The Boy Scout movement began with the 1908 publication of British Lieutenant General Robert S. S. Baden-Powell‘s handbook, Scouting for Boys. In 1902, nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton advocated organizing a boys’ club called “Woodcraft Indians.” Seton helped inspire Baden-Powell’s efforts to marshal existing boys’ groups into scout patrols. Baden-Powell’s book describes the games and activities that he developed to train cavalry troops during Britain’s South African War and suggests an organizational framework for scouting. The appeal of Scouting for Boys reflected the popular fascination throughout the English-speaking world with nature-based recreation as a means of character development. Other popular books about nature and wilderness as recreational resources published from 1850 to 1920 are included with the digital collection, The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. The Boy Scouts of America External was founded in 1910 with President William Howard Taft as honorary president. Seton wrote the first Scout manual for American boy scouts. By 1912, every state could claim a boy scout troop. In the same year, the organization inaugurated its program of national civic Good Turns: promotion of a “Safe and Sane Fourth of July” was the earliest of these campaigns. Congress granted the Boy Scouts a federal charter in 1916, authorizing a Scout uniform similar to a U.S. armed services uniform. In the 1930s, Vito Cacciola, an Italian immigrant living in New England, extolled the virtues of scouting to Merton R. Lovett in an interview for the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. According to the conventions of the day, Lovett attempted to capture Cacciola’s pronunciation by transcribing his words in dialect:
On my honor I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times;
to keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low started the Girl Scouts External in Savannah, Georgia. At a time when women in the United States couldn’t yet vote, Mrs. Low, 51 years old and nearly deaf, started a worldwide movement encouraging girls with activities to build strength, and intellect. Her efforts to bring fresh-air and community-service activities to girls proved popular. In 1915, the Girl Scouts established its first national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Low’s birthplace and family home, the Wayne-Gordon House, in Savannah is now a museum to girl scouting. Girl Scout cookie sales started in 1917 and quickly became an important fundraiser for the organization. Initially selling homemade cookies, by the mid-1930s, Girl Scouts peddled precursors of the commercially-baked treats that we know today. Seven United States first ladies have been girl scouts, from Edith Wilson to Michelle Obama. Royal former girl scouts include Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, and her daughters Princess Anne and Princess Margaret. Girl scouts are still active indoors and outdoors, serving their communities, and developing leadership skills.
I thinka de Boy Scouts is good for boys… [D]e Italian boys maka good Boy Scouts… It maka de boys strong. It maka them acquainted with nature. Some Italian boys does not know de flowers and de trees. The wilds animals and birds they does not recogniza. Yes, it is better than playa on de street. And I thinka they learna some good lessons, what?
[Interview with Vito Cacciola]. Merton R. Lovett,interviewer, Connecticut, 1936-40. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. Manuscript Division
- Explore sheet music about scouting by searching for boy scouts or girl scouts in the online collections of notated music.
- Learn more about the Conservation Movement and its influence on scouting. Find Ernest Thompson Seton’s best-selling book Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) in the digital collection Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Also search the collection for outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities associated with scouting.
- The Gottscho -Schleisner Collection holds a series of interior and shots of the Girl Scouts of America’s one-time headquarters at 3rd Avenue and 51st Street, New York City. Search for girl scout to access them.
- Search on the keyword phrase boy scout in the collection Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929 to find an address given by President Calvin Coolidge to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1926, and to see an image of Coolidge with 1,500 boy scouts who visited the White House in 1927.
- Boy scouts helped race officials at a soapbox auto race, part of an Independence Day celebration photographed by Jack Delano in 1940. Search the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Back-and-White Negatives collection for soapbox auto race to see some images of boy scouts serving their community that day, in Salisbury, Maryland.
- Search the Chronicling America newspaper collection on boy scout or girl scout to find scouts mentioned in United States newspapers prior to 1923.
- Search across all the digital collections on the term scout to see images, not only of boy scouts and girl scouts, but also of military scouts.