Today in History

Today in History: August 21

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts

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 Oath

Boy Scouts in front of Capitol
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,
Washington, D.C.,
John Rous, photographer,
circa July 1941.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945

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.

The Boy Scout movement began with the 1908 publication of British Lieutenant General Robert S. S. Baden-Powell's 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.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 with President William Howard Taft as honorary president. Ernest Thompson Seton wrote its first Scout manual.  By 1912, every state could claim a band of Scouts. 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:

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," circa 1936-40.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low started the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia. 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. The Girl Scout cookie sale quickly became an important fundraiser for the organization. Initially selling homemade cookies, by the mid-1930s, Girl Scouts peddled precursors of the commercially-baked delicacies that we know today.

Use the American Memory collections to learn more about the roots of Scouting in the United States: