The Junior Historians of Texas, the oldest of several student educational programs operated by the Texas State Historical Association, was founded in 1939 by Walter Prescott Webb. The idea for the participation of secondary students in the work of state historical organizations appears to have had two separate, distinct, and independent origins. The initial development of the idea seems to have been in Indiana, where in December 1938 the Indiana Historical Society organized the Indiana Junior Historical Society. The other independent development of the Junior Historian movement took place in Texas. Webb, then the director of the Texas State Historical Association, introduced the idea of a young persons' branch of the association in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in October 1939. The Junior Historian program as developed in Texas was designed to encourage students in grades six through twelve to study their state and local history.
In almost all instances the program operates within, but independent of, the regular public school systems. The extracurricular Junior Historian clubs usually meet at a club hour provided in the school schedule or after school. In most instances the club sponsors are history teachers. As conceived by Webb and H. Bailey Carroll, the first director of the Junior Historian program and its guiding hand from 1939 until his death in 1966, the original objective of the program was to develop future historians. Consequently the Texas program was originally centered around the writing of history by young people, and in January 1940 the association began publishing the Junior Historian magazine. This unique publication, the first published magazine in which the writing was done both by and for young people, changed its name to the Texas Historian in September 1970. Most of the essays published have won awards in the Junior Historian and/or the Texas History Day writing contests. Under Ken Ragsdale, the director of the association's educational division from 1966 to 1977, the Junior Historian program grew to include other emphases in addition to writing. Ragsdale introduced a historical-exhibits component for the annual meetings of the Junior Historians. He also encouraged integrating local Junior Historian chapter work with that of local historical societies and history museums. Annual competitions in history-related performances and media displays were established under David De Boe, the director of the program beginning in 1978. In 1981 members of the Junior Historians were able for the first time to compete with students from other states, through the Texas History Day and National History Day programs. A cumulative total of almost 800 chapters of the Junior Historians of Texas had been chartered by 1995. In the mid-1980s the Junior Historian movement reached a peak number of 175 active chapters. Particularly responsible for the subsequent decline in number were the "no pass, no play" rule, which adversely affected participation in extracurricular activities in general, and the growth of the Texas History Day program, a competition that could be integrated directly into the curriculum. In the 1994–95 school year there were about 110 active chapters of Junior Historians. At that time the Texas Historian was published four times a year and had a subscription list of 1,800.