“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy

Just about three decades before President Kennedy delivered that famous quote, three American Legion members from Illinois were living his vision. In June, 1935 Hayes Kennedy, Harold L. Card and Matthew J. Murphy convened the very first Boys State at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

About two hundred boys from across Illinois attended the camp designed to give young men an opportunity to learn the operation of American government on the local, state, and national levels. Their learn by doing approach had the boys create a mythical “51st State” (or in 1935, actually a mythical 49th State).

This idea took off as the second session saw attendance triple, and by 1937 Illinois Boys State had 1,200 in attendance and many other states began to develop and host their own Boys State camps. Currently all states except Hawaii have Boys State programs and the American Legion Auxiliary hosts Girls State programs across the country.

While every state and every program is separate and unique, they all follow the same basic ideas founder and “Father of American Legion Boys State,” Hayes Kennedy built into the original Illinois program.


Adapted from the 75th Annual Boys State Supplement