Baden-Powell, Robert (1857-1941)

Robert Baden-Powell created the BOY SCOUTS which grew rapidly into an international educational youth movement before 1914. He wrote Scouting for Boys in 1908, and also coauthored the Girl Guides manual, How Girls Can Help Build Up the Empire, with his sister Agnes in 1910.

The Boy Scout scheme was a system of character development and citizenship training that, while based on a manual of military scouting, was firmly grounded in both contemporary psychological theory and educational methods. The aim was to create model adolescents and ultimately model adult citizens through Boy Scout training–complete with its own moral code (encapsulated in the Scout Promise and Scout Law)–and by its public service roles in ambulance, fire fighting, and lifesaving. Boy Scouts were to be replete with the skills and virtues of backwoodsmen and frontiersmen by taking a whole series of scout tests such as cooking without utensils, shelter building, and knots and lashings.

Scouting was designed as an "all-embracing game" by Baden-Powell to be pursued all year round both indoors and out, that contrived to mold boys' character and moral values. For younger boys scouting could provide an adult-inspired "escape" from the suffocating domestic conventions of childhood combined nonetheless with custodial supervision. For fourteen year olds it was intended as a diversion from adult recreational forms (notably smoking and gambling) widely adopted by precocious school leavers in Edwardian Britain.

Major-General Baden-Powell, the Boer War's "hero of Mafeking," had an upbringing with a Progressive educationalist mother. Following public school Baden-Powell did so well in the entrance exam that he bypassed officer training and went straight to his regiment. He was to prove an unconventional and unorthodox regular soldier who advocated the use of irregular volunteer forces and wrote the military manual Aids to Scouting–subsequently adapted as the core theme for citizenship training in the Boy Scouts. Later RUD-YARD KIPLING's Jungle Book was used as the basis for his Wolf Cub program for boys below scout age.

Prior to the publication of Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell developed scouting for the Boys Brigade at the invitation of its founder, W. A. Smith. Scouting then grew largely by being adopted by existing youth organizations like the Boys' Clubs, SUNDAY SCHOOLS, and church choirs, who would establish a scout troop so as not to lose their members completely to the new fashionable movement.

Baden-Powell's concept of scouting was shaped by an eclectic blend of influences and ideas. He borrowed the idea of self-governing clubs from American Charles Stelzle, who helped operate boys' clubs starting in the 1880s; the scout's secret handshake and notion of a scout brotherhood came from Freemasonry; the Scouts Farm schools and emigration policy imitated the Salvation Army plan. Baden-Powell also drew heavily from MARIA MONTESSORI's ideas on PLAY and G. STANLEY HALL's biogenetic psychology–including the idea that children recapitulated the cultural history of the race in their development and play as they grew up. Accordingly, the Wolf Cub program was designed for those in Hall's "Savage or Barbaric stage" and the Boy Scouts, for those over ten years in the "Tribal or Clan stage." The sixboy Scout Patrol was meant as a "fraternity gang." Maria Montessori greatly admired the Scout movement and saw it as an invaluable preparation for "going out."

Despite being a product of Edwardian England's intellectual and cultural climate and its socioeconomic preoccupations, scouting had widespread appeal and proved equally applicable in many diverse national contexts. By 1914 it had spread to fifty-two other countries, dominions, and colonies including France, Germany, Austria, Japan, Russia, the United States, Peru, Australia, and Canada. Baden-Powell actively encouraged this by making a six-month world tour to promote his brain child in 1912. In 1918 there were 750,000 Boy Scouts overseas and 155,000 in Britain.

Scouting has been modified and kept up to date since then (for example, the Beavers were started for the pre–Wolf Cub age group) and the uniform altered to accommodate changes in fashion (short trousers were abandoned). Nevertheless, the Scout movement's aims, objectives, and most of its activities are fundamentally the same at the start of the twenty-first century as they were in 1908.

See also: Boyhood; Child Development, History of the Concept of; Girl Scouts.


Aitkin, W. Francis. 1900. Baden-Powell, the Hero of Mafeking. London: S. W. Partridge and Co.

Dedman, Martin J. 1993. "Baden-Powell, Militarism and the 'Invisible Contributors' to the Boy Scout Scheme 1904-1920" Twentieth Century British History 4, no. 3: 201-23.