scouts and guides

scouts and guides
   Robert Baden-Powell, born in 1857, won great popular fame, if not much of a reputation with the military authorities, as commander of Mafeking during its 217-day siege in the Boer War. Returning to Britain, he responded to anxieties about the physical condition and moral fibre of the nation’s youth. His initial impulse was to help develop such youth organizations as the Boys’ Brigade, founded in 1883 by William A.Smith, a Glasgow Sundayschool teacher. But after an experimental camp on Brownsea Island, near Poole, in the summer of 1907 and publishing Scouting for Boys the year after, scouting emerged as something rather different. Criticized by some for jingoism or militarism, it reflected in fact its founder’s scepticism about regimentation. Scouts took to wearing uniform, but there was, by Edwardian standards, not much smartness in dress more suitable for cross-country hiking than parade grounds.
   Baden-Powell’s prime concerns were with health and fitness, promoted by open-air activities, comradeship, loyalty within ‘troops’ (structured groups) and social responsibility. Such qualities would, it is true, be of value to future soldiers. But Baden-Powell was not the man to turn scouting into a cadet movement. Instead, as became clearer with time, the emphasis was on the development of the individual in the company of others. There was a good deal of moral exhortation, but no more than was common in education generally at the time, and the nondenominational nature of the movement allowed it to be adopted, for instance, by churches of different denominations. The pace at which scouting expanded shows that it matched a need, as was recognized by the grant of a Royal Charter as early as 1912. Girls insisted on being part of the movement, which led to the formation of the Guides. Spreading to other countries, scouting had a million members by 1922 (and 25 million by 1995). Small boys were catered for by Wolf Cub packs, and Brownies appealed even more to little girls. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards represent a modern development of some aspects of scouting, but Baden-Powell’s movement, if less significant than formerly, remains an important part of Britain’s provision for young people.
   Further reading
    Rosenthal, M. (1984) The Character Factory, New York: Pantheon (informative, though sharply critical).
    Springhall, J. (1977) Youth, Empire and Society: British Youth Movements, 1883-1940, London: Croom Helm (though concerned with events up to 1940, invaluable for the perspective it provides).
   CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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