As an outgrowth of the Depression and the belief of many that the democratic form of government was going on the rocks, the Illinois Department of the American Legion decided some special training should be given teenage boys to develop a keen interest in government, as well as rights and privileges of citizenship. As a result, Boys State was established in 1935 and soon thereafter, Kansas grasped the opportunity to be one of the pioneers in offering citizenship training for boys.
The Kansas American Legion Auxiliary watched the success and growth of Kansas American Legion Boys State and realized the worth of establishing a Girls State. With the sanction and encouragement of the Kansas Department of the American Legion, Mrs. Marshall Peterson, Kansas City, Department President, and Mrs. E.R. Soelter, Wamego, who served as the Director, took the lead in establishing the Americanism project called Sunflower Girls State.
The first Girls State was held at Washburn College in Topeka, June 11-18, 1939. The 150 girls who attended were housed in Benton Hall. The Boys State Governor and Lt. Governor spent the entire week guiding the girls in functions of the state. There were four counties named for past department presidents of the American Legion Auxiliary. Each city had a chaperone and a counselor. A fee of $12.50 covered all expenses for a week a Girls State and the sponsors paid transportation.
A few sessions later, a plan was adopted to name the Girls State cities for Kansas Indian tribes and the counties for Kansas rivers. In the summer of 1939, by convention action, the Auxiliary voted to hold an annual session of Girls State. Because of World War II, no sessions were held in 1943, 1944, 1945 and 1946, but they resumed in 1947 for the fifth annual session and have continued to this present day. In 1952, because of the increase in the number of applications and the desire to attend, four cities and two counties were added. In 1977, Girls State reached the all-time high of sixteen cities and eight counties, and the Girls State Citizens stayed in two dorms.
During the 1948 session, designs were submitted for a Girls State Flag. The Girls State Legislature of the 1949 session dedicated the new blue, white and gold banner. The Girls State motto was enacted by the 1948 Legislature of the Sunflower Girls State.
The Girls State Constitution and By-Laws were written an approved by the 1951 session. Each year from 1953 to 1995, Girls State presented a $250.00 scholarship to the University of Kansas to be given to a girl in her junior year majoring in political science. Mrs. Robert W. Hemphill, a past Department President, made the first presentation to Dr. Franklin D. Murphy during the 1953 session of Girls State.
In 1970, the legislators met for the first time in the State Legislative Chambers in Topeka, and beginning in 1972, all Girls State Citizens visited the capitol. In 1975, county officials first visited their counterparts at the Douglas County Courthouse.
The Girls State Citizens have forged new trails themselves. In 1964, Governor Arlene Tjart set a precedent by vetoing a bill. For two consecutive years a Kansas Girls Nation Senator was elected President of Girls Nation, in 1972 it was Alicia Greer and in 1973, Terri Hannon. During the Bicentennial celebration, three girls were elected to Girls Nation, one of who was the newly elected Lt. Governor. In order to accept the nomination, the Lt. Governor resigned, forcing Governor Ann Waldorf to appoint a replacement on Sunday morning as the girls were packing to return home. In 1978, Governor Mollie Mitchell made Girls State History by calling a special session of the legislature.
The first alumni of Sunflower Girls State to serve as Director was Nancy Lane in 1980. The 1982 Girls State Attorney General and Secretary of State were privileged to affix their signatures to Kansas Attorney General Robert Stephan’s filing papers for re-election.
In 1984, both Kansas Senators to Girls Nation won their party’s nomination for Vice President with Karen Twenhafel of Coffeyville winning the office. In 1987, two citizens from every Girls State in the country were selected to participate in a Girls State Choir at the American Legion Auxiliary National Convention. The 1990 Girls Nation Senators repeated the 1984performance with Heather Rainwater of Olathe coming home as Vice President. Kate Covington, Director 1990-91, became the second alumnae to serve in that position. Also in 1990, the Alumnae Association awarded it’s third life membership to Betty Brenn of Colby, Kansas. Betty attended Girls State in 1940 and served in various Staff positions until 2003.
1992 found Girls State Citizens celebrating fifty years of Sunflower Girls State. The General Assembly sessions were held in Allen Fieldhouse being the last group to be on the old basketball floor. In 1993, Governor Molly McNaughton resigned, propelling Lt. Governor Cara Drennan into the leadership role for the session. The General Assemblies were held in Murphy Hall, the Union Ballroom and Oliver Hall. This was also the first year two West Point Cadets from New Jersey, Andrea Sierkowski and Krista Hoffman volunteered their services as assistant counselors.
In 1994, the largest Sunflower Girls State session ever was held with 573 delegates in attendance. For the first time citizens resided in one dorm, McCollum Hall. Girls State was the first conference group allowed to meet in the new Lied Center. While on our trip to Topeka, 1993 citizen Stevie Case, filed to run for State Representative for the 39th District, Johnson County, Kansas. Girls State alumnae from not only Kansas, but also from New Jersey, Missouri and Indiana were in attendance at the candlelight ceremony. 1995 brought about a first in Sunflower Girls State history. This year neither party held a majority in the Senate. An equal number of Federalist and Nationalist were elected.
1996 was an eventful year for Sunflower Girls State. Each city was given their own colored nametag for their citizens to wear. The Sunflower Boutique was originated, where citizens could shop for “original” clothing and other items designed solely for Sunflower Girls State. City, County and State government problems replaced City Projects. Late one evening during the week, severe weather produced a tornado, which rumbled through Lawrence. All ten floors of McCollum Hall were evacuated to the basement in a record time of 10 minutes. Power was lost until the early morning hours.
1997 brought special guests to our inaugural. The outgoing and incoming Boys State Governor’s and the incoming Lt. Governor attended the ceremony. Sunflower Girls State Governor Lisa Williams and Lt. Governor Tara Kelly spent an afternoon at the Boys State session.
In 1998, the position of lobbyist was added. They represented their County views to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The 1998 Legislature enacted the addition of the Kansas State Flag to the daily inside flag ceremony.
In 1999, delegates attending Sunflower Girl State became eligible to receive one college credit hour from Kansas University.
American Legion Auxiliary President Elizabeth (Lib) Stewart visited the 2000 session, the first National President to visit Sunflower Girls State since Pearl Behrenvisitedin 1988.
In 2001 Sunflower Girls State launched their web site and sent the delegate packets via email.
In 2002, American Legion Auxiliary National President, Sherry McLaughlin, visited session.
In 2003 Lawrence Memorial Hospital nurses volunteered their services through out the session. Becky Keller became the third Girls State Alumni to become Director of the program.
In 2004, new directions once again came to Sunflower Girls State. Heidi Blair became the fourth Girls State Alumna to become Director of the program. We were housed in the newly renovated Ellsworth Hall with staff reorganization resulting in a county counselor and two city counselors on each floor.
Due to the death of former President Reagan, the day of his funeral was declared a National Holiday. Therefore, the trip to Topeka was cancelled. House and Senate sessions were held in McCollum Hall. Arrangements were made for the delegates to watch the services on a screen in the Lied Center.
Due to renovations in the Kansas Senate Chamber, 2005 Girls State Senators met in Memorial Hall Auditorium while in Topeka. In addition, for the first time, a CD of pictures was made available for citizens to purchase
Due to renovations in the Kansas House Chamber, 2006 Girls State Representatives met in Memorial Hall Auditorium while in Topeka. An addition of “Auxiliary Moments” was presented to the delegates by American Legion Auxiliary staffwho were on the floors for Taps each night. The new position of Director of Counselors was a successful addition to the program.
In 2007, 1980 Sunflower Girl State Alumnus Elaine Bowers observed Session for a day and addressed the Citizens as the Freshman Representative from the 107thDistrict of Kansas. Legion members of Dorsey Liberty Post 14 of the American Legion presented a Flag Etiquette and Bugle Calls program.
Anne Werner served as Director in 2008 and became the fifth Sunflower Girls State Alumnus to do so. For the first time, citizens were allowed the opportunity to register to vote and participated in a high school “wellness summit” survey for the State Board of Education’s “Kansas Action for Healthy Kids”.
The family of past Girls State Director Imogene Hummel started the annual Hummel Scholarship in honor of her years of service to Girls State. Monetary awards are given yearly to the Outstanding Senator and Representative.
Staff of the 2009 session included five former Girls Nation Senators and seven past Directors. The city government formation project was replaced by a new current events project where citizens had a chance to attend hot topic break out groups outside their counties and share ideas and solutions to Kansas issues.
2010 the delegates participated in two community service projects. A canned food drive was held for the local food pantry and items for care packages were collected and shipped to our military service men and women on active duty.
Blue Star Banners were presented to the delegates with family members in the military.
A political career panel and City skits were added to the program.
2011 newspaper reporters were able to publish their daily articles electronically.
2012 citizens voted for their state officers electronically through the computers acquired this year.
2013 delegates returned to Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, the place where the first Sunflower Girls State was held 74 years ago.
2014 Sunflower Girls State emphasized and educated the delegates to the many programs of the American Legion Auxiliary by the addition of information booths at meal times manned by Auxiliary members. Delegates participated in a service project by donating comfort items to all 5 Kansas Veterans