Development of community ownership is often identified as an important intermediate objective of community health education programs. Community ownership is assumed to be important to program effectiveness and long-term maintenance, but validated measures of this construct have not been available to test this proposition. A measure of community leaders' perceived ownership of health education programs was developed and tested. The Community Ownership Scale identified key functions within a program and asked community leaders to rate the amount of control the leaders themselves, the external sponsoring agency and the local program staff had in each area. The measure was tested with the volunteer leadership of three community health education programs. Predictions about scores were based on the conceptual framework from which the ownership construct was derived. Results of these tests were consistent with predictions, providing evidence for the validity of the measure. Subscale scores showed high levels of internal consistency reliability. This measure could be applied at different stages in the life of a program to monitor the success of efforts to foster community ownership, and to test the relationships between perceived ownership and program effectiveness and maintenance.