History of Scouting
Scouting’s history goes back to the turn of the 20th century to a British Army officer, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. While stationed in India, he discovered that his men did not know basic first aid or the elementary means of survival in the outdoors. Baden-Powell realized he needed to teach his men many frontier skills, so he wrote a small handbook called Aids to Scouting, which emphasized resourcefulness, adaptability, and the qualities of leadership that frontier conditions demanded.
After returning from the Boer War, where he became famous by protecting the small town of Mafeking for 217 days, Baden-Powell was amazed to find that his little handbook had caught the interest of English boys. They were using it to play the game of scouting.
Baden-Powell had the vision to see some new possibilities, and he decided to test his ideas on boys. In August 1907, he gathered about 20 boys and took them to Brownsea Island in a sheltered bay off England’s southern coast. They set up a makeshift camp that would be their home for the next 12 days.
The boys had a great time! They divided into patrols and played games, went on hikes, and learned stalking and pioneering. They learned to cook outdoors without utensils. Scouting began on that island and would sweep the globe in a few years.
The next year, Baden-Powell published his book Scouting for Boys, and Scouting continued to grow. That same year, more than 10,000 Boy Scouts attended a rally held at the Crystal Palace; a mere two years later, membership in Boy Scouts had tripled.
About this same time, the seeds of Scouting were growing in the United States. On a farm in Connecticut, a naturalist and author named Ernest Thompson Seton was organizing a group of boys called the Woodcraft Indians; and Daniel Carter Beard, an artist and writer, organized the Sons of Daniel Boone. In many ways, the two organizations were similar, but they were not connected. The boys who belonged had never heard of Baden-Powell or of Boy Scouts, and yet both groups were destined to become Boy Scouts one day soon.
But first, an American businessman had to get lost in the fog in England. Chicago businessman and publisher William D. Boyce was groping his way through the fog when a boy appeared and offered to take him to his destination. When they arrived, Boyce tried to tip the boy, but the boy refused and courteously explained that he was a Scout and could not accept payment for a Good Turn.
Intrigued, the publisher questioned the boy and learned more about Scouting. He visited with Baden-Powell as well and became captured by the idea of Scouting. When Boyce boarded the transatlantic steamer for home, he had a suitcase filled with information and ideas. And so, on February 8, 1910, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America.
The “unknown Scout” who helped him in the fog was never heard from again, but he will never be forgotten. His Good Turn is what brought Scouting to our country.
After the incorporation of the BSA, a group of public-spirited citizens worked to set up the organization. Seton became the first Chief Scout of the BSA, and Beard was made the national commissioner.
The first executive officer was James E. West, a young man from Washington who had risen above a tragic boyhood and physical disability to become a successful lawyer. He dedicated himself to helping all children to have a better life and led the BSA for 32 years as the Chief Scout Executive.
Scouting has grown in the United States from 2,000 Boy Scouts and leaders in 1910 to millions strong today. From a program for Boy Scouts only, it has spread into a program including Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers.
Back in England, younger boys were eager to become Boy Scouts. In 1914, Baden-Powell began implementing a program for younger boys that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. The Wolf Cub program began in 1916, and since that time, Wolf Cubbing has spread to other European countries with very little change.
In America, hundreds of Cub Scout-age boys and their families were clamoring for a program of their own. As early as 1920, Scout executives at the first national training conference discussed the needs of younger boys. The BSA, however, felt it wise to postpone any action until there was more objective evidence.
In 1925, Dr. Huber W. Hurt, a research psychologist and veteran Scouter, was authorized to study existing organizations for younger boys, such as Boy Rangers, Boy Pioneers, American Eagles, and Boys’ Clubs. He found that only one boy in 50 participated regularly in any type of organized leisure-time program. He also found that younger boys responded better to leadership and program efforts than older boys. He worked closely with Ernest Thompson Seton. Both men recommended that the BSA adopt a program for younger boys, with older Boy Scouts as leaders, to tie into home, church, school, and Boy Scouting.
The National Executive Board authorized the Chief Scout Executive to thoroughly investigate the matter. An advisory committee worked with the BSA to develop a plan and produce the necessary literature. Advice was obtained from leading psychologists, sociologists, teachers, school superintendents, professors of education, college executives, and recreation and welfare directors.
By 1929, the new Cubbing program (it wasn’t called “Cub Scouting” until several years later) was taking shape and was introduced as a demonstration project in a limited number of communities. Its structure was similar to today’s Cub Scouting, except that dens were led by Boy Scout den chiefs. The plan included a neighborhood mothers’ committee to encourage Cubs and den chiefs.
In 1930, Cub Scouting was formally launched, with 5,102 boys registered at the end of that first year. By 1933 the time had come to promote Cub Scouting throughout the country as a part of Scouting. All experimental restrictions were removed, and the first national director of Cub Scouting was appointed.
Den mother registration was optional for the first few years. By June 1938, 1,100 den mothers had registered and soon became an important part of Cub Scouting.
The first dens met weekly at a member’s home, where boys played games and enjoyed crafts and ceremonies. The pack met weekly or semimonthly for games, den competitions, awards, stunts, and other activities. Cubs advanced from Bobcat (for all new members) to Wolf (age 9), Bear (age 10), and Lion (age 11) and joined a Boy Scout troop at age 12.
In 1949, the age requirement was lowered to between 8 and 10 for Cub Scouts. In 1982, Tiger Cubs was started based on shared leadership of boy-adult partner teams and the school year calendar. In 1986, Cub Scouts could register as second-grade boys.
Cub Scouting in America is different from the younger-boy programs of other countries because it is centered in the home and neighborhood. With the encouragement of family and leaders, boys enjoy a program that covers a wide variety of interesting things. It suggests activities that boys enjoy doing on their own when adults are not supervising them. These activities are particularly suited to boys of Cub Scout age and are different from those they will encounter in Boy Scouting.
A strong influence from Kipling’s Jungle Book remains today. The terms “Law of the Pack,” “Akela,” “Wolf Cub,” “grand howl,” “den,” and “pack” all come from the Jungle Book. At the same time, the Gold and Silver Arrow Points, Webelos emblem, and Arrow of Light emblem are taken from our American Indian heritage.
Although Scouting has changed over the years, the ideals and aims have remained the same: character growth, citizenship training, and personal fitness. Scouting is updated periodically to keep pace with a changing world. It isn’t the same as it was on Brownsea Island in 1907, but the ideals are still based on principles that Baden-Powell had been taught as a boy.
Scouting’s founder was never able to completely overcome his surprise at Scouting’s worldwide appeal. As it swept the globe, Scouting brought him new adventures and responsibilities as Chief Scout of the World. He traveled extensively and kept in touch with Scouting around the world.
Eventually, Baden-Powell’s health began to fail. He set up a winter home at Nyeri, Kenya, in 1938, where he spent his remaining years until his death in 1941. Scouts of different races carried him to his final resting place in the small cemetery at Nyeri. His grave is marked with a simple headstone that bears his name and the Scout sign for “I have gone home.” Today, in Westminster Abbey, a tablet records his name, along with the names of some of the greatest Britons of all time.
After Baden-Powell’s death, a letter was found in his desk that he had written to all Scouts. It included this passage: “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.” These words are a fitting epitaph, for as he won the respect of the great by his strength, he won the hearts of youth by his example.