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On My Honor: A Boy Scout History
On a balmy July day in 1907 (July 25th), at Brownsea Island, Robert Baden-Powell (b. 1857) led a group of young boys on a camping journey. This summer adventure would be like no other. Baden-Powell, at the age of 50 had spent more than half his life serving the British forces where he became a subject matter expert in scouting, reconnaissance and survival in the wilderness, publishing “Aids to Scouting” in 1899 which summarized his military lectures on the subject and outlined ways to practice these critical military survival skills during times of peace.
Baden-Powell’s wanted to translate his military experience and share his survivalist knowledge with young boys to better prepare them for adulthood. This two week wilderness trip was essentially a trial and means for Baden-Powell to further develop a youth program he would launch the following year that would teach technical and life skills in relation to camping, observation, boating, woodworking, chivalry, and patriotism.
The two weeks on Brownsea Island was a trial of sorts. In January of the following year, Baden-Powell published “Scouting for Boys”: a field manual based on his extensive experience and popular guide “Aids to Scouting.” “Scouting for Boys” taught skills to aid in wilderness survival – camping, woodcraft, and lifesaving – as well as the importance of morality and altruism. Encouraged by the success of Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell set up a Boy Scouts office in England; by the end of 1908, other offices had opened around the world and member count had reached 60,000. Ahead of his time, Baden-Powell recognized the importance of setting up an organization for girls as well, and in 1910, and led by his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, “Girl Guides” was organized.
Coming to America
The Boy Scouts organization spread to America by happenstance. On a foggy night in 1909, Chicago publisher William Boyce found himself lost just outside of London. By chance, a Boy Scout was nearby and helped him find his way. Relieved and grateful, Boyce offered the boy money, but the boy refused to accept it, stating it was his duty as a Boy Scout to come to the aid of those in need. Impressed, Boyce organized several U.S. Boy Scout troops upon returning to the U.S. Two years later, a woman named Juliette Gordon Low officially founded the Girl Scouts of America in Savannah, Georgia.
Lieutenant General Baden-Powell, named Chief Scout of the world, died in 1941, though his legacy lives on through the young men and women whose lives have been changed for the better by participating in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and who themselves have come to the aid of those in need as a result of association with the organizations. Today, boasting more than 2.4 million youth participants and nearly one million adult volunteers, the Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest organizations in the United States. According to the organization, more than 110 million Americans have participated in Boy Scouts programs at some point in their lives. The organizations site as its primary goal the training of youth in “responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations” (Scouting.org). Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America have been and will continue to be a special part of our nation’s heritage.
Below is an original Boy Scouts uniform from the early 1900s. It was modeled after the uniform of South African constables and included a broad-brimmed hat, neckerchief, shirt with rolled sleeves, shorts, stockings held up with garters, and comfortable shoes. Sixty years after its inception, it was updated by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and has since received additional updates to modernize the design.
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