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.
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?
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:
- Learn more about the Conservation Movement and its influence on Scouting. Track down Ernest Thompson Seton's best-selling book Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) in the American Memory collection Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.
- The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Photograph Collection contains a wonderful panoramic photograph of Texas Boy Scouts from May 20, 1916.
- Search the American Memory collection Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present on the phrase Juliette Gordon Low to find photographs and other architectural information on the birthplace of the Girl Scouts’ founder, now a national program center and museum.
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955 holds a series of interior and exterior shots of the Girl Scouts of America's one-time headquarters at 3rd Avenue and 51st Street, New York City. Search the collection on Girl Scout to access these photos.
- Search on the keyword 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.
- Search across all the American Memory collections on the term scout to see images, not only of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but also of military scouts. See, for example, “A Gentleman of the ’Old West’: scout, Indian figh[t]er, hunter, trapper,” from the collection The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections and “Scouts report-Atsina,” from Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian: Photographic Images.