The creation of the concept of the Boys State program is credited to Professor Hayes Kennedy. In 1935, Professor Kennedy taught at the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago and was Americanism Chairman of the Illinois Department of the American Legion.
Professor Kennedy was concerned about a project underway at the time called “Young Pioneer Camps”, which were being promoted by the Communist Party to show the uselessness of democracy, and advocated the virtues of the communist system. Professor Kennedy felt that a counter movement should be started among the ranks of the nation’s youth to stress the importance and value of our democratic form of government and maintain an effort to preserve it.
The Illinois Department of the American Legion approved Professor Kennedy’s project and in June 1935, the very first “Boys State” in the nation was held on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
From that beginning, the program swiftly spread among other American Legion Departments. By 1941, 34 states were conducting a Boys State program. Today, The American Legion conducts a Boys State program in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Hawaii is the only state that does not have a Boys State program.
Boys State came to New Jersey in 1946 thanks to Harry Groome who heard about the program at a national convention in 1945. From the start, Harold “Chief” Eaton was the Director until his death in 1984. Under Chief Eaton’s direction, Jersey Boys State developed into one of the preeminent Boys State programs in the country. Our format has been copied by many other states.
Stanley McGraw followed Chief Eaton as Director of Jersey Boys State and served for the 1985 and 1986 sessions. Harry Groome’s grandson, Ken Groome was Director during 1987 and 1988. Former Department of New Jersey Commander Bob Bohn was Jersey Boys State Director during 1989 and 1990.
In 1991, Former Boys State Governor, William T. “Bill” Wilkins became Jersey Boys State’s 5th Director in its illustrious history. Director Wilkins made numerous changes to the Program including upgrading it to a “college level” seminar, improving the quality of the staff and delegates, bringing the Program into the 21st century through the use of technology, enhancing the seminar program, and improving upon the political aspects of the program.
In September of 2005, David S. Bagatelle was named the 6th Director of the program by the Board of Trustees of American Legion Jersey Boys State. This coming June will be Mr. Bagatelle’s 43rd year of service to ALJBS. He has served as Junior Assistant Counselor, Senior City Counselor and Political Advisor. For the past few years, David served as Assistant Director and Dean of the Program, working closely with former Director Wilkins. Director Bagatelle plans on continuing the vision of Director Wilkins for this college-level seminar.
The first session in New Jersey was held at Douglas College in New Brunswick with only 250 delegates. The program quickly expanded and moved to Rutgers University. Rider University became our home in 1969. We currently have over 850 delegates attending every year. Over 50,000 delegates have participated in ALJBS since its inception 77 years ago.