The idea for what is now known as the Junior State was first conceived by Professor E.A. Rogers, headmaster of the Montezuma Mountain School for Boys in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains in the early 1930s. Prof. Rogers had long maintained that one of the primary needs of a democracy was to train its youth in the essentials of good government. He believed that without an informed populace, a democracy is worthless.
On an autumn evening in 1934, Prof. Rogers put the question before his students. Someone suggested a junior government – an educational project to help create the statesmen and citizens of the future. Excited by the idea, the students began to set out the goals for their junior government. Non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-secret and non-profit, the organization would rise above the evils of propaganda and dirty politics. Students would not just learn about democracy, but would practice it among themselves. (Today, the Montezuma campus is known as the Presentation Center and is supported in part by the Montezuma Foundation.)
The project soon spread to other high schools across California. The group thrived through its annual “summer school,” where young men and women were taught political science and public speaking. JSA – Junior Statesmen of America as it was then known – entered the ’70s invigorated by a supporting foundation which assisted students in the organization of their government and handled fund-raising and administration of the summer schools.
In the last 30 years, the group has spread from the West Coast to across the nation, with viable chapters in more than 35 states ranging from Florida to Washington, New Hampshire to Texas.
Since Prof. Rogers’ time, the name has changed, but the mission remains the same. For 75 years, the Junior State has maintained its integrity – even through the divisive McCarthyism of the 1950s and the political upheaval of the 1960s – and steadily grown in influence. The Junior State has fought for student rights, including the need for a lowered voting age (approved by the United States Congress in 1971) and student representation on school boards. It is the largest student-run organization in the United States – governed completely by and for the students.