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

Robert Baden-Powell addresses over 5,000 scouts at an early-twentieth-century rally in Perth, England. Scouting was extremely popular in the early years of the twentieth century and by 1914, the Boy Scouts organization had spread to dozens of countries. © .

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 members–adult 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.


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