Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts

On August 21, 1912 Arthur R. Eldred of Oceanside, New York, achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. He was the first person to earn the award. He did not receive the actual badge until September 2 (Labor Day), as the badge had not yet been made.

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.

The Boy Scout OathExternal

United Nations Fight for Freedom: colored, white and Chinese Boy Scouts in front of Capitol. They help out by delivering poster to help the war effort. John Rous, photographer, [1943]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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 AmericaExternal 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.

President with Boy Scouts. Harris & Ewing, photographer, [1937]. Harris & Ewing Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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:

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 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Girl Scouts. Troop #1. Mrs. Juliette Low, Founder, right; Elenore Putsske, center; Evaline Glance, 2nd from right. Harris & Ewing, photographer, 1917. Harris & Ewing Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low started the Girl ScoutsExternal 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.

Girl Scouts. [between 1920 and 1921]. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Many United States first ladies have been girl scouts or acted as honorary president of the Girl Scouts including Edith Wilson, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden. Royal former girl scouts include Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter Princess Anne, and Princess Margaret. Girl scouts are still active indoors and outdoors, serving their communities, and developing leadership skills.

March of the Girl Scouts. Lewis J. Williams, composer; Marguerite Van Fleet, lyricist; Toledo Ohio: Frances M. Burk, publisher, 1918. World War I Sheet Music. Music Division.

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