30 major moments in Boy Scouts history
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is among the world's most prominent scouting groups and one of the largest and best-known youth organizations in U.S. history. While the Boy Scouts claimed 6.5 million members at the height of its popularity, only about 2.5 million members remain today. More than 110 million Americans have passed through the ranks of the Boy Scouts over the course of the organization's century-plus history,
Long a symbol of traditional U.S. culture, the Boy Scouts endured two world wars, social upheaval, culture conflicts, lawsuits, and seismic demographic shifts in the U.S. population. Originally conceived to promote self-reliance, outdoor skills, character, and morality among the boys who would grow up to be the nation’s men, the group evolved into a unique blend that was at the same time both secular and religious, private, and government sponsored.
As U.S. opinions changed on sensitive issues such as gender, sexuality, and religion, the Boy Scouts—like so many traditional organizations—were forced to evolve. The last decade has embroiled the Scouts in a whirlwind of controversy and unwanted publicity, from which it has recently emerged as a more inclusive organization. Here's a look at the 30 moments that shaped Boy Scout history.
1908: Robert Baden-Powell publishes 'Scouting For Boys'
At the turn of the 20th century, British military hero, writer, and educator Gen. Robert Baden-Powell began teaching the principles of military scouting to boys in a non-military setting, so they would be able to live off the land, track, observe, and conceal their movements in case of an invasion or a similar crisis. In 1908, Baden-Powell published "Scouting For Boys," which was based on a military field manual he developed for soldiers during his career in the British service. Modified specifically for boys during times of peace, the book, which also dealt heavily with character and morality, became an instant sensation and triggered the emergence of the youth scouting movement.
Circa 1909: W.D. Boyce meets the 'Unknown Scout'
According to a long-held Boy Scouts legend, a U.S. millionaire businessman and newspaper magnate named W.D. Boyce was traveling in London when he became disoriented and lost in the city's dense fog. A boy affiliated with the new scouting movement guided Boyce through the fog, showed him his way and—when offered—refused to accept a tip on the notion that he was compelled by honor, not money, to help a stranger in need.
1910: W.D. Boyce founds the Boy Scouts
The legend of the Unknown Scout is murky, but what is certain is that W.D. Boyce returned to the U.S. and on Feb. 8, 1910, he founded the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Boyce's encounters with the burgeoning scouting movement in England convinced him that character development, outdoor recreation, and survival training were critical if boys were going to grow into worthwhile men, particularly those who grew up in cities.
1910: BSA establishes national headquarters in NY
Later in 1910, the BSA made 200 Fifth Ave. in New York City its first national headquarters. Less than a year after its founding, the BSA was already on the radar of the nation’s most influential leaders. That same year, both John D. Rockefeller and Theodore Roosevelt honored Robert Baden-Powell with a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.
1911: BSA adds religious declaration to its constitution
Although the BSA's first CEO, James West, claimed that the Boy Scouts would not become an exclusively Christian organization, he established the concept of the BSA Religious Declaration from the organization's earliest days. It reads, in part, "The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training." While the organization has historically encouraged diversity among faiths, atheists and agnostics would remain excluded from both leadership and membership from 1911 through the current day.
1912: Arthur A. Eldred becomes first Eagle Scout
When 17-year-old Troop 1 Scout Arthur A. Eldred appeared for his mandatory rank review to become the world's first Eagle Scout, the board that reviewed him consisted of a who's who of scouting. Among those who evaluated him were CEO James West, Red Cross rescue pioneer Wilbert E. Longfellow, and Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton. At the time, only 50 Scouts in the U.S. had earned even a single merit badge, and Eldred earned his Eagle rank with 21 merit badges. For his proficiency in—among other things—chemistry, poultry farming, pathfinding, swimming, electricity, cooking, horsemanship, and bicycling, Eldred received the highest honor in scouting in 1912.
1912: Juliette Gordon Low founds the Girl Scouts
In 1912, women were not allowed to vote, but the progressive era and women's rights movement was already starting to take shape. That year, an activist named Juliette Gordon Low met Gen. Robert Baden-Powell, who convinced her to start a scouting organization that would instill in girls the same principles of self-reliance, honor, and character that the Boy Scouts sought to instill in Boys. Gordon Low launched the Girl Scouts—which is not affiliated with the BSA—and in 1965, nearly 100 years after she was born, her home was designated a National Historic Landmark.
1913: Scouts earn first major church endorsement
In 1913, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints officially declared an affiliation with the BSA, which would become the activity arm of the church's Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) for young men. The church was the first nationally chartered religious institution to make the Boy Scouts its official youth program.
1913: Presidential inauguration tradition begins
In 1913, roughly 1,500 Boy Scouts were invited to assist first responders at the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Boy Scouts have played a role at every single presidential inauguration in the more than 100 years that have followed.
1915: Theodore Roosevelt gets involved
In 1915, former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to a Philadelphia Scout leader applauding the organization's "unquestioned value to our country" and its focus on "manliness in its most vigorous form." Roosevelt became heavily involved with the BSA, serving as a committeeman for Troop 39 and a commissioner of the Nassau County Council, while also entertaining Scouts, awarding them medals, and participating in their scrap drives during World War I. Roosevelt was honored as the first BSA honorary vice president, and he remains the only person ever to have been honored with the title of Chief Scout Citizen.
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