Boy Scouts

views updated May 11 2018

Boy Scouts

In January 1908, a program for young boys was launched in Britain by the Boer War hero Robert Baden-Powell. It adapted army scout and applied it to the training of young people in citizenship. The scheme proved so popular that before World War I the program was to be found throughout the British Empire, in the United States, and in many other countries.

Formation and Influences

In this early period several controversies arose. One of these was over authorship of the scheme. In spite of worldwide acclaim for Baden-Powell, other individuals also claimed to be founders of Boy Scouting. The controversy arose because the elements that made up Baden-Powell's scheme were not unique. Even the name was not of Baden-Powell's devising. The phrase Boy Scout was used toward the end of 1899 by authors writing for the Aldine Press, first in the Buffalo Bill Library magazines to describe Harry White, Buffalo Bill's assistant, then in the True Blue War Library magazines of 1900 to 1906 to describe a young man serving in the colonies. Other elements of Scouting, including moral codes, self-government, mottoes, secret signs, patriotism, woodcraft, uniforms, and rituals, could also be found in kindred youth schemes of the period.

Schemes similar to the Scouts had gained modest success: in Britain, the Boys Brigade was founded in 1884 by William Smith and the Boys Life Brigade in 1899 by John Paton; in the United States, the Woodcraft Indians was founded in 1902 by Ernest Seton and the Sons of Daniel Boone/Boy Pioneers in 1905 by Daniel Beard; in South Africa, the Boys' Guide Brigade was founded in 1902 by Edward Carter; in Germany, the Wandervogel was founded in 1901 by Alexander Lion.

Baden-Powell felt that the application of Scouting to the program of the Boys Brigade of Britain would enhance its attraction. In 1906, Baden-Powell proposed using an adaptation of his army manual of 1900, Aids to Scouting, in the organization. While the Boys Brigade awarded badges for proficiency in various subjects, no badge was awarded for Scout training, and therefore boys had no incentive to undertake the training. The introduction of the Boys Brigade Scout Badge and Certificate only came in 1909, a year after the general publication of Baden-Powell's scheme in the wake of popularity of the Scout Movement.

The British-born Ernest Thompson Seton, who lived in the United States, proved a decisive influence on Scouting. In 1902, he had founded an organization called the Woodcraft Indians. In 1906, Seton sent Baden-Powell a copy of his latest woodcraft manual, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, which provided a model for a complete training scheme. With help from newspaper owner Arthur Pearson, Baden-Powell was able to launch both a handbook and a boys' paper, The Scout. Baden-Powell also gained assistance from the Young Men's Christian Association in launching a national tour. He held an experimental camp from July 25 to August 9, 1907, on Brownsea Island, Poole, which proved a success.

Baden-Powell's borrowings were not restricted to Seton and Aids to Scouting. He may also have been influenced by Andrew Burnham, an American Scout working in South Africa in the late 1800s. Other influences are also detectable in the pages of Scouting for Boys.

So well chosen were the ingredients that made up Baden-Powell's scheme, however, that it had a universal appeal and

struck a chord with so many people that the Boy Scout empire was able to attract and incorporate other organizations or their leaders. In 1910 the Woodcraft Indians, the Boy Pioneers, and various independent Scout troops and patrols formed the Boy Scouts of America. Also in that year, Dr. Lion of the Wandervogel formed the German Boy Scouts, and a number of Canadian Boys Brigade Companies became Boy Scout troops. In 1911 Carter's Boy Guides had joined the British Boy Scouts.

Robert Baden-Powell was the son of an Anglican priest, and the Scout promise, which was the basis of membership, required religious belief, thus disqualifying atheists. This enhanced Scouting's attraction to churches, which with their access to young people provided a ready market for the expansion of Scouting.

Some authors have concluded that the defense of the British Empire formed a very important motive for the foundation of the Boy Scouts. Baden-Powell was impressed by the Military Mafeking Cadet Corps, which gained fame, as Baden-Powell did, through its work during the Boer War. In 1905, Elliot E. Mills published a pamphlet anonymously, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. It encapsulated the xenophobic fears of England in that period. Baden-Powell treated the readers to excerpts of the pamphlet's themes in his book Scouting for Boys, reinforcing the belief that national defense was a prime motive.

A severe schism occurred in 1909, leading to the creation of the pacifist British Boy Scouts (BBS), led by Barrow Cadbury and Sir Francis Vane. Within two years the BBS had formed or allied to counterpart organizations in the British Empire as well as France, Italy, and the United States. In November 1911 they formed the Order of World Scouts, which was led by Sir Francis Vane.

By the early 1920s, there had been a detectable shift toward a more pacific and educational role in response to severe criticism and to the presence of a pacifist alternative.

Initially Baden-Powell had offered his scheme to other agencies as a means of youth work, almost as a public domain youth activity. This offer was taken up enthusiastically, especially by churches, which sponsored up to 70 percent of the troops. In reaction to direct competition from Vane's Order of World Scouts, however, Baden-Powell's organization and its counterparts developed a proprietary rights view, vesting its authorship firmly in Baden-Powell, who could then pass on rights to use the scheme. Vane's Order of World Scouts collapsed in 1912, following his bankruptcy, but many member organizations persisted in their home countries. In a New York court case lasting two years and ending in 1919, the Boys Scouts of America, supported by Baden-Powell, established a firm monopoly against its competitor, the United States Boy Scout. The idea of a monopoly was institutionalized in the World Organization of Scout Movements (WOSM), which began modestly in 1920 and which offers recognition to national associations or federations. Despite the early controversies, the Scout movement has made an overwhelming contribution to the nurture of young people.

The minimum age of Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts was not defined at first, but it was eventually set at around eleven, with eighteen as an upper limit. Junior Scouts existed in the British Boy Scouts in 1909 for boys under eleven and were later mirrored in Baden-Powell's scheme, renamed Wolf Cubs, or Cubs in 1916. Boys over seventeen were retained by the movement by the creation of Rover Scouts by 1918. Various titles were developed for older sections in different countries, including Explorers and Venture Scouts.

The success of the scheme was not restricted to boys, and Girl Scouts began to appear unofficially as early as 1909. In 1910 the Girl Guides Association was created in the United Kingdom. Some counterparts abroad, such as the United States, maintained the word Scouts. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was formed in 1928, with a purpose similar to the WOSM's.

The Challenges from the Twentieth Century On

Despite losses in 1914 to 1918 due to World War I and further losses due to totalitarian regimes, Scouting grew worldwide until it had four million participants in 1950. Both Communist and Fascist governments in Europe banned Scouting. Russia substituted the Pioneers; Italy substituted the Black Shirts; and Germany substituted the HitlerYouth. During World War II, Japan also disbanded its Scout organization.

Postwar reconstruction saw a rapid rise in membership with the restoration of Scouting in Germany, Italy, and Japan, offsetting losses due to the suppression of Scouting when eastern Europe became part of the Communist bloc. By 1985 the tally stood at 16 million.

By the 1960s, the relevance of the Scouts' frontiersman image had diminished. From that period onward, various national associations sought to recast the image, updating the uniform and training scheme. Some of the changes were in reaction to falling numbers, especially among eleven to eighteen year olds. This led to the formation of independent associations, which had small memberships but maintained the traditional image.

Society's increasing pluralism and liberalism from the 1960s on put pressure on the Scouts to create an entirely inclusive organization, which would admit homosexuals and atheists as members. In June 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Boy Scouts of America to deny membership to homosexuals. The U.K. association set in place an Equal Opportunities Policy. However, the organization retains the right to exclude any individual on grounds of unsuitability, which is acceptable under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Public awareness and legislation covering safety and the protection of children from abuse have brought added pressures to the various Scout organizations. This has led to further training for volunteer leaders. Recruitment varies within each national association. For example, in the United States, the various sponsoring organizations are responsible. In England, the association itself undertakes national advertising.

Western societies have seen a decline in the volunteer culture, which has led to increasing difficulties in finding adult leaders and helpers and has affected membership. A more positive challenge has been brought about by the expansion of the Scout movement to countries in the former Communist bloc in the 1990s and early twenty-first century. In January 2003, the only countries without Scout organizations were Afghanistan, Andorra, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Myanmar. Caution must be applied to any comparison with figures from earlier periods, however, as some of the decline in England and the United States is masked by the inclusion of new categories (e.g., auxiliary membersadult helpers and young people whom Scouting has helped but who have not taken the Scout promise), who were not previously part of the census. It is a tribute to the success of the Scout movement that in 2003 the Boy Scouts had 28 million members worldwide and the Girl Guides/Scouts had 10 million.

See also: Boyhood; Communist Youth; Fascist Youth; Girl Scouts; Organized Recreation and Youth Groups; Summer Camps; Youth Ministries.


Adams, William Scovell. 1957. Edwardian Portraits. London: Secker and Warburg.

Baden-Powell, Robert. 1910. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship. London: C.A. Pearson.

Foster, Michael. 1987. The Complete History of the British Boy Scouts. Aylesbury, UK: British Boy Scouts.

Jeal, Tim. 1989. Baden-Powell. London: Hutchinson.

MacDonald, Robert H. 1993. Sons of the Empire: The Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement, 1890-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macleod, David I. 1983. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Morris, Brian. 1970. "Ernest Thomson Seton and the Origins of the Woodcraft Movement." The Journal of Contemporary History 5, no. 2: 183-194.

Reynolds, E. E. 1950. The Scout Movement. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rosenthal, Michael. 1986. The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement. New York: Pantheon.

Springhall, John. 1971. "The Boy Scouts, Class, and Militarism in Relation to British Youth Movements 1908-1930." International Review of Social History 16, no. 2: 125-158.

Springhall, John. 1977. Youth, Empire and Society. London: Croom Helm.

Michael J. Foster

Boy Scouts of America

views updated May 18 2018

Boy Scouts of America

The young people, dressed in uniform, seem part of a tradition from a bygone era. Some cheer as the small, homemade go-carts spin down the track; others struggle to make the perfect knot or pitch in to help clean up the local park. They serve as a emblem of the conformity of the 1950s and the desire to connect our children with "rustic" ways of life. In the final judgment, though, these contemporary kids are simply having fun while learning valuable lessons. In an era when scouting has needed to redefine its mission, many of its basic initiatives still possess great worth to society.

Even though contemporary organizations have appealed to boys and girls, scouting began as a gendered organization. At the dawn of the twentieth century, an American boy's life was often either idyllic or full of drudgery, depending on his family's circumstances. During the decade before the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) were founded in 1910, the families of a handful of industrialists lived sumptuously while the vast majority of the population lived much more simply. The Gilded Age of the nineteenth century had brought wealthy Americans a genuine interest in rustic living and the outdoors. Many wealthy urbanites began sending children to summer camps that could provide their children with a connection to the culture of outdoors. Theodore Roosevelt and others began organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club or the Izaak Walton League. Each group had an offspring for younger male members, with Sons of Daniel Boone proving the most popular. Neither, however, truly sought to reach young men of all economic classes. Ernest Thompson Seton, artist and wildlife expert, founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902.Interestingly, he chose to unveil the group through articles in the Ladies Home Journal. Shortly afterwards, Seton became the first Chief Scout of BSA when it was established by Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell.

Early scouting undoubtedly fostered male aggression; however, such feelings were meant to be channeled and applied to "wilderness" activities. Many scholars see such an impulse as a reaction to the 1893 speech by historian Frederick Jackson Turner when he pronounced the frontier "closed." Turner and many Americans wondered how the nation could continue to foster the aggressive, expansionist perspective that had contributed so much to its identity and success. The first BSA handbook explained that a century prior, all boys lived "close to nature." But since then country had undergone an "unfortunate change" marked by industrialization and the "growth of immense cities." The resulting "degeneracy" could be altered by BSA leading boys back to nature.

Roosevelt's personality guided many Americans to seek adventure in the outdoors and the military. BSA sought to acculturate young men into this culture with an unabashed connection to the military. Weapons and their careful use, as well as survival skills, constructed the basis for a great deal of the activities and exercises conducted by Baden-Powell, a major-general in the British Army. The original Boy Scout guidebook was partly based on the Army manual that Baden-Powell had written for young recruits. World War I would only intensify youth involvement in scouting. The perpetuation of scouting during the post-1950 Cold War era, however, is more attributable to a national interest in conformity and not in militancy. It was only during the early years that such associations with the military were openly fostered.

Seton visited Baden-Powell in London in 1906, where he learned about the Boy Scouts organization. Upon returning to the United States, Seton began gathering support for an organization that would "offer instruction in the many valuable qualities which go to make a good Citizen equally with a good Scout." The first Boy Scout manual, Scouting for Boys, contained chapters titled Scoutcraft, Campaigning, Camp Life, Tracking, Woodcraft, Endurance for Scouts, Chivalry, Saving Lives, and Our Duties as Citizens. In 30 years the handbook sold an alleged seven million copies in the United States, second only to the Bible.

Working in cooperation with YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), the BSA was popular from its outset in 1908. This coordination was particularly orchestrated by William D. Boyce, who guided the official formation of BSA in 1910. The BSA network spread throughout the nation, and in 1912 included Boys' Life, which would grow into the nation's largest youth magazine. Most educators and parents welcomed scouting as a wholesome influence on youth. Scores of articles proclaimed such status in periodicals such as Harper's Weekly, Outlook, Good Housekeeping, and Century.

Within the attributes derived from scouting were embedded stereotypes that contributed to gender roles throughout the twentieth century. Girl scout activities followed scouting for males, yet possessed a dramatically different agenda. Instruction in domestic skills made up the core activities of early scouting for females. Maintaining a connection with nature or providing an outlet for aggressions did not cohere with the ideals associated with the female gender in the early twentieth century. Such shifts would only begin after 1950; however, even today, scouting for girls is most associated with bake sales and the famous girl scout cookies. Still, scouting for both genders has become similar, particularly emphasizing outdoor experiences

Contemporary scouting has changed somewhat, but it also maintains the basic initiatives of early scouting. Most attractive to many parents, scouting involves young people in community out-reach activities. In an era when many families find themselves in suburban developments away from community centers or frequently moving, scouting offers basic values including service to others in the community. The proverbial scout aiding an older woman across a street may be a thing of the past, but scouts still work in a variety of community service tasks. These values also continue to include patriotism under the rubric "service to God and country." The inclusion of God, however, has not held as firmly in contemporary scouting. Some parents have refused to let their children participate in any of the quasi-religious portions of scouting, which has led to a few scouts being released. Over BSA's century of life, though, the basic values of scouting have remained strong, while activities have been somewhat modified. Though well known activities such as the "pinewood derby" and "jamborees" continue, the culture of scouting has begun to reflect a changing generation. While its popularity does not near that of the earlier era, the culture of scouting continues to help young Americans grow and mature into solid citizens.

—Brian Black

Further Reading:

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1982.

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.

Boy Scouts of America

views updated May 09 2018


BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA is based on the ideals of Robert Baden-Powell (1857–1941), a British hero of the Boer War who founded the Boy Scouts in England in 1908. Inspired by Baden-Powell's scouts, the Chicago publisher William Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on 8 February 1910. Other similar American groups already existed, including the Woodcraft Indians organized by the naturalist and writer Ernest Thompson Seton. Congress granted a charter to the Boy Scouts on 15 June 1916.

Scouting is an educational program that aims to build character, promote citizenship, and develop personal fitness among boys and young men. The Boy Scouts emphasizes outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, and camping, as well as first aid and civic service. The scout motto is "Be Prepared," and under scout law, members promise to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Scouting is divided into three main age groups: Cub Scouts for boys seven to ten, Boy Scouts for boys eleven to seventeen, and Venturers for young men and women ages fourteen to twenty. Over the years, many other subdivisions have been created, including Sea Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and a division for the very young called Tiger Cubs. The Venturers (known until 1998 as Explorers) is scouting's only coed division.

Boy Scouts gather in local groups known as troops, with each troop led by adult volunteers. Merit badges are awarded to scouts who master disciplines ranging from forestry and horsemanship to space exploration, American cultures, and dentistry. Older scouts who earn a prescribed set of merit badges and demonstrate exceptional leadership can qualify for scouting's highest rank, that of Eagle Scout.

Scouts wear a military-style uniform but have no affiliation with the military or the U.S. government. While open to boys of all faiths, the Scout Oath requires members to affirm a "duty to God." In the 1980s and 1990s the organization endured considerable public controversy over its determination to exclude atheists as well as homosexuals from membership.

James Dale, a former assistant scoutmaster in New Jersey, filed a 1992 complaint against the Scouts after his membership was revoked due to his open homosexuality. On 28 June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of the Boy Scouts, saying that the organization had a First Amendment right to exclude leaders who openly disagreed with its principles. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist opined that "the Boy Scouts is an expressive association and that the forced inclusion of Dale would significantly affect its expression."

Though autonomous, the Boy Scouts of America maintains ties to scouting programs in more than 100 other countries worldwide. (The Boy Scouts is not affiliated with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., a separate organization also based in part on Baden-Powell's ideals.) National and international Boy Scout conferences, called jamborees, are held every four years. Basic scouting tenets and skills are explained in the official Boy Scout Handbook, and an official monthly magazine, Boys' Life, has been published since 1911.

By 2000, the organization claimed a membership of 3.3 million youths, along with 1.2 million adult leaders. The same year the organization named Mario Castro, a twelve-year-old from Brooklyn, as the 100 millionth member in Boy Scout history.


Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout Handbook. 10th ed. Irving, Tex.: Boy Scouts of America, 1990.

Mechling, Jay. On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Rosenthal, Michael. The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement. New York: Pantheon, 1986.

Ryan F.Holznagel

See alsoGirl Scouts of the United States of America .

Boy Scouts

views updated May 17 2018

Boy Scouts. Youth movement founded by Baden-Powell in 1908. Baden-Powell was inspired to establish the Boy Scouts by the interest shown in his army training manual, Aids to Scouting, by younger boys and by the example of the Boys' Brigade. He held a trial camp on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour from 29 July to 9 August 1907. It mixed boys from different social backgrounds and split them into small units of five, each with its own leader, to promote independence and self-reliance. The camp was a success and the following year Baden-Powell established the Boy Scouts, with the financial aid of Sir C. Arthur Pearson, and wrote Scouting for Boys. Groups sprang up all over the country and within two years there were 100,000 members. His aim was ‘to counteract if possible the deterioration moral and physical which shortened our rising generation, and to train the boys to be more efficient and characterful citizens’. Scouting was accused of simply being military training under a different name but Baden-Powell placed emphasis on personal development, with the motto ‘Be Prepared’. Unlike the Boys' Brigade, he did not believe in drilling boys as it destroyed individuality and dulled enthusiasm. Scouting had an imperial influence, as Baden-Powell explained: ‘Scoutcraft includes the qualities of our frontier colonists, such as resourcefulness, endurance, pluck, trustworthiness etc.’

Other branches were added to the organization; the Wolf Cubs in 1914, the Rover Scouts in 1919, and the Beavers in 1982. In 1920, at London Olympia, a Jamboree was held consisting of Scout troops from around the world. It was here that Baden-Powell was named Chief Scout of the World. Today the movement has spread to 150 countries and has around 16 million members. See also Girl Guides.

Richard A. Smith

Boy Scout

views updated Jun 27 2018

Boy Scout • n. A member of an organization of boys, esp. theBoy Scouts of America, that promotes character, outdoor activities, good citizenship, and service to others. ∎  an honest, friendly, and typically naive man: [as adj.] his trademark Boy Scout smile.

Boy Scouts

views updated May 23 2018

Boy Scouts Worldwide social organization for boys that encourages outdoor pursuits and good citizenship. It was founded (1908) in Britain by Lord Baden-Powell with the motto “Be prepared”. A companion organization, the Girl Guides, was founded in 1910. Today, it has c.14 million members (including the Cubs and Brownies) in more than 100 countries.