs were held annually in every American state except Hawaii.


AMERICAN LEGION. 2002. <www.legion.org>.

AMERICAN LEGION AUXILIARY. 2002. <www.legionaux.org>.


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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation EncyclopediaYouth Organizations - Big Brothers Big Sisters Of America, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, Boys And Girls Clubs Of America - AMERICAN FIELD SERVICE