Scouting (Boy and Girl)

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Scouting (Boy and Girl)

Around the world, scouting was the most popular youth movement in the twentieth century. By 2001, scouting organizations for boys and girls were in all but five countries on earth. Founded in Britain by Robert Baden-Powell (1857–1941), the Boy Scouts reached the United States in 1909, when Ernest Thompson Seton (1860–1946) was appointed Chief Scout of America. In Britain, the Girl Scouts (then called Girl Guides) started their own movement in 1910, led by Baden-Powell's sister Agnes (1858–1945). Scouting offered young people the chance to explore the countryside and learn skills such as woodcraft, tracking, and first aid. In 2001, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) stated that it aimed to help boys build character and physical fitness and become good citizens. Above all, both boy and girl scouts are expected to "Be Prepared."

Scouting began when General Baden-Powell returned from the British campaign at Mafikeng in the South African Boer War (1899–1902). His handbook, Scouting for Boys, was published in 1908 and immediately became a best-seller (see entry under 1940s—Commerce in volume 3). Chapters entitled "Scoutcraft," "Woodcraft," "Chivalry," and "Our Duties as Citizens" gave advice on subjects such as tying knots, blazing a trail, running a successful camp, and caring for others. Perhaps reflecting Baden-Powell's military background, the handbook even explains what to do if you find a dead body. Through the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides, Baden-Powell instructed British boys and girls to become loyal subjects of the British Empire.

In the United States, scouting began for different reasons. After the declared "closure" of the frontier in 1893, many Americans worried that the country would lose the pioneering spirit. In 1902, Seton set up the "Woodcraft Indians," a troop of boys who learned how to follow a trail; to recognize different animals, birds, and plants; and to work together as a team in the wilderness. Seton visited Baden-Powell in London in 1906 to exchange ideas. Two years later, scouting came to the attention of American William D. Boyce (1858–1929). Finding himself lost in London, Boyce asked a small boy the way back to his hotel. Boyce was surprised when the boy led him all the way there. He was even more surprised when the boy refused to take money for his trouble, telling Boyce that this was his good turn as a Boy Scout. Impressed, Boyce sought out Baden-Powell to find out about scouting. On his return to the United States, Boyce contacted Seton and together they founded the BSA. The organization was granted its Congressional charter in 1916.

Baden-Powell's aim for the Boy Scouts was to turn boys into "handy, capable men." Organized in army-style "patrols," boy scouts learned teamwork, loyalty, and respect for authority. Early scouting laid down very clear rules about what boys and girls could and should do with their lives. Unlike the boys, who would learn to be leaders and adventurers, Girl Guides would learn to become good companions to their husbands, brothers, and sons. Juliette Gordon "Daisy" Low (1860–1927) began the first American Girl Guide troop in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912. They became known as Girl Scouts in 1915. Already moving away from Baden-Powell's ideas for Girl Guides, Low envisioned an organization that would help girls enjoy an active life outside of the home. Although the first Girl Scout handbook, Scouting for Girls (1920) emphasizes domestic skills such as cooking, sewing, and household hygiene, the Girl Scouts also gave girls the chance to live more active and independent lives than before.

Low's Girl Scouts were encouraged to help in their communities, fundraising through annual bake sales and cookie drives. In 1912, ankle-length blue uniforms reflected the accepted view that respectable girls did not play sports, but Low had the girls playing basketball and tennis. Girl Scouts went on hiking and camping trips as well. By 1926, the Girl Scouts had 137,000 members and a national training center in upstate New York. The Girl Scouts organization was always less militaristic than the Boy Scouts. Its religious views sit more easily with modern attitudes and beliefs, and the organization has made a great effort to be tolerant and inclusive. In 2001, it boasted 2.7 million members worldwide, ranging from the kindergarten "Daisies" to seventeen-year-old "Seniors." Remarkably, cookie drives remain an important source of income for the Girl Scouts.

For almost fifty years, parents welcomed scouting as a wholesome influence on youth. But as society became more liberal in the 1960s, the movement lost momentum. Many of the attitudes in Scouting for Boys and Scouting for Girls seemed very outdated. In the 1990s, the Boy Scouts' opposition to homosexuals and religious nonbelievers drove away many natural supporters. Many people dislike the military style and conservative approach of scouting in general. Even critics of scouting, however, accept that its core values of loyalty, honesty, and respect for others are also the essential qualities of any good citizen.

—Chris Routledge

For More Information

Boy Scouts of America. (accessed on January 17, 2002).

Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. (accessed on January 17, 2002).

Peterson, Robert W. Boy Scouts: An American Adventure. New York: American Heritage, 1985.

75 Years of Girl Scouting. New York: Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., 1986.