The Sons of the Nation:
The Popular Appeal of the Boy Scouts of America, 1910-1919

by Daniel N. Jabe

This is my undergraduate thesis, submitted in 1998 to the History Department of the University of Michigan. Most of the sources cited are original. To do the research, I spent a year reading microfilm of 1910s newspaper and magazine articles about the Boy Scouts, trying to get a sense of public opinion and knowledge about the organization. This was no easy task, considering that most early newspapers are not indexed that far back. I actually visually scanned about 4,000 editions of different newspapers, searching for articles. I received Highest Honors from the Department and a separate award for this work. I have made no changes to the text since then, but hope to have the time to expand it in the not too distant future. I also hope to add the images that are referred to in the text, which were originally submitted with my thesis. I would also like to add the endnotes, but am having some trouble with them. I hope these faults are not too distracting, and that you find this as interesting to read as it was to write.


"What a Fine Bunch of Fellows the Boy Scouts Are"

National Boy Scout Week

      O n May 1st, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson set aside the week of June 8th to honor the Boy Scouts of America.(illus. 1) The Boy Scout movement, Wilson declared, “deserve[d] the support of all public-spirited citizens,” and during “Boy Scout Week . . . a universal appeal [was to] be made to all Americans to supply the means to put the Boy Scouts of America in a position to carry foreword effectively and continuously the splendid work they [were] doing for the youth of America.” On Sunday, June 8th, the Boy Scouts of America began Boy Scout Week by announcing their goal to turn as many American boys as possible into Boy Scouts, and to register 1,000,000 Associate Members at the annual pledge of $1.00 per person. To aid the Boy Scouts, pastors of a number of churches “volunteered to call attention in their sermons to the benefits to be gained by members of the Boy Scout organization.” The following day a number of promotional mass meetings were held in New York City; one lively meeting, a New York Times reporter noted, included “at least 2,000 scouts every one of whom came prepared to whoop it up for all he was worth.” Even livelier was the parade of 9,000 Boy Scouts and other citizens through the City of New York that afternoon. A New York Times article billing the event the day before indicated that, “in addition to Boy Scouts, several major league baseball teams will march, with athletic associations and champions in every field of sports. Soldiers, sailors, and policemen also will be in line . . .” Meanwhile, in parks all over the city, Scouts set up Boy Scout camps to demonstrate various activities to curious onlookers. These events made the first few days of Boy Scout Week a tremendous success. By June 11th, Manhattan alone subscribed over $100,000, and on that day the New York Board of Education declared a school holiday, stating that “the Boy Scout movement is one of the finest ever conceived in this country.” Near the end of the week, however, the Boy Scouts were falling short of their goal of 325,000 Associate Members in New York. To correct for the declining donations, William H. Taft and others publicly heaped praise on the organization, and the City of New York enlisted the police force to aid the Boy Scouts in their efforts. As a result of this final push, by the end of the week the leaders of the movement declared the goals as good as reached.

     The activities of National Boy Scout week held in New York City - the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America - were echoed with less pomp but considerable excitement in towns all over the United States. On June 10th, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 100 Boy Scouts paraded through the city, “to give Ann Arbor,” as one reporter noted, “a glance at what a fine bunch of fellows the Boy Scouts are.” Later in the week, on Friday and Saturday, Ann Arbor Troop No. 3 entertained and educated the public with a life-saving demonstration. Though a simple life-saving demonstration may pale in comparison to some of the activities held in New York City, the event still warranted considerable excitement from Ann Arbor residents. The reporter advertising the event, for instance, was so thrilled that he exclaimed - “Oh boy!” - at the end of his article. By June 14th, the city reached its goal of 250 Associate Members - a small number, but in line with the quota “set by the national committee” as reasonable for its size.

      Boy Scout Week was a triumphant moment for the Boy Scouts of America. While the magnitude and quality of the public response was impressive, most astounding was that such a response was possible only nine years after the Boy Scouts of America were founded. Since 1910, the Boy Scouts of America had gone from a few ideas in the minds of a handful of men to a towering monument in the eyes of not only the President of the United States, but the American public as well. Who were these Boy Scouts that the American people - from the Ann Arbor reporter to the President - would favor them so strongly, and who were the American people that they would champion the Boy Scouts? “I do not wonder at the prodigious success of the movement,” one writer from Harper’s Weekly wrote in March of 1910, “I only wonder it was not invented long ago and that, being invented, it does not spread over the globe.” To attempt to grasp what this man meant, and how he could have possibly been in earnest, we need to turn back to the beginning of the story - if a beginning can be established - in nineteenth-century South Africa.


"The First of the Boy Scouts"

The Beginnings of the Movement

      "T he Boy Scout movement was born at Mafeking,” in 1899, South Africa, during the Boer War. British Lieutenant-General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, the originator of the Boy Scout idea and known as the “Hero of Mafeking” for the important victory gained there, created the Boy Scouts in order to relieve the fatigued British army. The army needed help if they were going to be victorious, and Baden-Powell struck upon an ingenious plan. Under his direction, Lord Edward Cecil:

"collected the boys of Mafeking, talked to them, drilled them, and put them into uniform. They became messengers, carrying dispatches from fort to fort on the lines; they kept a lookout, they acted as orderlies, and so relieved from these duties [those soldiers] who were so badly needed in the firing line".

The “first of the Boy Scouts,” then, were essentially a junior corps of soldiers, used exclusively to aid the army in all its tasks other than combat.

     Just before Mafeking, Baden-Powell had written a book entitled Aids to Scouting intended for young soldiers who, as he had discovered in his military experience, did not have the skills of outdoor living and self-reliance that were necessary for military life. In 1903, when Baden-Powell returned to England, he discovered that boys there were using his book for fun in the out of doors. At the request of schoolteachers, Baden-Powell began working on a book suited particularly to boys, and in 1906 the fruits of his work were published in a pamphlet called, “Boy Scouts - A Suggestion.” In this pamphlet, Baden-Powell declared that the plan of the Boy Scouts was “to help in making the rising generation, of whatever class or creed, into good citizens at home or in the colonies.” One year later, in 1907, Baden-Powell held a camp from July 29th to August 9th at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbor, with 21 boys. Unlike at Mafeking, where the Scouts were enlisted principally to help the army, at Brownsea Island “the idea was to lead boys, by attractive practices called Scouting, to teach themselves character.” It was believed by Baden-Powell that, by engaging in outdoor activities stressing such qualities as attention and self-reliance, the Scouts would become better boys. The activities during this week-long excursion included: “instruction in camp skills, observation and tracking, woodcraft and nature lore, life-saving and first aid, and the virtues of honor, chivalry, and good citizenship.” Divided into four patrols, “they lived in Army tents and were fed by Army cooks.” Soon after the camp at Brownsea Island, Baden-Powell published the first Boy Scout handbook, Scouting for Boys, inspired by his own experiences, and largely by the works of two Americans - Ernest Thompson Seton (naturalist and founder of the Woodcraft Indians) and Daniel Carter Beard (illustrator and founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone). Boy Scouting became an overnight success, and by the beginning of 1910 - less than three years after its founding - there were more than 200,000 Scouts in Britain.

     In 1910, the Boy Scout movement officially came to America, organized by a newspaper man from Chicago named W. D. Boyce. Mr. Boyce had visited England in 1909 where, losing his way in a London fog, he came upon a lad with a lantern who offered to take him to his destination. When Boyce tried to tip the boy for his kindness, the boy refused: “No sir, I am a Scout,” he said, “Scouts do not accept tips for courtesies or Good Turns.” After Mr. Boyce completed the business to which he had to attend, the boy led him to a nearby Scout office, where he learned more about the movement. Deeply impressed, upon his return to America in 1910 he decided to establish the Boy Scouts of America, and succeeded, with the help of Edgar M. Robinson of the Y.M.C.A and Ernest Thompson Seton, in having them incorporated by Congress in February of that year. In September of 1910, Baden-Powell came to America and gave his blessings to the Boy Scouts of America at a dinner held in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. In his speech, he gave America credit for the Boy Scout idea by recognizing Seton and Beard (who had by then joined the movement) as his chief inspirations. By that time, the Boy Scouts of America had begun to draw boys’ workers and other civic leaders into the movement, and many of them were in attendance at the dinner or had their commendations read in their absence. Some of the more notable men showing their support that day were: John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt and Major General Leonard Wood.

     With credit from Baden-Powell as the originators of the Boy Scout idea, both Seton and Beard added considerable prestige to the Boy Scouts of America, but not nearly so much as the Honorary President and Vice-President - William Howard Taft and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, respectively. Their willingness to associate themselves with the Boy Scouts of America was a tremendous boost, and with their addition the movement was, as one writer put it, “well launched.” On January 1st, 1911, the Boy Scouts of America established their headquarters in the Fifth Avenue Building in New York City. The National Council, the body established to direct the Boy Scouts of America, held its first meeting in the East Room of the White House on February 14th, and had the honor of an address by President Taft. With that, Boy Scouting in America had begun.

      Boy Scouting in America was essentially a mass educational movement for boys. Though the Boy Scouts of America did have a National Council, the development of the Boy Scout plan was a grass roots process. Typically, a group of boys in a community - ages twelve to eighteen - who wished to become Boy Scouts would be gathered under the leadership of a man willing to lead them. This man would then apply for the leadership position - called “Scoutmaster”- to the Local Council, which would then make a recommendation to the National Council. If approved, the boy’s, under his lead, would be organized into a “troop” and sworn is as Boy Scouts. Though the Scoutmaster was the head of the troop, the boys were actually governed by one of their fellow scouts, elected to the position of “patrol leader,” who acted as a liaison between the boys and the Scoutmaster. A patrol was a unit of eight boys within the troop. In order to separate one patrol from another (an important task, especially for inter-troop contests), the boys elected a symbolic mascot from a list given by the organization (such as a wolf, bobwhite, or buffalo) and wore ribbons on their right shoulders that combined colors established by the Boy Scouts of America as representing the animal they had chosen. The use of the patrol system within the troop fostered strong bonds between small groups of Scouts, and kept these united under the Scoutmaster. More importantly, it put the boys in charge of Boy Scouting - it turned them in to leaders, and it taught them how to cooperate.

      In order to become a Boy Scout, a boy had to promise to “Do a Good Turn Daily,” and to “Be Prepared,” and he needed to memorize the twelve points of the Scout Law, requiring him to be: “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” A Scout also had to take an oath to be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” In addition, he needed to be able to: identify the Scout badge, and its significance; to “know the composition and history of the national flag and the customary forms of respect to it;” and to “tie four out of the following knots: square or reef, sheet-bend, bowline, fisherman’s, sheepshank, halter, clove hitch, timber hitch, or two half hitches.” After meeting these requirements, he was sworn in as a Tenderfoot - a full-fledged Boy Scout. As such, he could wear the official uniform and, most importantly, begin to work to advance in rank - from Tenderfoot to Second Class, First Class, Life, Star, and finally, Eagle.

     For each rank advancement a boy had to meet requirements similar to those for Tenderfoot, though of increasing difficulty and length, and earn a certain number of “merit badges,” on subjects of his choosing, from Agriculture to Marksmanship to Taxidermy. The purpose of advancement was dual - to keep the boy interested, and to help him develop valuable skills. A boy’s interest is difficult to maintain, and the merit badge system would engage him for a short while on a particular subject, let him achieve a degree of mastery, earn the badge, and move on to another . . . and another, all the while advancing in rank. The Eagle rank - the highest a Boy Scout of America could attain - was meant to be coveted by the boy and to inspire him to work, to stay with the program, to develop ambition, to relish accomplishment, and to acquire skills. This inspiration was the key to building character, and character building was the goal of the program. The issue of the character of the Boy Scout is a tremendous one -one that will comprise the majority of the work ahead - and before we attempt to tackle it we must become acquainted with the men and women who were clamoring for an organization to develop it.

      Boy Scouting was dominated, essentially, by an urban middle class that had become, by the early twentieth century, intensely interested in character-building youth organizations. As David MacLeod has said: “It was where boys were fewest relative to adults - in the North, the cities, the middle class, and the twentieth century that a protected adolescence took root and character-building agencies flourished.” The desire for a “protected adolescence” among middle class parents was a radical break from past child-rearing practices. “The old idea,” one writer in 1910 stated, “was that children were miniature men and woman.” This now was replaced by one that saw youth as an important stage in character development during which, through play, children would be properly educated. As Karl Groos advised educators: “we do not play because we are young; we have a period of youth so that we may play.”

      This change in the attitudes of middle class parents towards play activities was partly inspired by a fear of the new urban entertainment that they believed posed a great danger to their children. The American city at the turn of the century was a breeding ground for new entertainment for children that could be enjoyed independently. There were the motion picture theaters that had met with tremendous success in the first decade of the twentieth-century. By 1911, one of every eight Americans, on average, paid to see a movie every day. In the theater, the behavior of children could not be closely supervised. The popular arcades posed a similar dilemma. Away from the concerned eye of the mother and father, there was virtually no one to protect the children from falling into the clutches of vice. To make things even worse, as the incomes of middle-class families rose, more children were liberated from work and given time to roam the city unsupervised. Parents responded by attempting to give their children better preparation for the world they faced and, as the new development theorists suggested, their education needed to begin during youth. “If you are going to do anything for the average man,” Theodore Roosevelt once said, “you have to begin before he is a man.”

      Of all the play activities, games lent themselves most easily to moral education. Games develop will and inhibition - important qualities for a child to possess - and they foster the development of skills that would be important to them in their future careers as professionals. Games, it was held, made “maximal demands upon perceptive powers and ability to react quickly and accurately upon rapidly shifting conditions, requiring quick reasoning and judgment,” and these skills would be needed in future employment. In addition, most games required teamwork, which was believed to encourage the development of traits that were “invaluable in business and social life.” Games also gave children a break from the stresses of urban living - a need strongly felt in the early twentieth-century: “Our strenuous and complicated civilization makes more and more necessary the fostering of means for a complete change of thought.” Middle-class parents, encouraging the playing of games, were seeking to insure, not only that their children were able to face the dangers of the urban environments, but also that they were adequately prepared to successfully meet the “highways of finance . . . strewn with the wrecks of able men,” and to not become wrecks themselves.

      Games also kept children busy and out of harms way. While thus engaged, under supervision, adults possessed almost complete control over the children. They set the rules, and were likely, too, the ones by whom they were enforced. The only problem with games was that they could not be played all of the time, and when over, the children were in just as much danger as they were before. What America needed was a game that would last indefinitely, kept alive and enforced by the boys themselves. Boy Scouting was the answer.

      “The Boy Scout movement is merely another game, and one of the greatest games ever invented,” a Detroit News writer noted in 1911, and truly it was. The idea of Boy Scouting, as it may have been seen by a boy, was to go pioneering and have adventures in the woods, building fires and camping under a starry sky, to live by a code, like a knight - to “Do a Good Turn Daily” and to “Be Prepared.” He got to wear a smart uniform, and a broad-brimmed hat. There were merit badges to earn, too, for First Aid and Camping and if a Scout was good enough - if he earned it - he could move up in the ranks, from Tenderfoot all the way to Eagle. Boy Scouting was a great game, and many city boys in the 1910s probably thought it was just “bully.” Many parents seemed to feel the same way. What better way to educate their children than by letting them join a group that required its members to do good turns, to “be prepared,” and to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent?” By creating a game that became inscribed in the boy’s character through mottoes enforced by his own initiative, the Boy Scouts of America had created the perfect system for educating middle-class, urban boys.

      While it is important to recognize that a degree of the Boy Scouts of America’s popularity hinged on its position as an innovative, educational, character-building movement, much of the support was due to the particular type of character the Boy Scouts were intent upon building. To truly understand the popularity of the Boy Scouts and its manifestations - like Boy Scout Week - we need to determine who these Boy Scouts were, and what middle-class ideals they embodied. These are the questions at hand, and the remainder of this work will seek to answer them. Before this can be done, however, another story must briefly be told that affects the undertaking.

      The Boy Scouts of America were not the only Boy Scouts in America during the 1910s, and no, they were not even the first. There is evidence that there were actually Boy Scouts in America as early as 1908, following the framework Baden-Powell had set forth in his Scouting for Boys (illus. 2). The Boy Scouts of America were not the only Boy Scouts in America in 1910, but they did quickly establish their preeminence. They were the only group to be incorporated by Congress, which gave them considerable influence. They also had Seton and Beard, who, after their endorsement by Baden-Powell, added prestige to the movement. Importantly, too, they had garnered the support of the President of the United States and, arguably the most popular man in America, Theodore Roosevelt - a bonus that competing groups like the American Boy Scouts (organized just after the Boy Scouts of America in May of 1910) could not match. Though their preeminence was firmly established by 1911, the other Boy Scouts were not quickly driven from the field. The America Boy Scouts, for example, would persist (later as the United States Boy Scouts) until 1918, and other groups were popping up everywhere. In 1911, for example, the State of Michigan formed the Michigan Forest Scouts, a group that lasted at least until 1916 and reached a membership of more than 5,000 (illus. 3). Nineteen-fifteen saw the creation of the Lone Scouts of America by W.D. Boyce (the same as the Boy Scouts of America founder who broke from the organization very early on) - a group that continued independently until the early 1920s, when it was absorbed by the Boy Scouts of America. Each of these organizations, together with the Boy Scouts of America, helped define American Boy Scouting; though the Boy Scouts of America may have been the father figure, there were other Boy Scouts out there, working along their own lines, and affecting the ideas Americans had about Boy Scouting. As a result, during the 1910s, the Boy Scouts of America did not have complete control over the idea of Boy Scouting as it was presented to the public.

      Further weakening the control the Boy Scouts of America had over the Boy Scout image was the explosive development of Boy Scouting as a consumer product theme. As early as 1910, manufacturers began developing and marketing Boy Scout toys, games, camping equipment and post cards, among other items, to sell to an eager public. Often, the manufacturer’s use of the Boy Scout theme amounted to little more than borrowing the name - one company, for instance, sold a set of field glasses merely inscribed with the words “Boy Scouts” and “Woodcraft” (illus. 4). During the 1910s, hundreds of works of fiction with a Boy Scout theme - books like The Boy Scout Pathfinders - were sold to children hungry for daring Boy Scout adventures or to parents who wanted to encourage Boy Scout ideals. Though very frequently the ideas expressed in these “Boy Scout” stories were attributed to the Boy Scouts of America, some bore a much greater similarity to other Boy Scout organizations. In 1915, for example, the Hurst Co. published a book called The Boy Scout Forest Fire Fighters, inspired, in all likelihood, by the national attention received by the Michigan Forest Scouts in 1914 from Ladies Home Journal. Toys and games with a Boy Scout theme were also popular, though they often had little or nothing to do with the activities of Boy Scouting. Take, for example, the card game entitled “The Game of Boy Scouts,” copyrighted by Parker Brothers in 1912 (illus. 5). Though each of the cards has a Boy Scout image, and the game is modeled loosely on the patrol system (with the dealer labeled the “Scoutmaster”), it is, in the end, nothing more than a simple card game that requires matching suits. Virtually none of the generic “Boy Scout” items were approved by the Boy Scouts of America, though some of them appropriated the insignia, name, and even copied widely-circulated Boy Scouts of America artwork (illus. 6 & 7).

      The Boy Scout of America were fully aware of these problems, but were relatively powerless to stop them. They waged war against the cheap Boy Scout fiction, and even began endorsing proper Boy Scout stories, under the title, Every Boy’s Library, in order to compete. They also actively denounced other groups - particularly the American Boy Scouts - as dangerous imitators. Their cause was aided in 1916 when, in a lawsuit against the United States Boy Scouts (formerly the American Boy Scouts) the Boy Scouts of America were granted exclusive rights to the Boy Scout image, insignia, and name. Armed with this new power, they immediately sent out letters to manufacturers and publishers asking them to conform to the law. Their task would be a difficult one, though, for in 1916, there was still a lack of complete uniformity even in newspaper articles about the Boy Scouts, and “Boy Scout” consumer products continued to be sold and purchased. The success of the Boy Scouts of America in limiting the production and sale of “Boy Scout” related merchandise in the 1910a in questionable: the book Little Hero Stories, for example, with a Boy Scout cover, was given as a gift in 1921 (illus. 8).

      Ironically, the Boy Scouts of America augmented their own problems by often referring to themselves as a “movement rather than an organization” aiming “to supplement existing organizations.” This claim was echoed by at least one journal, which noted that the Boy Scouts of America was “an educational movement, to be promoted by and in conjunction with other institutions, not an independent organization.” Though they actively sought to control the other organizations “springing up all over the country,” the Boy Scouts of America did not pursue their goals ruthlessly because they did not want to restrict the development of the movement, or to appear to be anything other than benevolent. While they were pursuing a federal charter to grant them exclusive rights to the Boy Scout idea in America and to eliminate the “annoying imitations that have done deadly mischief,” they did little else. To confound matters further, though they often lamented that the “imitators” were dangerous and worked ferociously (and eventually, successfully) to eliminate them, they considered some organizations, like the Michigan Forest Scouts, to be affiliates, even though they were not intent on character building as outlined by the Boy Scouts of America.

      The combined effect of other Boy Scout organizations and the proliferation of generic Boy Scout goods was a tremendous distraction to the Boy Scouts of America that led to much confusion among the American people, and precipitated constant misunderstandings among various segments of the population as to the character the Boy Scouts were building. Past historians dealing with the cultural appeal of the Boy Scouts of America have attempted to dispel the confusion by dealing strictly with the Boy Scouts of America’s official image. This is problematic, though, because it is likely that many - if not most - Americans had at least a degree of familiarity with other Boy Scout organizations and/or generic “Boy Scout” merchandise that tempered, and in some instances may have formed, their conception of the Boy Scouts of America. In researching this work, an attempt was made to account for and distill the popular characteristics of Boy Scouting from the entire body of images and ideas, and not just those officially associated with the Boy Scouts of America. To do this, I focused on Boy Scout related media that would have been available to the public - toys, games, books, and, in particular, newspaper articles and articles that appeared in national journals. These items were carefully examined to determine just what the core values of Boy Scouting were, as seen by the writers, readers, producers, and consumers of the day. It should not be assumed that the values discovered differed substantively from those of the Boy Scouts of America, or that the Boy Scouts of America’s significance has been in anyway de-emphasized. The purpose of this work is not to suggest that Boy Scouting in America and the Boy Scouts of America were fundamentally different, but, instead, to attain a truer understanding of the popular appeal of the Boy Scouts of America by including the unofficial “Boy Scout” products and ideas that, in part, helped to create the organization’s image. With that being said, we can resume our inquiry into the character of Boy Scout in America - who, as we shall see, was thought of as a patriot, soldier, and an outdoorsman.

Chapter 1

"A is for America, Land of Our Birth . . . "

The Boy Scouts' Patriotism

     O f all the ideals the Boy Scouts embodied, none was more popular than their patriotism. It would not be going to far even to say that by casting themselves, and to some extent by being cast as patriots, the Boy Scouts of America secured the favor of the America people (illus. 9).

      One way the Boy Scouts of America made themselves seem patriotic was by adopting symbols and phrases practically any citizen of the United States would recognize as American (illus. 10). A striking example of this is the name of the organization: “The Boy Scouts of America.” Rather than establishing themselves as merely an extension of the British Boy Scout movement, the BSA chose to highlight their intimacy with the United States from the beginning by pronouncing their distinctive American character with the very name of the organization. The appearance of this name on nearly every item ever put out by the organization - from the earliest advertisements to camping equipment to post cards - indicates the great degree to which the organizers desired to reinforce their distinction as the Boy Scouts of America. Similarly, American leaders chose to alter the British Boy Scout insignia. During the organizations formative months in America, the British insignia was simply transplanted. In 1910, in fact, this was the official seal of the Boy Scouts of America (illus. 11). By the end of the year, however, a familiar symbol of the United States -- the American eagle bearing a shield adorned with stars and stripes -- was superimposed on the British seal to give the American organization a very American symbol to match its very American name. When it came to determining the different awards and levels of distinction within the organization, the leaders chose the Eagle Scout as the highest, using again the American eagle. The award took the form of a sterling eagle - similar to that of the official seal - dangling from a red, white, and blue ribbon. This colorful award, displayed prominently on a Scout’s drab, khaki jacket, would have been striking. Anyone encountering a similarly ranked Scout, or any person or item associated with the Boy Scouts of America, would have been confronted with either the word “America,” the image of the American eagle, or the vibrant national colors (illus. 12). Very frequently, all three could readily be found. This baggage of visual images with a decidedly American flavor indicates a strong association with the American nation itself; by appropriating American icons, the Boy Scouts of America painted themselves as a deeply American organization.

      An equally ingenious method used by the Boy Scouts of America to appear to be a great American organization was the appointment of prominent Americans to honorary positions. The names of these men were listed on the first few pages of the handbook, where anyone reading the book would encounter them. This insured not only that the organization would seem well-supported, but also that those who endorsed it would have a vested interest in its success; it would not behoove the men listed to allow an organization which had made such large use of their endorsements to become a disgraceful failure. Well over one hundred men’s names appeared between 1910 to 1919, including these well-known individuals: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, James R. Garfield, Admiral George Dewey, Charles Scribner, Adlai Stevenson, William McAdoo, Lyman Beecher Stowe, and Major-General Leonard Wood. Prominent bankers, merchants, and newspaper men were also to be found on the list, the latter insuring favorable press coverage. These impressive endorsements guaranteed the Boy Scouts of America a position of prominence in the United States which few citizens could have failed to recognize.

      The Boy Scouts also promoted American virtues. The Boy Scout handbook had an entire section devoted solely to patriotism and citizenship, comprising almost 10 percent of the entire work. As the section of the handbook immediately before the index, the Scout or interested adult would have been more likely to thumb through these pages than any others. There they would find a very pro-American view of the nation’s history. For example, the handbook suggests that the Mexican War was provoked solely by Mexico, when the Americans who were settled in Texas were “deluged in blood” by the “barbaric and military despotism of the Mexican Government.” The great American patriots, particularly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, are also discussed at length, followed by a fairly complete list of practical information about the organization of the government and the role of the various civil and military authorities. From there, a discussion of citizenship is undertaken that includes a letter written in 1911 by Theodore Roosevelt on “practical citizenship,” indicating the great value of Boy Scout training. To close the section, the patriotic song, “America,” is written out, as well as the “Star-spangled Banner.” All told, these twenty-five pages of the handbook not only force the reader to imbibe a highly inspirational and fairly tinted view of American history, but also to recognize that the Boy Scouts of America have a strong belief in the value of American patriotism. Considering that by 1919 over one million copies of the handbook had been sold, the association of the Boy Scouts with citizenship and patriotism would have been widely recognized. This section of the handbook highlights the already symbolic ties between the Boy Scouts of America and the American nation, its history, and traditions.

      Not only did the Boy Scouts of America make sure that anyone reading the handbook and encountering the visual images would know that the organization was firmly grounded in traditions of American citizenship and patriotism, they also made a great effort to become an important part of those traditions. Frequently suggested was the notion that the Boy Scouts were the next generation of American scouts, carrying on in the same fashion as the pioneers of old; they were preservers of freedom who glowed with the same idealistic, noble spirit that the founding fathers of America had possessed. In the small section of the book covering westward expansion, the “pioneers” are compared directly to Scouts; “Scouts they have been in every sense of the word,” the text states. The Boy Scouts also latched on to one of America’s best-known living legends - Theodore Roosevelt. He approved of the Boy Scouts from the beginning, and his praise was included in promotional literature as well as in the handbook. After his death in 1919, the Boy Scouts erected a giant memorial of 500 trees which, when viewed from above, spelled out the letters “TR”- the popular nickname of that effusively American man. There is something very suggestive about this event: Boy Scouts shaped the America landscape to create a monument to an American hero, and at the same time created a monument of Boy Scout devotion to American legend. Surely the clearest indication of the association of Boy Scouts with romantic American folklore, however, comes from Boy Scout Week itself. During that week, in one of their parades, the Scouts brought American legends to life. “More than 3,000 Boy Scouts marched up Fifth Avenue in a historical pageant,” a New York Times reporter wrote, with “boys . . . dressed to represent Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, Kit Carson, Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, Buffalo Bill . . .” In this parade, the Boy Scouts did not merely remember the American folk heroes - they became them. By presenting themselves as the new pioneers through their handbook, promotional literature, and activities like the historical pageant, the Boy Scouts made themselves American legends.

      Involvement in civic affairs also helped establish the Boy Scouts as ideal American citizens. Service had been an important feature of the Boy Scout movement from the beginning: “In the first place we have to recognize that our nation is in need of help, from within, if it is to maintain its position as a leading factor for peace and prosperity among other nations,” the 1910 edition of the handbook reads. Though these words belonged to Baden-Powell, the founders of the Boy Scouts of America saw them as relevant to the situation in the United States. The “help from within,” the handbook further suggests, would be garnered by developing the virtue of citizenship within the American boy under the auspices of the Boy Scouts; by developing good citizens they could cure the nation of its ailments.

      Citizenship was closely linked with being American - so much so that the handbook indicated that “no one [could] be a good American unless he [was] a good citizen.” To the Boy Scout, though, being a “good” citizen was no easy task:

"Good citizenship means to the boy scout not merely the doing of things which he ought to do when he becomes a man . . . such as voting, keeping the law, and paying his taxes, but the looking for opportunities to do good turns by safeguarding the interests of the community and by giving of himself in unselfish service to the town or city and even the nation, of which he is a part. It means he will seek public office when the public office needs him. It means that he will stand for . . . equal opportunity and justice . . . It means that in every act of life he may be on the right side and loyal to the best interests of the State and the Nation."

This is a tall order, but the Boy Scouts of America worked actively to meet it and met with surprising success. In 1912, they began to do nationally recognized service when, “under the glare of national attention . . . [Boy Scouts] performed with credit in helping to control excited crowds and to avert panic during the woman suffrage parade in Washington, D.C.” The police were unable to control the crowds, and the boys stepped up to help, restraining the mob by using their long walking staves as barricades (illus. 13). Boy Scouts also helped relieve parts of Ohio and Indiana suffering from great flooding in 1913, and this brought them national attention as well. In 1916, New York City Park Commissioner Cabot Ward enlisted Boy Scouts to protect the parks on Saturdays and Sundays. On those days, “two troops of Boy Scouts [were] on duty under the supervision of the police and two or three scouts [were] assigned to each police post in Central Park.” Their task was to serve “as guides to the public, and [to] protect trees, plants, shrubs, and newly seeded ground from destruction.” So significant were these services that “the log cabin near MeGown’s Pass Tavern [was] turned over to the Scouts as their headquarters.”

      The activities that received the most publicity, though, were those that had a particularly American flavor. Some of these were more stunts than works of service. On June 24th, 1913, the Boy Scouts set out to relay a message, on foot, from President Wilson in Washington, D.C. to Mayor Harrison in Chicago. The letter, sealed in a red bag, was carried by over 1,000 boys along the 800 mile trek. Surprisingly, the boys reached Chicago in just over four days. Witnessed by thousands of spectators, the relay was truly a national event. Reflecting the importance of this event, and the belief that the boys were acting in an official capacity, one magazine noted that “only in one district in Indiana did the letter fall behind its schedule, and then a call to arms brought forth enough scouts, as one paper put it, ‘to save the honor of the State.’ ” In 1912 they promoted a “Safe and Sane Fourth of July,” associating themselves even more with American tradition. Late in 1913, a few Boy Scouts aided a Civil War veteran in Milbank, South Dakota who needed to have storm windows put up, but was unable to do so himself. This was deemed so noteworthy that, in 1914, Good Housekeeping magazine detailed the story in an article on the Boy Scouts for its July issue. The most notable service, however, occurred earlier, on May 30th. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburgh, a great memorial celebration was held. At the event, five hundred Boy Scouts guided veterans, carried their bags, organized a parade, and collected flowers to decorate the graves of soldiers. Scout Charles Hollenbeck even had the honor of reading Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address. On one night in particular, a group of Boy Scouts encountered an aged veteran suffering from exhaustion. Worried that more of the veterans would be in a similar state, the small group assembled a larger body of Scouts and began a search throughout the camp. The Scouts found over one hundred “confused, lost, and exhausted” veterans, and turned them over to medical staff for proper treatment. The impressive service record of the Boy Scouts on the national scene prompted the following comment from one writer in 1914: “there has been hardly a notable gathering anywhere in the country within the past two years at which Boy Scouts have not been conspicuous because of services rendered.” By participating widely in service events on the local and national level - especially those which, like the “Safe and Sane Fourth of July,” had an American theme - the Boy Scouts of America made good on their principle claims in the handbook, and showed themselves to be worthy of the icons they had chosen for the organization.

      The effects these images, doctrines, and services had on the popularity of the Boy Scouts of America was great from the very beginning. Particularly overwhelming was the response of periodicals. From 1910 to 1916, American journals published over fifty articles about the Boy Scouts, and in just two major papers - The New York Times and The Detroit News - the number of articles printed was over one hundred. While most of these were more informative than laudatory, nearly every article spooned out at least a little praise. The Boy Scouts, smartly clad in their khaki uniforms and campaign hats, were also popular subjects for newspaper pictorial sections. The praise and publicity, however, did not only come from the press. In 1910, the meeting of Boy Scout leaders at the Waldorf-Astoria to honor Baden-Powell was itself honored by the reading of a stirring letter by Theodore Roosevelt suggesting that the Boy Scouts had the potential to cure the ills of America society, since their aim was to “make the boys good citizens.” A month later, the America Playground Association acknowledged the value of the Boy Scouts of America by giving the organization its endorsement. The greatest sign of the popularity of the Boy Scouts in these early years, however, came in 1916. The Boy Scouts of America had long been bothered by a number of independent Boy Scout organizations which had formed in various parts of the country early on, but by 1916 most of these had been persuaded to join the ranks. While this was a great accomplishment, one of the few which remained put the Boy Scouts of America in particular danger. The United States Boy Scouts (formerly the American Boy Scouts) and the Boy Scouts of America were often confused by the public. This was a great concern to the Boy Scouts of America, because many parents were frightened by the militancy of the United States Boy Scouts, whose boys often marched with rifles. The problem was partially resolved in 1916, when Congress granted the Boy Scouts of America a federal charter. This gave them exclusive rights to the words “Boy Scout” in the United States, and empowered them to force the United States Boy Scouts to disband, which they finally did in 1918. To insure that the act of Congress was recognized, the charter was given a prominent place in the Boy Scout handbook. There, any who missed hearing of the event would be able to read the empowering words with their own eyes. The Boy Scouts of America had been recognized by the United States government.

      The real boon to the movement, however, came with United States involvement in the first World War. In February, 1917, the Boy Scouts of America announced that there were more than 200,000 ready to serve on the home-front any way they could, possibly by “assisting the police, guarding bridges, railways, aqueducts, and aiding the coast guard.” The next day, the leaders decided that all Boy Scouts should affix an American flag to each of their homes, in order “to show the country that they are loyal to their scout oath and loyal to their country and to their flag” (illus. 14). During the war, the Boy Scouts promoted three general war-effort slogans. “Every Scout to Boost America,” was one of these, and under it they delivered over 30 million pamphlets for the government (illus. 15). These pamphlets - like one which reprinted the President’s Flag Day address - were occasionally even printed specifically for distribution by the Boy Scouts of America. The earliest effort though, was done under the slogan “Every Scout to Feed a Soldier.” The Boy Scouts, wearing buttons bearing the words “Grub Scouts,” planted about 12,000 gardens. The third slogan, “Every Scout to Save a Soldier,” involved the largest and most successful efforts. The Boy Scouts collected over 100 train carloads of peach pits to be used in the manufacture of gas mask filters (illus. 16). Scouts also used their knowledge of the forest to locate over 21 million board feet of black walnut for rifle stocks and airplane propellers. Most significantly, however, were the fund raising campaigns. During five separate drives the Boy Scouts hit the streets with U.S. War Bonds, selling in all $335 million worth. Also sold were War Savings Stamps. While this was a much smaller campaign, the Boy Scouts still managed to bring in $3 million. The role the Boy Scouts of America played in the war is indicated by the Boy Scout-themed War Bond poster (illus. 17). In this poster stands an image of America, represented as a powerful and bold figure preparing for battle. Gazing off in the distance, possibly to the fighting in Europe, America seems supremely confident. Kneeling at America’s feet is a Boy Scout, offering himself to the service of his nation. In the Boy Scout’s hands is a sword, bearing the Boy Scout motto, “BE PREPARED,” and the Boy Scout insignia. This sword the kneeling Scout offers to America’s grasping hand. This poster suggests that the Boy Scouts, by following through with their motto of preparedness, are supplying the nation with the proper tools to meet with victory in Europe. As this poster indicates, the war efforts of the Boy Scouts of America further established them as a dependable and recognizable asset to the nation.

      As evinced by the declaration of “Boy Scout Week,” the popularity of the Boy Scouts of America reached new heights due to their war efforts. In his address detailing the reasons for establishing a week to honor the Boy Scouts, Wilson said the following: “the Boy Scouts of America have rendered notable service to the Nation during the world war . . . [and] have not only demonstrated their worth to the Nation, but have also materially contributed to a deeper appreciation by the America people of the higher conception of patriotism and good citizenship.” One of the biggest boosts to the Boy Scouts during the war was the decision by the government to decorate the Boy Scouts for their war efforts. Over 70,000 awards were given to Scouts all across America (illus. 18). This action placed the Boy Scouts in a position comparable to the soldiers fighting in Europe who were also decorated for their sacrifices. Possibly more than any previous action by the United States government, the decorating of Boy Scouts on the home-front suggested that they were an official arm of the State. The medals themselves also are suggestive of this theme. The War Savings Stamp awards, which hang from a red, white, and blue ribbon, bear an image of the fist of the Statue of Liberty holding the torch. The award for the War Bond campaign has a full image of the Statue of Liberty, flanked by the seal of the United States Treasury and the seal of the Boy Scouts of America. These awards suggest an intimate relationship between the iconography of both the United States government and the Boy Scouts of America. The Savings Stamp medal, with its red, white, and blue ribbon calls to mind the Boy Scouts’ own Eagle Scout award, while the War Bond medal, by balancing the Boy Scout seal with the seal of the United States Treasury, suggests that the Boy Scouts and the government are closely linked.

      The government was not the only one to recognize the Boy Scouts of America for their war efforts. In 1917, the Great Aim Society published a piece of music, “Dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America.” The title of the song, “ ‘Hoe Your Little Bit in Your Own Backyard,’ or, ‘Where the Boy Scouts Go ‘tis Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!,’ ” recognizes the Boy Scout garden effort. The sheet music cover has a red, white, and blue border, and a drawing of a uniformed Scout holding a hoe. In addition, the slogan, “Every Scout to Feed a Soldier,” is written on the cover, with the words “Slogan of the Boy Scouts of America” beneath. On the back of the sheet music, the following commendation of the Boy Scouts is to be found: “The song . . . is dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America in appreciation of their patriotic response to the country’s call in this time of national crisis. The Boy Scout is never in doubt as to his duty when Uncle Sam needs him.” While this is strong praise, it hardly compares to what appears on the back: “Are you an honest, true-hearted American, a clean, straight, honorable man? If so, you fit the job of Scoutmaster . . . your duty, next to active military service, is to lead a group of Boy Scouts. ‘Do your bit,’ for Uncle Sam.” While it may seem extreme to suggest that the Boy Scouts of America are such an important national asset that the duty of any respectable American male is to lead a group of them, other views as radical occasionally were voiced. During Boy Scout Week, former Secretary of the Treasury, William G. McAdoo (also a leader of the movement), became so caught up in the Boy Scout mythology that he made the following remark:

"I often wonder what sort of a Congress we would have at Washington if every member were a Boy Scout . . . can you conceive of a Boy Scout Senator telling a lie or playing politics against the interest of his country? Think, if you can, of a Boy Scout Senator or Congressman or Governor carrying partisanship into public life in time of war. You cannot imagine . . . such a thing."

The deep appreciation of Boy Scout service to the nation by the government and the public greatly strengthened the base of support for the Boy Scouts of America in American society.

      The question remains, though, of why America so strongly desired the patriotic Boy Scouts of America. It has been suggested that Boy Scouting was “rooted in the experience of the late Victorian and early twentieth-century middle class,” and that it “embodied the diffuse idealism of the Progressive Era.” The adults who were so actively supporting the movement had lived through a process of industrialization that had deteriorated their world. The vices of urban centers and a perceived demoralization of America’s youth were seen as evidence of this. The Boy Scout handbook itself touched upon these issues, even comparing the United States to the Roman Empire. To many adults in the early twentieth-century, the nation was in dire need of fixing, and the reformation of the youth was a golden opportunity to bring this about. By creating staunch patriots and exemplary citizens who would be grounded in the greatness of the American pageant of history, and who would work actively to do whatever was best for the nation, America, maybe even the world, could be saved.

      Also at play was an increase in nativism due to a recent rise in immigration. In 1914, the Detroit Free Press ran an article predicting that more immigrants would enter the country in that year than ever before, with most coming from different parts of Europe than those that had come earlier. These immigrants threatened to dilute the control white, middle-class Americans had over the American cultural identity, for the infusion of a foreign element would weaken the authority and stability of the old stock. A similar threat was posed by Native Americans. The concern white, middle-class Americans felt about their presence, and the relationship of this concern to Boy Scouting, was poignantly represented by a performance entitled, “The Conquest of the Indians” at a Boy Scout exhibition in Chicago in 1916. According to one account. “the scene started with an Indian village, and when the white men came the Indians were finally driven back onto reservations.” This performance provides a powerful representation of white, middle-class animosity towards non-whites, and the symbolic role of the Boy Scout; in the eyes of many threatened middle-class whites, the Boy Scouts were the embodiment of traditional American values, and the best tool to “Americanize America” (illus. 19).

      It has been demonstrated that during the first World War, the Boy Scouts took up America’s cause, and were received with praise. What still needs to be understood is why the praise during this period became so intensified; the Boy Scouts of America had done great service before 1917, like helping with the Ohio and Indiana floods, but never before had they been so lauded. The most apparent reason was the war itself. With troops fighting overseas, and millions of men and women united on the homefront to aid the effort, the Boy Scouts, with their intense war-related services, set a fine example of dedication to the American cause. Importantly as well, the millions of young American men overseas represented a valuable resource lost to the homefront in what was proving to be a great time of need. With millions dying in the fields, how fit would America be to continue on in the twentieth-century? “There is a shortage for the work of the world,” one writer noted in 1919, and the Boy Scouts calmed fears with their efforts by showing that their generation would “be prepared” to tackle the challenges of the future.

      Another reason for the increased praise may well have been a fear of Bolshevism. The Boy Scouts had long felt the sting of criticism by Socialist union members who found the original oath of loyalty (including loyalty to employers) to be particularly disturbing. In 1911, for example, the St. Louis Central Trades and Labor Union refused to allow its musician members to play in any parade in which the Boy Scouts would march. According to one journalist, “the socialists have at times expressed themselves strongly against the boy scouts,” for fear they would be used, like the military, as a tool of the government. After World War I, Americans began to recognize this as a positive quality as their concerns about internal Bolshevism increased. To many, the intense patriotism of the Boy Scouts of America seemed the ideal tool to fight this threat. No one more so than the Boy Scout openly represented America’s anti-Bolshevist ideals. In 1919, around the time preparations for Boy Scout Week were nearing completion, there was a bomb threat made in New York by a group of radicals. The threat, so close to Boy Scout Week, precipitated a significant response in the papers. On June 9th, the second day of Boy Scout Week, a reporter noted that “anarchy and its kindred menaces would disappear from American life if such ideals as those from the creed of the Boy Scout became general throughout the country.” Two days later, on June 11th, it was said that promotion of the Boy Scouts could help “crush those curs of Bolsheviki bomb throwers.” The most significant comment, though, was made on June 15th by the State Attorney General Newton, who was actively pursuing Bolshevists and disloyalists: “I can see the expansion of the activities a deterrent to the growing unrest which we have come to call Bolshevism . . . We need Boy Scouts in every section of the state and country to combat the pernicious doctrines and theories of these political destructionists.” While the early Red Scare may not have been the only reason America was particularly receptive to a patriotic, uniformed body of boys near the end of the World War, it is likely to have been a major one. Like the Boy Scouts in the 1920s who would distribute posters picturing a beaming Scout below the word “Americanization,” the Boy Scouts during the World War were seen as an effective method to crush growing dissent. They would be the harbingers of Americanism, and with them the future of America would be secure.

      In complex ways, then, the Boy Scouts of America set themselves up as particularly American from the beginning, by using images pregnant with American symbolism, and by setting very high ideals of citizenship and patriotism in their handbook. Then, for nine years, in a variety of ways, they attempted to live up to the image they had created. They were largely successful. By 1919, the Boy Scout had proven himself to be a zealous patriot, and the seal and name of the organization were intimately associated with the American nation. By working, through acts of patriotism and citizenship, to prove that America was their nation, they simultaneously showed America that they were her Boy Scouts.

Chapter 2

"M is for Marching, All in a Line . . . "

The Boy Scouts' Militarism

     T he militarism of the Boy Scouts of America was a very contested issue in the 1910s, and played an important role in establishing their public image. For their part, the Boy Scouts of America maintained that they were not militaristic, and in this assertion they were frequently supported by newspapers and journals. “The ‘Boy Scouts of America’ movement is not military,” wrote one journalist in 1911, “there is no militarism or suggestion of militarism anywhere in the movement,” wrote another in 1914. Many Americans, however, were wary of these claims. Union members tended to be particularly suspicious and feared, as mentioned earlier, that the Boy Scouts would be used as strike breakers. According to one reporter, “they believe [the Boy Scouts] are being prepared for service in the militia, which would bring them into conflict with strikers in case of industrial trouble.” Harry Hunt, a Detroit union man, expressed his opinion of the subject, and his words poignantly capture the fear felt by laborers: “the general public does not comprehend what is behind the boy scouts,” he said, “and I feel that the unionists or those who object to the development of the military feeling in this country are right in stamping out the boy scout movement as a pernicious one and one behind which there is a sinister power lurking, but which is not showing itself to the public gaze.”

      There was good reason to suspect that the Boy Scouts of America were more militaristic than they acknowledged. Baden-Powell, the originator of the Boy Scout idea, was a Lieutenant-General in the British army and a war hero, and, as it was once noted, under his guidance the Boy Scouts in England were “marching . . . through the streets of London with a military swing and precision.” The Boy Scouts also wore uniforms that were nearly identical to those of the United States Army. So close were they in style that when, in 1916, Congress passed the National Defense Act prohibiting the wearing of uniforms bearing a similarity to those of the military, a special provision was made to exclude the Boy Scouts of America. The military origins of the Boy Scouts, along with the willingness of the government not only to acknowledge the similarity of the Boy Scout uniform to that of the Army, but also to approve of the similarity, would have given many good reason to believe that the movement may have been more militaristic than its leaders admitted.

      Early Boy Scouts also often used official U. S. Army equipment. This was so common that photographs of Boy Scouts using U.S. Army canteens, for example, even appeared in the Annual Reports to Congress of the Boy Scouts of America (illus. 20). Also, many items sold through the Boy Scout equipment catalogues, like their leggings, were noted to be the same as worn by the Army (illus. 21). Though, by 1919, the Boy Scouts of America were well on their way to developing their own official equipment, many Boy Scouts were using army gear throughout the 1910s. The sight of an early troop wearing an Army-style uniform and carrying Army equipment - all endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America - would have made the official claim that there was no militarism in the movement seem rather dubious.

      The apparent militarism of the Boy Scouts of America did not stop with their appearance. To complicate matters, the Boy Scouts often practiced military-style drills, and even published their own drill manual. This image was fostered by independent writers who, like the author of Games for Boys suggested military style activities for Boy Scouts. One game detailed, called “Attention,” consisted solely of drilling, with Boy Scouts eliminated for imprecision until one - the most disciplined - remained. According to the Boy Scouts of America, though, drills such as these were not used to promote militarism, but rather military virtue. The distinction between militarism and military virtue was oftentimes unclear, but, in essence, military virtue was militarism without the spirit of war or enforcement as a guide. “The military virtues of discipline, obedience, neatness and order are scout virtues,” one journalist wrote in 1911, and “endurance, self-reliance, self-control . . . are scout objectives.” The purpose of military drill for the Boy Scouts of America, then, was not to prepare the boys to fight. It was used, first, because it would “allow the Scoutmaster to handle the Scouts in a businesslike way and maintain discipline,” giving the boys a lesson in “subordination.” Second, drill was a form of physical exercise that would make the boys well developed and alert. As former President Benjamin Harrison once said, “a military drill develops the whole man, head chest, arms and legs . . . it teaches quickness of the ear and eye, hand and foot.” Military drill made boys steadfastly obedient to their superiors, and vigorous enough to act upon command. The only significant difference between them and soldiers, in this respect, is that they were not trained for war.

      The great problem with the public image of the Boy Scouts of America was that this distinction between militarism and military virtue was not readily apparent. Indeed some saw the boys as “weapons of blood” - a “miserable, contemptuous example of militarism,” that promoted the destruction of “the civilization of the world.” These views were likely encouraged by the inclusion, in the Boy Scouts of America’s own handbook, of an advertisement for the Remington “Boys’ Scout special” (illus. 22). Extreme attitudes such as these, though, were mostly the result of the existence of other Boy Scout groups that, to the great frustration of the Boy Scouts of America, actually advocated militarism. Some of these, like the American Boy Scouts, even went so far as to put rifles in boys hands. The impact of such groups on the character of the public image of Boy Scouting was tremendous. Beginning as early as 1911, numerous manufacturers, influenced by groups such as the American Boy Scouts, began to produce “Boy Scout” merchandise with militarism as an integral theme. A tin drum patented in 1911, for instance, has four Boy Scout scenes, one of which shows Boy Scouts marching with rifles, in-step to the beat of a drum (illus. 23). The use of this drum is, in a sense, defined by the scene it bears, and, as a result, the drum becomes an endorsement for emulation of the sort of militarism pictured. A set of lithographed cardboard Boy Scouts called “American Boys Company D,” patented in 1914, also strongly advocates militarism (illus. 24). This toy is, in essence, little more than a set of soldiers. The figures themselves are revealing. Not only are they identical - reinforcing the power of uniformity over individuality - but they, like the marching Boy Scouts on the drum, are carrying rifles. The symbolism of the uniformed Boy Scout with a rifle is a significant one. A Boy Scout thus equipped, either in a body or alone, is an enforcer; with rifle in hand, in his military-style uniform and campaign hat, he is one who can maintain order, either on the battlefield or at home. The most frequent occurrence of Boy Scout militarism, though, can be found, not in toys, but in books, nonfiction and fiction alike (illus. 25, 26 & 27). Beginning in 1911, and increasing into World War I, numerous stories were published and sold that involved Boy Scouts in heroic military exploits. These stories - with titles such as, The Boy Scouts and the Army Airship, The Boy Scouts Under Fire in Mexico, and, For Uncle Sam, or Boy Scouts at Panama - would have easily led many to believe that there was something to the idea that the Boy Scouts may be militaristic.

      The existence of these very militaristic Boy Scout images fueled the debate over the character of the Boy Scouts of America. Time and again, individuals argued that Boy Scouts of America were militaristic, and time and again the Boy Scouts of America would denounce them and assert their position. Despite the great lengths to which the Boy Scouts of America went - they placed a statement of their position near the front of every edition of the Annual Report to Congress, for example, and even took out a full-page advertisement in their own handbook - the confused image persisted. This may have been, in part, because some found the militarism of the Boy Scouts appealing. The continued production and apparent popularity of Boy Scout products with a military theme would suggest that this may have been the case. Americans supporting militarism may have felt similar to New York Police Commissioner Arthur Woods, who believed that much good would come from using the Boy Scouts as a tool for law enforcement. In 1915, according to an article published in the New York Times, he “urged that the boy and officer bury the hatchet and unite their efforts for the betterment of the city.” The Boy Scouts, he hoped, would “cooperate with the Police Department in the suppression of vice.” His call was seconded by the Rev. Dr. Christian F. Reisner who suggested that the Boy Scouts “do whatever they could to keep the law and prevent others from breaking it.” To these men, the militarism of the Boy Scouts would make them a great aid to maintaining order.

      With public statements like those of Police Commissioner Woods being made, it is little wonder that those who feared the development of a juvenile police force or militia were concerned when they regarded the Boy Scouts. To them, “the guns, swords, brass buttons, smart uniforms, and other paraphernalia appealing to the savage part of our make-up,” seemed to be encouraging “militarism and brutality.” Military virtue was acceptable only if it was used to train, not soldiers, but citizens - it was to be the driving force, not of war, but of civil service. With military-style discipline, the Scouts would be prepared to help their nation in a time of need effectively and efficiently. To achieve such a level of discipline, it was admitted, the boys may need to be put into uniform and drilled. They may need to be organized into troops and patrols to teach them loyalty, leadership, and obedience. Instilled with positive values through the codes they have sworn to uphold, though, they would become “the peace armies of the Boy Scouts.” For these individuals the intense militarism of the United States Boy Scouts and many toys and books represented an unacceptable extreme. There was, and should have been, it was argued, an important distinction between a soldier and a Boy Scout: “A man in a soldier’s uniform is one who has pledged himself to die, if necessary, for his country, and there is romance in the thought. A boy in a uniform of the true peace soldier, the Boy Scout, pledges himself to live for his country, every day of his life, whether stern necessity calls him or not.”

      The formulation of the Boy Scout as a peace soldier represented an answer to the call made by William James for a “moral equivalent of war” - a call that had appeared in the popular press in the August 1910 issue of Maclure’s. As one New Yorker writing into the New York Times noted, James’s article captured the “spirit that animates the Army of Boy Scouts.” According to James, quoted in the Incorporation of the Boy Scouts of America:

"the martial values are absolute and human good . . . [but] so far war has been the only force that can discipline the whole country, and until an equivalent discipline is found I believe war must have its way . . . the martial type of character can be bred without war. The only thing needed heretoforeward is to influence the civic temper as past history influenced the military. "       Either as militarism or the less intimidating “military virtue,” the value that most Americans seemed to be endorsing in their support of the marching Boy Scout was discipline. The interest in the discipline of the Boy Scouts corresponded to an increasing desire for control in an America undergoing rapid and dramatic changes at the turn of the century. Beginning in the late 19th century, people moved to the cities in droves, and there they found (and helped to develop) an urban environment that would have seemed chaotic and disorienting in contrast to the orderly rural communities many of them had left behind. Rapid technological progress, too, had dramatically changed America. In 1879, Thomas Edison perfected the incandescent lighting system, in 1896, Henry Ford produced his first automobile, in 1903, Edison released “The Great Train Robbery,” and that same year, the Wright Brothers made their flight at Kitty Hawk. By the end of World War I, electric lighting was restructuring the way Americans used time, the motion picture was becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment, there were millions of automobiles on the road, and airplanes were soaring over Germany. These changes, and the multitudinous changes they spurred, had created, by the end of the 1910s, a very different America.

      A fear of these changes, as well as a desire to make good use of the potential they created, led a great many Americans to attempt to gain control though the development of elaborate control mechanisms and systems that are similar to the Boy Scouts’ own emphasis on military drill. One variety of control mechanism developed at the turn of the century was designed to promote efficiency, and it seems that turning resources into valuable, usable commodities was somewhat of an obsession in America. Numerous inventions in this period, like Elmer Sperry’s gyroscope, fall into this category. Also, systems of organizing labor, like Taylorism and Fordism, can be seen as a desire to channel resources to efficient use. These systems and inventions are all fed, as historian Thomas P. Hughes has argued, by the desire to harness the “massive amounts of energy,” that had been “unleashed” by “modern technology” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Men like Ford, Taylor, and Sperry, and even the great Thomas Edison, were interested, not just in inventing, but of making those inventions useful; they were, in simple terms, resource developers. Ford, at his Highland Park plant which opened in 1914, created, not just the Model T, but an industrial factory, where products were moved efficiently along an assembly line and assembled with precision. Taylor, with his Principles of Scientific Management (1911), attempted to promote efficiency by standardizing work, ordering and arranging even the simplest of movements. Edison, too, was obsessed, not just with developing the incandescent lamp, but the incandescent lighting system. Even his invention headquarters - the tremendous Menlo Park Laboratory - reflects his orientation as a systems developer. All three of these men - Taylor, Ford, Edison - burned with the belief that, through standardization and the use of orderly, rational, scientific principles, they could find a better use for the resources at hand.

      Simultaneous to this increased desire for technological efficiency was the desire for organizational efficiency and structure commonly referred to as the growth of “professionalism.” During the early twentieth century, Americans became particularly zealous for “professional associations.” One area in which this development was pronounced was service work. Communal bonds in the late nineteenth-century were relatively weak, and, as a result, most aid societies were organized within distinct social groups. Though these groups were fairly effective, “as urbanization and industrialization intensified problems of social control and economic deprivation . . . complaints about the inadequacy of voluntary philanthropic efforts became increasingly vocal.” What was needed, some Americans believed, were “more efficient organization, more highly developed technical skills, and greater monetary support than agencies controlled by volunteers could command.” What some Americans were clamoring for was a professional group of individuals, dedicated to service to such a degree that they would develop the necessary skills to be effective and make their work “a way of life.” Like the technological developers, those who favored professionalization were interested, largely, in putting their resources to use more effectively.

      In many ways, the Boy Scouts of America can be seen as a response to these dual desires for technological efficiency and professionalism. The militarism of the Boy Scouts of America insured that, above all else, they were a uniform group - of appearance, or purpose, and of action. As a result of their repeated use of drill and practice of skills, they also became incredibly efficient. Demonstration of an efficient use of skill was, in fact, one of the most popular of all the characteristics of the Boy Scouts. More than any others, the activities that received the most frequent public notice were troop contests and demonstrations. Troop contests, usually held at a public field in the community, gave the Boy Scouts a chance to showcase the skills they had developed before the entire community. Typical contests and exercises included: fire building, signaling, water boiling, wall scaling, tower building, as well as numerous races. These contests, performed sometimes before audiences numbering in the thousands, were essentially displays of “discipline, good order, and efficiency.” Due to the frequent challenges of contests, the Boy Scouts were well-trained to perform specific maneuvers and tasks with quickness and ease. In effect, a Boy Scout was a boy put to good use.

     The efficiency of the Boy Scouts was increased by their organization along professional lines. An important feature of Boy Scouting was that, like the Army, the boys were divided into different classes and ranks based on their level of achievement and skill attainment. Though the Boy Scout were occasionally viewed as automatons, anyone who had ever seen a real Boy Scout would have recognized that his rank was usually easy to determine with a glance at his uniform (illus. 28). In effect, he wore his credentials on his sleeve. Patches for various ranks - from Second Class to Eagle - were worn on the left sleeve of the jacket, along with patches denoting leadership positions - such as patrol leader. Badges of rank - in the form of metal pins - were also worn on the left breast pocket, and often, if a scout had already reached the level of First Class, he wore the metal Boy Scout badge on his hat. On the Scouts right sleeve, he wore his patrol colors, and also wore all the merit badges he had earned.

      Though each Boy Scout was distinct, the goals for which they worked were the same, whether the task was building a tower or rescuing a man from drowning. Individuality, in a sense, was not the intention of their professionalism, but efficiency and quantifiability. Displaying achievement in this manner made the credentials of every Boy Scout apparent. In order to determine how dedicated a Scout was, whether or not he was a leader, and the skills he possessed, all that was needed was a glance at his sleeves - the uniform provided the Scoutmaster, or anyone interested, with an efficient method of determining, in a utilitarian sense, the value of the boy. “Employers of labor recognize these badges,” one journalist wrote in 1910. “Seeking trustworthy service,” he added,” they are beginning now to look first among the Scouts.” As this would seem to suggest, the professional organization of the Boy Scouts meant that they could be allocated to particular tasks with ease, and that their characters and, of particular interest to employers, their loyalty were unquestionable.

      The various ranks and the necessary requirements to advance also helped to insure that the Boy Scouts would be highly trained individuals - another tenet of professionalism. This was aided by the development of various leadership positions - from the patrol leader to the Scoutmaster, and then on up to the local council and, most notably, the professional National Council. These positions required an investment of considerable time, and thus guaranteed that the holder would be an expert at his tasks. Having sworn, also, to “Be Prepared,” and to “Do a Good Turn Daily,” the Boy Scouts were well-groomed for thinking of service as “a way of life.” Though bearing little similarity to the professional social workers who developed as a result of this need for more adequate volunteer work, the Boy Scouts of America are a part of the larger trend to make service more efficient, professional, and important in the lives of many Americans.

      Another control system developed had as its goal, not the efficient use of resources, but the reassertion of the primacy of a Victorian moral order. Starting in the 1880s, and increasing into the 1910s, many Americans began to place an incredible degree of importance on proper social etiquette. In the Boy Scouts, this demand for behavior control took the form of militarism. Turn-of-the-century Americas strongly believed in the necessity of strengthening the will in order to suppress immoral behavior. With the rise of increasingly chaotic urban centers in the 1880s and 1890s, this attitude became even more pronounced among the urban middle class. There was a growing concern that “old-fashioned standards of youthful subordination to parental authority have mostly disappeared from American life.” To solve this problem, some suggested military training. “Military training for the young,” it was held, “promised social stability, and in the 1890s school boy cadet corps enjoyed a considerable vogue.” To explore the relationship between military discipline and etiquette further, take the example of dining.

      Dining during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an incredibly important social ritual for the American middle-class, and demonstration of a familiarity with rules of etiquette signified a rite of passage into middle-class society. These rules of etiquette were numerous, complicated, and exacting. For nearly every action the girl or boy coming to dine could take - from when to arrive, when and how to be seated at the table, how to unfold the napkin and where it should be placed, how to eat the roll (that should be wrapped in the napkin), what conversation topics were appropriate, &c. - there were great expectations to be met. As the rules were rather complex and stringent, many middle-class men and women turned to advice books for instruction. The proliferation of books of this nature indicates just how concerned middle-class Americans were about proper social behavior - during the 1870s, forty-six etiquette books were published, followed by fifty-one in the 1880s, and forty-three in the 1890s. These books, though, were not the only sources of etiquette information for the middle-class. Newspapers and journals ran many articles on etiquette around the turn of the century. As are social rules today, much of the vital information about proper behavior was probably also handed down by parents, friends, or acquaintances. The pervasiveness of information about etiquette, especially when it came to dining, suggests that it constituted one of the core bodies of information with which the proper middle-class man or woman needed to be acquainted. Learning etiquette was, in fact, an important part of a child’s education as he or she passed from childhood into adulthood. To further a child’s education, special child-sized silverware was manufactured so the young boy or girl could begin learning the rules as soon as he or she was able to use a fork and spoon. Boxed sets were even made for children that included a matching knife, fork, and spoon, a napkin ring, and a handled cup - all silver-plated. These objects helped the child learn the rules of behavior that would be expected - even required - of him or her upon reaching adulthood.

      Turn-of-the-century American children were required to develop etiquette in part because, like military drill, it served as a control mechanism. By being able to dine with deft, or to drill with precision, middle-class American boys were showing that they understood the value of control and obedience to social norms. The character of a Boy Scout, bearing his credentials on his sleeve and marching in unison with his comrades, was unquestionable because his behavior and bearing showed that he was part of a larger order committed to the strictest observation of obedience and morality. In this respect, the Boy Scout movement was, indeed, a “powerful ally” for middle class parents. As one concerned mother wrote in 1914: “It is the greatest aid I can find outside the immediate home circle for the physical, moral, and spiritual development of my boy.” A well-disciplined Boy Scout was one who would be unlikely to succumb to the vices that awaited him in modern America. According to Henry James, in his Principles of Psychology, “acts of attention, instinct, and will . . . [will ingrain] morality in the individual.” As one writer noted, having been drilled repeatedly, the boy is accustomed to obedience and moral behavior, even when away from the watchful eye of his guardians - “he is a Scout all the time under the tenfold more watchful eye of his own conscience.”

      Though the Boy Scouts of America fought the idea that they were militaristic, they never backed down from a support of military virtues, such as drilling, marching and uniformity. They wanted it to be clear that they were not a group that served to prime boys for military service, but, instead, were an answer to James’s call for a body of boys, imbibing military virtue, that would become stronger, better men - more efficient, and more moral. Rather ironically, after years of denying their militarism, and publicly attacking groups like the United States Boy Scouts - after years of frustration about cheap novels like The Boy Scouts Under Fire in Mexico and toys like the “American Boys Company D,” America went to war, and the position of the Boy Scout movement, in response to public pressure, wavered. Earlier, in 1914, they were strongly anti-war, but their position met with such strong resistance (Theodore Roosevelt was particularly displeased, and Leonard Wood even went so far as to resign his membership from the National Council) that they quickly qualified their position: “It should be clearly understood . . . that the Boy Scout is not anti-military. The Boy Scout movement neither promotes nor discourages military training.”

      With the declaration of war by the United States in 1917, militarism suddenly became an American value, and in response, the Boy Scouts of America pledged themselves in service to Uncle Sam on the home front. So powerful was the war spirit that, while many had feared that the Boy Scouts would become soldiers, this was now deemed to be their greatest value. One writer in 1919, commenting on a troop of Boy Scouts that “had formed at Waltham, Mass., seven years before the United States entered the war,” noted with praise that “128 joined the army and navy, and of these 60 were privates, 15 became non-commissioned officers, 21 received commissions, and 5 were decorated for gallantry in France.” Summing up what was largely the popular opinion of the Boy Scouts at the time, he added that “there can be no better soldiers.” With the war, even the popularity of military training for young boys had swelled and, by 1918, more than 15% of all American high-school boys had received at least some cadet training. In a stunning reversal, the characteristic of Boy Scouting that had been hotly contested for years - its militarism - was now receiving incredible support for more than just its value as a form of discipline.

Chapter 3

"B is for Bunking, in the Woods Deep . . . "

The Boy Scouts' Outdoorsmanship

     T hough patriotism and militarism both played an important role in defining the character of the Boy Scouts of America, there is one final element that also had a significant impact on their public image, and in many ways it is the most perplexing and confused - outdoorsmanship. As one writer commented in 1910, with the Boy Scouts, “most of the work is done out of doors,” and thus, as outdoorsmen they must be considered.

      Boy Scouting in the 1910s brought boys out of doors and into contact with nature - according to one writer, it was essentially about “camping out, clambering up mountains, plunging into woods.” Indeed, camping was the principle activity of a Boy Scout, or at least, it was the activity around which the experience was centered. Though not all Boy Scouts were able to camp, a great many had at least some camping experience. Camping trips for Boy Scouts could vary greatly in length. Sometimes, the boys would take only a weekend outing at a sight in close proximity to the community. Boy Scouts in Wyandotte, Michigan, for example, camped annually for a weekend during the summer at Slocum’s Island in Trenton, just a few miles down the Detroit River. Other Boy Scouts may have found the opportunity to camp for a week or more - even Boy Scouts in large cities. In 1915, for example, almost one in four Philadelphia Boy Scouts went to summer camp, and by 1920, it has been estimated, more than half of all Boy Scouts who had been in the movement a year or more had spent at least one week at camp. Often, too, a hike could closely resemble a camping trip. Some troops of Boy Scouts even went so far as to set up tents at their destination, though they had no intention of staying overnight. On rare occasions, a few lucky Boy Scouts may even have been afforded the opportunity to camp for an entire summer.

      The camping experience for the 1910s Boy Scout was affected dramatically, though, by the opinions the Scoutmaster had on the subject. Some Boy Scouts, to be sure, went into the woods to “rough it,” taking hardly any supplies with them, while others came well-equipped with all of civilization’s amenities. As G. Ripley in a book on games containing a section on Boy Scout camping wrote in 1920:

"The question of “roughing it” will bring foreword varying opinions. It is wholly a matter of your objective. Some favor the plan of having the boys cook their own meals, going around stripped to the waist in order to acquire a good coat of tan, sleeping on a bed of boughs, and in fact, getting close enough to nature to crowd her. The other extreme is the so-called Hotel de Canvas. Here we have every modern convenience, including electric lights, bungalows, dishwashing, waiters, and hammocks."

In the opinion of Ripley, “the kid glove type of camp is doubtless worse than the other,” and he recommended striking “a happy medium” between the two options. He urged that the necessities be supplied, but not too many of the conveniences, for doing so would severely limit the “value of self-reliance acquired through ‘roughing it.’”

      While the extent to which the campers “roughed it” varied, a typical day at camp likely would have contained the following: reveille at 6:30, when the Scouts awaken, raise the flag, sing the Star Spangled Banner, go for a brief swim, and then wash and groom themselves; breakfast at 7:15; inspection of camp and tents at 8:00; Scout instruction - “a real outdoor school - a school where boys learn by doing” following inspection; Scout swim at 11:00; dinner at noon; rest following, allowing time to go to the camp store that sells “candy and fancy cookies, and ice cream;” athletic activities at 2:00; afternoon swim at 4:30; supper at 6:30, followed by games, a campfire, and then bed. As this lists of activities suggests, though the boys may “rough it” by cooking their own meals and abandoning their shirts, camping was still very much a civilized and structured activity. No time, for instance, is allowed for actual contact with the woods, and nearly every activity is dictated and supervised by their Scoutmaster. This structure is further indicated by referring to Scout instruction as a “school.” Though occasionally argued that “a week of camping out when all the arrangements have to be made by the boy’s themselves . . . is an education in itself,” at Boy Scout camp, the Scouts would find their education, not independently, but during the scheduled period of “Scout instruction” under the guidance of their Scoutmaster. Though the Boy Scouts are out in the field, the camping experience for them is one that carries structure and civilization to the wilderness in the shape of “a real outdoor school,” and even “fancy cookies.”

      The rigid structure at the Boy Scout camp has prompted one Boy Scout historian to suggest that order, and not rugged outdoorsmanship, was the central element of camping for the Boy Scouts of America. David MacLeod has argued that, “in general, the trend in Boy Scout camping ran to cautious, large scale enterprises.” He suggests, further, that:

"much as boys’ ungoverned instincts were to be moderated and kept within bounds, so too were the wilds to be tamed or else fenced off and entered only on brief forays. Thus . . . Boy Scout campers went to the woods but drew their tents and cabins up in squares or circles like settled communities. Thus each day was scheduled, and camp leaders rationed access to the wilds; fearful of overstrain, they permitted only occasional excursions to test the boys’ endurance of backwoods tramping, amateur cookery, and lumpy ground beneath their blankets."

The emphasis on the choice of a proper Boy Scout campground made by Ripley demonstrates MacLeod’s point:

"The ideal campsite is sufficiently remote from ‘civilization’ without being to expensive to reach; is on some body of clean water suitable for swimming and fishing; is on high ground, with good drainage; is on sandy soil; is located in the open but with shade nearby; is close to good food supplies; is free from mosquitoes, and is large enough not to crowd into camp the refuse from it. Room for an athletic field and a baseball diamond is also desirable."

As these instructions for campground choice indicate, the experience of the Boy Scout in the out of doors was guided by the understanding that the woods would conform to the purpose and not the purpose to the woods (illus. 29).

      It seems, then, that the suggestion that the Boy Scouts are “bunking in the woods deep,” is a misrepresentation of their actual activities. To the extent that they do enjoy the out of doors, their activities there are more like a military company than a band of pioneers. The activities of the Boy Scouts at the camp described - with their structured program from reveille to bed - would seem to create an atmosphere rather like the one pictured on the sheet music cover for the “March of the Boy Scouts” (illus. 30). In this scene, if the Boy Scouts are outdoorsmen at all it is only as an extension of their military virtue. Though the Boy Scouts depicted are at camp, they are certainly not posed as rugged outdoorsmen. All of the Scouts are identical, like those of the American Boys Company D, and all, likewise, are marching with rifles. Their tents, too, are neatly arranged, like those of a military company, and their leader, overlooking them like the figure of their own moral discipline, strongly gives the impression that, as MacLeod has argued, with the Boy Scouts, “control outweighed free-ranging woodsmanship.” Also, the environment is noticeably barren of growth, and does not suggest “the woods deep.” This is in keeping with MacLeod’s claim that “seldom were the tents placed in woodsy seclusion.” If it may be said that the outdoorsman functions in a realm directly opposed to such structure - for it is only where he can be unconstrained by authority and forced to be “self-reliant” that he can truly become a rugged individual - then outdoorsmen the Boy Scouts are not. Despite the rhetoric of self-reliance and “roughing it,” the Boy Scouts do not seem to function as frontiersmen or woodsmen in the wilderness; though they do much work in the out of doors, their activities are highly structured and supervised.

      Historian Roderick Nash, however, has suggested that the Boy Scouts of America do represent woodsmen. In fact, Nash goes so far as to suggest that the Boy Scouts are part of what he calls “the cult of the American wilderness” that developed in the 1910s. As Nash asserts, the Boy Scouts of America were organized largely as a reaction to the ill effects of civilization that had occurred as America industrialized during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He suggests that “the ending of the frontier prompted many Americans to seek ways of retaining the influence of wildness in modern civilization,” and “the Boy Scout movement was one answer” to this dilemma. Nash’s analysis of the Boy Scout movement is based heavily on Ernest Thompson Seton’s original explanations. The statements made by Seton, like this one made by Boyce, do make Nash’s point very clearly:

"If boys are to grow into sturdy, self-reliant, productive citizens they must have much outdoor life and get the training in personal initiative and resourcefulness . . . and the other manly qualities that can be developed only in healthy outdoor sport. Modern conditions in homes and schools are gradually withdrawing boys from the open and we are as a nation fast losing the type of citizen that was developed on the farm and in the country schools where every boy lived much in the open, played games for the fun and adventure of the game, and relied upon his own personal initiative for success. The great majority of the men who have been the leaders of the United States, the men who are responsible for the vast progress the country has made in exploration, in invention, in development of natural resources, in commerce, in legislation, and in all the arts of war and peace have been men trained in the open, who came from the farm or country village, or if born and educated in the city have had the advantage of much country life. The great reason for this is that the boy reared in the city has too much done for him, while the boy reared in the country must do for himself. The passing away of old-fashioned “chores” done by the boy in the home, on the farm, and in the caring for the domestic animals has taken out of education a factor that no improvement in educational methods and equipment can replace."

Statements such as these make Nash’s claims quite precisely, but they do not account for the structured approach the Boy Scouts took to camping. The Boy Scouts at camp were not engaged in imbibing the spirit of the out of doors, as experienced by those who had come before them. They were not often given the opportunity to test their mettle in nature through their own “personal initiative,” and they seem to have had none of the responsibilities of rural life - such as the care of animals. The Boy Scouts were certainly nothing like Daniel Boone, or the reclusive John Muir - both individuals who cared for themselves in the wilds. They bear even less similarity to one of Nash’s own examples of “the cult of the American wilderness” - a man named John Knowles. In 1913, Knowles went into the woods, naked and without supplies, to live for sixty days, and his activities were a media sensation. When he returned he published a book, Alone in the Wilderness, that became enormously successful, selling about 300,000 copies. Knowles’s experience was nothing like those of the Boy Scouts, who went into the woods in groups, not alone, and often carried with them an arsenal of equipment. Indeed, the right equipment was such an important aspect of Scouting that, by the end of the 1910s, they had developed a fairly extensive equipment catalogue that included any tool or device a camper could possibly desire. It can be said, even, that possession of the right equipment would have been an integral part of their living up to their motto to “Be Prepared.” On a camping trip, Ripley suggests, it would be very desirable if a Scout would bring the following items: raincoat, poncho, scout axe and knife, sneakers, sweater, musical instruments, flashlight, small pillow cover, fishing tackle, field glasses, shelter tent [for hikes, as if to suggest that they will not actually sleep in them at camp], cooking kit [for tests, indicating that they may not be cooking their own meals], canteen, baseball equipment, a camera, and a small mirror. Absolutely required was: a pair of woolen blankets, handkerchiefs, plenty of underwear, one complete change of clothes, dishtowel, bathing suit, comb, pajamas, two extra pairs of stockings, toothbrush, towels and soap, Bible, and the Boy Scout handbook. Knowles, going into the woods naked and alone, was clearly not prepared, and he would have made a poor Boy Scout as a result. More importantly, Knowles’s activities were not the type that would win the favor of an American public seeking control over the activities of their children - of an American people who placed order in high regard, and praised the Boy Scouts for their support of this value. It is important, also, to recognize that Nash’s sources for his claims are not the most reliable. The early words of Seton, and even Boyce, are not necessarily indicative of the actual character of Boy Scouting throughout the 1910s, for by 1915 both of them had left the movement. Indeed, it has been noted that, when it came to determining the character of Boy Scout camping, Seton’s influence was limited, and his demand for greater woodsmanship labeled “fanatic idealism” by his colleagues.

      The issue of the outdoorsmanship of the Boy Scouts, however, cannot be so readily dismissed. There is a great deal of evidence that seems to suggest that many Americans saw the Boy Scouts as rugged outdoorsmen. Take, for example, the cover of a work of fiction entitled, The Banner Boy Scouts (illus. 31). In this scene the Boy Scout, atop a rock in the wild is, by implication of his stance and surroundings, a rugged outdoorsman. Similarly, the historical pageant from Boy Scout Week - in which the Scouts dressed up as famous frontiersmen - is illustrative of the tendency to associate them with rugged pioneers, as are books like The Boy Scouts in the Wilderness, Boy Scouts of Pioneer Camp, and The Boy Scouts in the Maine Woods.

      The uniform of the Boy Scouts of America, though generally conceived of as military, also had elements that brought it in line with that of the outdoorsman. The military style campaign hat could double as the “old slouched hat” of the plains, and the neckerchief the Scout wore was an integral part of the woodsman’s attire. According to one early writer describing the Boy Scouts in England to an eager American audience, they are “dressed in the fashion of the frontiersman, with soft, low-crowned, wide-brimmed hats, loose blue flannel shirts, knee britches, and stout shoes and stockings.” He also noted that “each carries a knapsack and a staff.” Another writer in an American periodical, also describing the early English Boy Scout uniform, gave a similar description:

"It is the most fascinating boy’s uniform in the world, at once picturesque and serviceable, dignified and free-and-easy. Putting it on, the boy becomes twice the boy he was before. He is worth looking at, and he will be looked at wherever he goes, though as a mere boy he would have passed unnoticed. His dull workaday clothes he changes for a uniform of harmoniously blended colors. His tweed cap is replaced by a rakish wide-brimmed hat of felt, the top of the crown pinched to a point. In place of his ragged, often dirty little coat, that may have belonged to half a dozen brothers before it passed to him, he wears a colored shirt of flannel or thin serge, khaki or brown, green or dark blue. Around his neck is a gay, loosely knotted kerchief of his patrol’s colors. He wears blue shorts, or “knickers” cut short above the knees, leaving his knees bare. A leather belt goes around the waist, with buckles of dull metal, two swivels, and a coat strap. The stockings are turned down below the knees, and from invisible garters depend visible tassels of green braid. On the back is a haversack, containing a billy-can, drinking-cup, and other equipment to taste. Over the shoulder is slung a light wooden water-bottle; and on the shoulder is a knot of colored ribbons, denoting the patrol to which the tenderfoot belongs. He has also a whistle and a knife, and in his right hand is his Scout’s staff, of strong ash marked off in feet and inches - his only weapon. It gives him a fine air, this staff. He leans upon it in picturesque attitude; at night it helps him feel his way; he trusts it to help him over ditches and stiles, and out of two staves and with a couple of belts he will fashion a stretcher at a moment’s notice. So he stands, a fully equipped tenderfoot, good to look at, clean, wholesome . . ."

Though these descriptions refer to the English Boy Scouts, their uniform was very similar to that of their American counterparts, and the publication of these descriptions in the American press indicates that they would have been read by many American. Consider, too, this description from an American named Arnold M. Schwartz, writing into the New York Times to object to the insinuation that the Boy Scout uniform should be seen as militaristic:

"But, then, our friends may say: ‘Your uniforms, at any rate, are military in appearance.’ If our worthy friends may know of any means whereby they can dispense with these hardy, tough, but yet neat-looking suits for tramps in the woods, long marches, camping, &c., (is this also militarism?) we would be grateful to be enlightened on the subject."

     As these examples suggest, the uniform of the Boy Scout was often conceived of as the proper attire for camping and adventuring in the woods, and not just for a military campaign. A Boy Scout thus attired, together with his trusty staff, was very well suited to camping out and hiking through hills and valleys, and it seems that many imagined he did just that. We are thus presented with a problem. Both the emphasis on military virtue and the actualities of the Boy Scout camping experience suggest that rugged outdoorsmanship was not an integral part of Boy Scouting, yet many Americans believed otherwise, and the myth of the Boy Scout as a frontiersman persisted. To resolve the dilemma of the orderly yet rugged Boy Scout, we must further explore the nature of American attitudes towards the wilderness.

‘This is what we have been waiting for a hundred years,’ he said. And they nodded; for it was. Every boy, every camper, every normal man who has his moments when he would give all of civilization and its wonders to be back in the woods and the wilds for a day, a single happy day, cherishes back in his soul the unattained ambition of making a fire Indian fashion; and these had done it."

      Americans have always been deeply interested in people who interact with the wilderness around them. In the seventeenth century, the figure was the pioneering settler who braved a dangerous passage over the Atlantic and planted God’s kingdom - a New Canaan - in the New World, carved out of a desert and howling wilderness. Due to a belief that these early pioneers were acting out God’s will in settling new lands, they were canonized as heroes almost immediately in writings about the New World. From this point on, the man or woman on the frontier, battling harsh environs, would come to represent an important element in the American tradition. As Romanticism developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, attitudes about interactions with the wilderness were changed by the hands of writers like Henry David Thoreau and painters like Thomas Cole. With their works, the woods became a sublime place, and the value of primitivism was gradually asserted. Many came to believe that there was an essential quality in nature for man that was lost by moving to the cities - that there was a strength men could gather from wilderness living. This led to the idea that benefit could be realized from going into the woods. The idea of the cultivation of a superior character through contact with the wilderness was not altogether new. The concept dates at least as far back as the late Middle Ages to the mythical figure of the Wild Man, who was captured in the wilderness and civilized. As a result of his life in the woods, he made a better knight, and had “exceptional strength, ferocity, and hardiness combined with innocence and an innate nobility.”

      The desire for increased contact with nature found expression in American life in numerous ways - through the proposal, for example, by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Charles Elliot in the 1890s of the inclusion of wild spaces within city parks. Housing styles also suggested this increased desire for intimacy with nature. From the work of Frank Lloyd Wright to simple “bungalow houses,” there was present, “a connection between the family and the natural world,” in many homes of the day. The turn of the century also saw an increased interest in city gardening and plant cultivation, with numerous articles on the subject appearing in popular magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. City dwellers who did not get enough of nature within the city could, of course, leave for day-long outings to nearby sites. In 1904, for instance, Edna E. Kenyon, of Detroit, occasionally wrote in her diary about such day trips. Take, for example, this one from Saturday, June 14th: “today was the picnic. We went over on the boat and ate our lunch on the banks of the canal . . . after supper we went out canoing . . . we canoed until 10 and came home on the boat.” A few weeks later, on June 24th, Edna and her friends went out again, this time on an “excursion to Bois Blanc,” where they “sat up at the head of the island for a long time.” City dwellers seeking to escape the urban environment for a jaunt in the country could also do so by means of a newly popularized mode of transportation - the bicycle. As a 1910 Tribune Bicycles advertisement suggests, with the bicycle at hand, “nature is an open book,” and “the wooded path and quiet country lane are brought within easy reach of busy city folks, making each holiday a day of genuine pleasure and companionship.” Americans also were afforded the opportunity to escape to nature through literature, reading newly published works such as Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, (1903) and Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) - full of tales of “the wild land.”

      With this increased interest, there also came significant changes in long-established views towards the landscape. Most notably, the woods came to be seen, not as the den of Satan, as it had been configured in the 17th century, but the seat of morality and Godliness. With this change in attitude, some began to see the development of the landscape as questionable for it threatened to dilute His influence. According to Nash, “if, as many had suspected, wilderness was the medium through which God spoke most clearly, then America had a distinct moral advantage over Europe, where centuries of civilization had deposited a layer of artificiality over His works.” John Muir’s work, My First Summer in the Sierra, first published in 1911, most clearly articulates this new perspective.

      The inspiration of the Sierra for Muir was fundamentally a religious one, and his text is full of reference to the Godly, the divine, and the glorious. For Muir, God looms in the Sierra, and His presence can be felt in every aspect of natural beauty he encounters. A raindrop is “God’s messenger,” a bird in song, “like a blessed evangel explaining God’s love.” In the Sierra, “every crystal, every flower [is] a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.” Muir, there, is like a fly, “humbly prostrate before the vast display of God’s power.” He sits, roams, and climbs, exuberantly enjoying the glory of Nature, energetically becoming a part of God’s “sublimest water and stone sermons.”

      What he hears, what he learns there, is profound. He finds God’s love in the Sierra, in the care Nature takes as a gardener, sheltering and providing for even the most delicate of flowers. He realizes that there is more to the world than man’s perspective. Muir reveals this attitude when he speaks of poison ivy: “it has few friends, and the blind question ‘Why was it made?’ goes on and on with never a guess that first of all it might have been made for itself.” Man is presumptuous, Muir believes, and this attitude is fostered by civilization. In the society man has created, it is easy to forget how awesome and grand is the natural world, as God originally created it. Most of mankind dwell “with lowland care and dust and din, where Nature is covered and her voice smothered.” The animals with which man is familiar are domesticated, and unlike their wilder brethren. A stunning example of this are the sheep he is hired to tend. Muir disdains them, and he makes his reason clear: they are pitiful because “they are semi-manufactured, made less by God than man, born out of time and place.” In corrupted animals such as these, and in devastated landscapes near human settlement, God’s sermons are lost. The power of God can be found only in Nature, and it is “no wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples.”

      Muir goes on to suggest not only that the Sierra is the Lord’s temple, but that His stone sermons cannot be easily heard where nature has been smothered. Even the churches do not speak the word of God as effectively. Whenever the trees and mountains “are cut and hewn into cathedrals,” Muir argues, “the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.” This is a radical thought, outdone only by his later claim that “should church-goers try to pass the time fishing in baptismal fonts while dull sermons were being preached, the so-called sport might not be so bad; but to play in the Yosemite temple,” is an affront to God. Muir’s idea, that God’s presence can only be truly found in the wilderness as he created it, is opposed to the earlier American belief that clearing wilderness lands and rousting out dark, evil wildness was precisely the work God most desires. Muir is actively challenging the early understanding of the biblical command to go forth and multiply, and placing, in its stead, a call to become, like him, an “insignificant wanderer [enjoying] the freedom and glory of God’s wilderness.”

      Thus, the woods became important, not only for the development of a superior character that could be undertaken there, as the Wild Man had done, but also for the opportunity it afforded to experience God more directly than was possible in the cities. This may explain why approximately half of all Boy Scout of America troops in the 1910s were organized under the auspices of local churches - there was an understood connection between morality and the out of doors. With the establishment of the woods as a source of masculinity and morality, the desirability of the Boy Scout as an outdoorsman becomes apparent; if character building is the goal, and a finer masculinity and morality can be cultivated in the woods, then to the woods the Scouts should go. As we have seen, however, the structured nature of Boy Scout camping indicates that they did not behave as rugged outdoorsmen. Rather than venturing out into the woods to experience nature in its purest form, they brought a great deal of civilization with them when they camped, in the form of structured periods of education and leisure, “fancy cookies,” and camping equipment. In the end, though the Boy Scouts valued the frontier spirit, they rarely made claims against the superior value of order and society. Instead, they made a great effort to find a delicate balance between the two. Though Muir argues, for instance, that God can be found in free communion with nature and that churches only dilute His word, the Boy Scouts still associate themselves with churches, and even bring their Bibles with them to camp - official copies were even sold by the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts’ outdoorsmanship was popular precisely because of this balance and moderation. Even though they may be cast from time to time as frontiersmen, the assumption behind even these depictions is that the frontiersman, like Lewis and Clark or Daniel Boone, is one who, ultimately, is working for the advancement of civilization; though they plunge into the woods, they are, like the Boy Scouts, “nation builders,” and this serves to balance their wilder tendencies. Partly to pay homage to this noble activity, and partly to cultivate the qualities of self-reliance and morality that such activities produce, the Boy Scouts go into the woods to camp and hike. They bring order with them, however, to reassert that structured character development is the goal. As one writer noted in 1910, “the white boy can learn to look out for himself in forests and upon streams as well as the aboriginal redskin Indian, or ever better,” by using newspaper - something only civilization can provide - to build fires. Though there is value in wilderness living, by taking civilization with them when they camped, the Boy Scouts could “better” meet the challenges nature afforded them; the tools they possessed gave them an important edge, and that edge would be maintained by limiting and controlling the contact the Boy Scouts had with the woods. Ultimately, though “every normal man has his moments when he would give all of civilization and its wonders to be back in the woods and the wilds,” the general consensus seemed to be that he need do so only for “a day, a single happy day.”


     P atriotism, military virtue, and controlled outdoorsmanship - these were the qualities that the Boy Scouts of America represented for middle-class Americans in the 1910s, and it was these that won them such hearty approval. It was believed, as we have seen, that with attention to these three qualities, the Boy Scouts would develop superior boys, who would become superior men. By emphasizing patriotism, the Boy Scouts of America would turn boys into good citizens determined to preserve the history and traditions of an American middle-class culture, ever fearful and uncertain about the presence of outsiders, but desirous to include them in the newest fabric of the American tapestry - though reserving for themselves the role of the weaver. With military virtue, the Boy Scouts would achieve the discipline necessary to act out their patriotism in service of their country and class, and to do so with efficiency and a moral understanding in keeping with the larger order. As outdoorsmen, they would have their patriotism and military virtue tempered by the vigorous and purity of wilderness living, getting a taste of the self-reliance and independence believed to be fundamental in the early experiences of great men. The good to come from the wild, though, could not come at the expense of their orientation as well-disciplined patriots, and thus, when they went to the woods, they brought axes, knives, compasses and tents, and turned nature’s nooks into constructed camps. In essence, the Boy Scouts of America came to be seen as the ideal organization for the development of an American masculinity that was very much a product of the times, and a mirror of middle-class desires. The Boy Scouts of America were praised, as we have seen, because they provided America with what those in the best position to do the praising believed the nation needed most - vigorous and virtuous young men.

     In 1919, Woodrow Wilson called on all Americans to recognize the Boy Scouts of America, for their service on the home-front during the war, and for the values they represented and fostered. Across America, Wilson’s call was answered by millions of people who had by then come to believe that the Boy Scout was, indeed, a “powerful ally,” and possibly the best weapon with which to face all that was frightful and uncertain in the still-dawning twentieth-century.

Copyright 1998, Daniel N. Jabe

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