Early in 1935 a few prominent Illinois Legionnaires met to discuss a new youth program which would teach the lessons of good citizenship. The first Boys State, held at the Illinois Fairgrounds in Springfield in June 1935, was the result of this discussion and planning. Two hundred boys were enrolled in the initial Boys State. At the 17th National Convention of The American Legion, held in September 1935, The American Legion em- braced Boys State as a national program for youth.
As a result of the tremendous success of the Boys State program, in 1946 The American Legion originated the Boys Nation program. This program selects two outstanding participants from each of the Boys State programs to attend Boys Nation, an extension of the state-level experience, but at the national level.
The first session of Kentucky Boys State was held on the campus of Western Kentucky State College, Bowling Green, Ky., August 4th through the 10th, 1940. Since the initial session, over 20,000 outstanding Kentucky young men have attended these sessions to learn first-hand about democratic government.
This is a program designed to train Kentucky youth in the fundamentals of good citizenship and governmental operations. This is a leadership program as well. It is not intended that the program take the place of the curriculum in civics or government as is taught in the schools of the Commonwealth. It is planned so participants may put into intensive practice the theories of American government through the actual operation of city, county and state offices, as organized under the plans of this mythical 51st state. The program's purpose is to develop a constructive attitude toward our form of democracy, to instill a firm belief that our system of social control is not an old, outmoded idealism, but a workable, efficient system that needs only intelligent, alert and informed citizens and an honest administration to make it the effective instrument of protection and regulation visualized by our forefathers. Students will benefit from the network of peers, and ready themselves for whatever post-high goals they may have in life.
To accomplish this purpose there must be training, not only in theory of government but its actual practice and administration and leadership. The sponsors believe that a prepared and trained youth will more effectively preserve and perpetuate our precious heritage and more readily assume the trust and responsibilities that go with American citizenship.
Two representatives from each of the 49 Boys States represent their state at Boys Nation in Washington, where the young leaders receive an education on the structure and function of federal government.
The first Boys Nation – then called Boys Forum of National Government – convened at American University in Washington in August 1946. The 1946 American Legion National Convention adopted the event as an official youth activity. Three years later, it became American Legion Boys Nation.
At the event, each delegate acts as a senator from his Boys State. The young lawmakers caucus at the beginning of the session, then organize into committees and conduct hearings on bills submitted by program delegates.
Senators learn the proper method of handling bills, according to U.S. Senate rules. Participation in the political process is emphasized throughout the week, including organization of party conventions and nominating and electing a president and vice president.
The week of government training also includes lectures, forums and visits to federal agencies, national shrines, institutions, memorials and historical sites. On Capitol Hill, Boys Nation senators meet with elected officials from their home states.
Since Boys Nation began in 1946, a number of its graduates have been elected to public office, including presidents, congressmen, state governors and state legislators. Many others have been inspired to work for the campaigns of individuals seeking public office.