Young Citizens League
For those who went to a rural school in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota or Colorado, you may have gotten your first formal training in citizenship through Youth Citizens League or YCL. Recalling my days as a student in a country school, the organization gave students a solid start in common matters that are not being taught in public schools today.
Although we considered it an honor, not a chore, one of our YCL duties was putting up and taking down the American flag on the school’s flagpole each day. We learned flag etiquette with two students on the task, such as how to properly fold the flag and not letting the flag touch the ground. We also dusted the chalkboard erasers outside at the end of each day. (Younger folks reading this may need to ask what a chalkboard was.)
We had YCL meetings during which we learned how to conduct a meeting following Robert’s Rules of Order. This lesson alone served us well when we later joined 4-H and student council. Every spring we had a countywide, rural schools only YCL Day where we sang the songs that we had practiced at our small schools then joined forces with all of the country schools to form one large chorus. Patriotic songs were the primary choices and in South Dakota we found out that our state song is, “Hail, South Dakota.” Our school was on an irrigation project, where sometimes hail fell out of the sky and when it did, often obliterated the crops, so we had a good laugh at the song title. Yes, we knew that the “hail” in the song didn’t speak of weather but was a greeting of cheer. It’s also heard in, “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,” and other remarkable ditties.
Young Citizens League was started in 1910 and spread over the years. South Dakota started in 1927. That year W.J. Bulow, governor of South Dakota even asked the legislature to allocate $10,000 to support the program. Coinciding with the number of rural schools in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado, nearly every rural school in these four states had a chapter in 1941.
Beyond citizenship YCL had objectives of teaching students self-reliance, personal health and cleanliness and doing good things for others as well as the country. Young Citizens League continued to teach and develop good American citizens in rural schools. The death knell for YCL was sounded by school consolidation that was pushed statewide in 1970. Since then school districts closed rural schools in favor of town schools as fast as they could. The elementary school at Oral, S.D., was closed about 15 years ago and that was the last rural school in Fall River County.
Young Citizens League was an impressive program that influenced thousands of rural students, including many state legislators in the four rural states.
I would like to hear memories of others who were in YCL. I can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org. ❖